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Today we’re beginning a new series called Coach-to-Coach Q&A containing occasional guest interviews with RRCA certified coaches. Thanks to my friend and fellow coach Rich at BQ Chat (@BqChat on Twitter) for suggesting this series. First up in this interview series is an interview with fellow RRCA certified running coach Tiffany Henness (questions asked by RRCA certified run coach Jeremy Murphy, answered by Coach Tiffany Henness). So without further ado, here are the questions and answers:

Q1. Who are you? Why did you become an RRCA-certified running coach?

A: I’m a reformed desk-jockey/adult-onset runner. Discovering running was life-changing (hadn’t really been in sports growing up). So a few marathons and a 50k led to interest in overall fitness and a year-long CrossFit coaching internship. It was so empowering, seeing physical accomplishments bring confidence to every other aspect of my life.

Becoming a coach and getting certified had a lot to do with wanting to help other adults, who didn’t have the benefit of an athletic background, to tap into that same personal empowerment through running. I don’t just want to encourage people to go after their goals. I want to help them see how to get there safely and effectively.

Q2: Can you please tell us about benefits to runners of hiring a coach from your perspective? What is your coaching philosophy?

A: Ultimately, the benefit is access to their knowledge and guidance for everything from programming, troubleshooting, and motivation/accountability. Here are two big benefits (of many) to hiring a coach:

1) You get a smarter, more objective approach to training. Even the most experienced runners will make poor decisions sometimes (like running too far too soon after an injury). your coach sees the bigger picture of your training/goals and trusting him/her keeps you from making a lot of silly/dumb mistakes. A good coach will “be the bad guy” and tell you when not to run or when to slow it down.

2) You remove the “guesswork and stresswork” and reduce disappointments. Life happens (e.g., two weeks off for the flu) and generalized training plans don’t tell you how to come back from that. Your coach knows you as a runner and gives you a personalized strategy to get back on track and adjust your race goals/expectations.

Just like it’s better to ask your personal physician a medical question than to read WebMD forums, it’s better to consult with a personal coach who knows you than it is to try to make sense of all the info out there (which is often contradictory) on your own.

Q3: The #RunThisYear running community that you created has been very helpful to me and many others in supporting and improving running fitness, even with the calendar of suggested miles to #RunThisYear. Thank you! Can you tell us what helping so many people meant to you?

A3: Thank you! RTY meant a lot to me because I approach running as a lifestyle. So many online communities are short-lived. Engaging runners for a year-long goal was special. Seeing another RTY Mile Marker bib photo from Dale or Nan this last year always made my day. Also, huge shout-outs to Dolores, MaryEllen, Melanie, Susan, Wendy, Mindy (and so many more) for running along in 2015! It’s not the miles themselves that I found so inspiring or impressive, but the shared commitment to staying healthy and running all year long. The RTY community embodied what it means to approach running as a lifestyle. I love that.

Q4: Transitions occur in lives of running coaches and runners. You’ve moved, you’ve rebranded your website/blog and have run some ultras. How can we roll with the changes so to speak?

A4: Great question! Especially now that I’m in new territory running pregnant (or at least trying). The thing I struggle with the most when it comes to life transition is letting this go (like RTY for example). Being self-aware enough to be able to say: “This no longer serves me or my purpose” and then walk away from that thing, or letting it change into something else entirely, is a learned life skill. Even within my running life, it’s been hard to let my relationship with running change as I’ve changed.

For a time I was in the season of running ALL THE RACES. Then I stopped medal collecting and moved into running trails for solitude and soul searching. Now I run very little mileage but I do what I can because it’s a familiar friend, and that’s all running needs to be for me now. Sometimes I miss the constant race training or feel like I’m failing by staying in the flatlands. Of course that’s not the case at all. So I keep learning to embrace the new seasons as they come with no guilt over what’s left behind.

Q5: How can coaches determine their target demographic group of athletes that we are best suited to help?

A5: First, what gets you excited? Each of us have our own version of the ideal client and it’s often people we look at and see ourselves in. For me it’s the “adult onset runner”, beginner to intermediate level, who runs for personal betterment but struggles with self-doubt…because that’s who I was 6 years ago. When I meet people like that my Encourager Switch flips on. I have to actually keep my excitement for them in check so I don’t scare them away!

Second, knowing your communication strengths and style as a coach is important. Certain people and populations respond better to extra encouragement and need patience. Others need a reasonable amount of tough love and need to be challenged. Think about what your strengths are and then consider which population, or what type of client, is the best match for your natural coaching style.

Q6: How can coaches coach runners/athletes effectively in a virtual setting?

A6: I’m still figuring this out. What is effective is always based on who the client is and what they need, in person or not. When you coach online and must overcome the barrier of distance, you have to be that much better at communication and more proactive about learning who your client is and their needs as they change over time. Here are two big things:

1. Making multiple modes of communication available to your clients (phone, email, text, social media, Skype, coaching apps) helps both of you get a better sense of each other, increasing their trust in you and your understanding of the individual.

2. Assume nothing about your client knows to do or say. Having a well thought-out onramp process to help clients understand what’s expected of them, how to engage with you, and how to make the most out of their experience from the start is huge. Few of my clients have ever worked with an online coach before. If they’re unsure of the process itself, it won’t be as effective. If I coach them on how to best work with me, they get a lot more out of it.

Q7: What do you see changing in the future of coaching runners/athletes?

A7: More digital tools to facilitate communication and easy sharing of objective performance data (for example Nudge Coach App for health and wellness coaches). It’s already pretty easy, but I think wearable tech and access to additional metrics will continue to improve and give us new coaching insights and training tools.

I also see an increase in online coaches offering more holistic training. There will always be specialists and there should be. And yet…the more we see the average population turn to running or triathlons out of personal interest and self-improvement…the more we work with people who have a wider variety of needs beyond a marathon training program. They also want weight loss support or need more accountability. So whenever I see coaches who are also dietitians or personal trainers, it’s great. Whenever I see a coach who takes the initiative to get trained in the synergistic skills like motivational interviewing or core strength or conditioning, I believe they are raising the bar.

Thanks to Coach Tiffany Henness for participating in this new interview series.
Happy Healthy Running to all and to all a good night! -Coach Jeremy Murphy (aka RunningGrooveShark)