Are Ultra Marathon Running Coaches a Sham?


Shacky and I are engaged in an interesting debate today that I’d love to hear your opinion. It was provoked by an article by Geoff Roes, posted this morning. You can see the full text here:

Read: 100 Mile Ingrigue: Embracing the Unknown

Roes’ argument is that there is not currently, and may never be, a training plan for 100-mile races. In his opinion, the 100 experience is so unique to the individual, that it’s almost impossible to be guided with a training plan of any sort. Basically: Just go out, get the miles in, and do it.

I liked his way of thinking and very much agreed. It also reminded me of this other great post I read this morning, essentially saying the same thing in relation to barefoot running.

Read: Barefoot Running: TMI Problem

In the comments section of the article, Roes was asked about the value of an ultra marathon running coach. His response was:

I don’t think anyone needs a coach to reach their potential for running 100 miles, and in many cases I think aspiring 100-mile runners are held back by having a coach.

That said, I do think there are several basic things one needs to learn before they have the tools to be able to find what works best for them. In most cases, having a coach will be extremely helpful in getting you more quickly to the point of being able to figure your own thing out, but once you’re to that point I think you’ll just be holding yourself back if you continue to rely too strictly on the guidance of someone else.

It is worth noting though that I don’t think these same thoughts apply to shorter distances, and there are very few runners out there who are focused solely on the 100+ mile distances.

For most ultrarunners, I think it makes perfect sense to have a coach, but to be very aware that what your coach is having you do probably applies a lot more to shorter ultras than it does to 100s.

I found this intriguing but also a little confusing. What makes the 100 so different compared to a 100K or 50 miler? I do understand the difference in logistics (ie. sleep, etc), but wouldn’t the same basic “tools” apply?

I’ve only completed one 100-miler and my expertise on this topic is so low, it’s laughable. But I do love the 100 distance and I’m insatiably curious about it. I’ve never had a running coach for any ultra, so I can’t speak to their value either way.

My gut instinct is to think that an ultra running coach has little to offer for ANY distance. I would think that all ultra experiences are unique and therefore difficult to coach?

If that’s not true—if there truly is value in coaching a shorter ultra distance, why not coach 100 miles?

In my limited experience, I consider it an all-or-nothing type of deal. Either coaches are useful for all ultras, or they aren’t. Am I wrong?

Have you ever had an ultra running coach? What sorts of benefits do these coaches offer?

Is a coach perhaps only useful for competitive ultra marathon runners, whereas people who want to “just finish” don’t need to invest in a coach?

Would Shacky and I benefit from a coach (not competitive, but want to race a lot more 100s)?

Is this like the barefoot running coach debate all over again?

Read: Barefoot Running Coach Certification: Why It’s a Bad Idea

What are your thoughts/experience?


My Final Thoughts on 100 Miles

How to Train for Your First Ultra Marathon

My New Trail Running Life