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Why You Don’t Need to be a Competitive Runner to Work with a Running Coach

Written by: Maria Camargo

Photo by: Joe Kim

For the majority of my early life I was a team sports athlete. I played soccer from a young age and continued through high school. I played rugby all four years of college. During that time, while I was a strong athlete, I always experienced anxiety when we had to do any sustained distance running and I didn’t feel confident or capable of my ability to lace up running shoes and go out for even a one mile jog. There are statistics that show that the average soccer player runs between 4-8 miles during a game, so there was no question of my physical ability to go on a run. It was the mental aspect of putting one foot in front of the other, without anything else to concentrate on or think about that was debilitating. Intrusive thoughts that I just couldn’t do it, that my legs were going to fail, that I was going to get stuck crashed over me each time I started again.


I had several failed attempts to get into running throughout the last 10 years. The first time I was able to commit to consistent running was in early 2020, when I quite literally had nothing but time. It was the first of the attempts where I was able to be patient with myself and respect the process and progress I was making week after week. Before that, I stumbled through starting and stopping my running journey until I had some tangible advice and information that helped me persevere through the lulls and hardships that are inevitable. Had I begun working with a coach earlier, I could have certainly minimized the amount of hours scrolling through the internet learning about training and avoided getting burnt out when I was running too hard and felt like a failure.

Photo by: Daybreak Racing

On June 3rd, 2023, I ran my first 50k. For my non-metric system friends, a 50k running race is 31.1 miles. This leap is due in large part to working with a running coach.

You may identify with my experience as a new runner, or you may be a few years in. You may even be an ultrarunner now. The fact is, wherever you are in your running journey working with a running coach can be invaluable. People say that running is the most accessible sport, because all you have to do is lace up your shoes and go. More often than not, it’s not that simple. There is loads of information out there outlining the “right” way to train and it can often be overwhelming to figure out where to start. A coach can help find a schedule or running plan that feels both attainable and effective. They can take the guesswork out of training plans and provide mobility and strength work that meets your scheduling and running needs and keeps you healthy.

Photo by: Daybreak Racing

By the time I found my running coach, I was ready to step into the world of trail racing having only done one road half marathon. There are so many ways to approach running and training and while some people may believe otherwise, there is not one correct way. It can be helpful to pick someone whose philosophy and values you align with who is reputable to help navigate those muddy waters. The jump from 13.1 on road to 50k on the trail felt big, but I was able to ask questions and talk through the unknown with my coach. She was great about explaining what we were going to do, why we were going to do it, and how it would benefit me in the long run (pun intended). We were able to navigate training around a tricky injury, an obstacle that if I had not been working with a coach very likely may have caused me to quit the race. Obviously, it was on me to show up and do what she outlined for me, but having a plan I could reference every day allowed the running portion of my hectic schedule to be as simple as possible.


The reality is that finding a coach can feel daunting and unattainable if you are not trying to compete in races. But working with a coach with accessibility practices like scholarships or sliding scales that will create a plan that works with your schedule is possible for anyone out there at any part of their running journey. I recommend my running coach and her services, Jess Schnier of Smiles and Miles coaching. She has a positive, effective, and inspiring approach to running and coaching. My experience with Jess was overwhelmingly positive and working with her is the only reason I was able to run my 50k so successfully. She helped me develop a healthy and sustainable relationship with running, that I am still reaping the benefits of long after my race.

Photo by: Joe Kim


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