Expectations of an Athlete and Coach for Success in Training and Racing

Any runner or obstacle racer can benefit from having a coach in their corner. Whether you're chasing a PB, finishing a distance based race, or striving for elite level and the podium in your sport, in my experience working with athletes is very much forming a new business and personal relationship with them.

Let's face it, you've handed the controls of your training to someone who in most cases is a complete stranger!

Here are my top 5 things from a coach's and athlete's perspective of what expectations should be set for you to achieve the most success from your program.

What A Coach expects from an Athlete


When working with an athlete, it's important to receive feedback frequently so the training and guidance can be prescribed based on many factors. Data collected from a GPS and heart rate tracker can only provide so much of the story, especially when the coaching is delivered online. When the prescribed training is individualised, your coach needs to know how that sprint session went, or how your energy levels were, so that the training doesn't lead to burnout or under training.

Get in touch with your coach regularly on many different levels so they can become more than just your training partner. If they understand you better, what makes you tick, your lifestyle and commitments outside of training, you will gain so much more out of the journey other than just doing what is in the plan.

If your coach is using an application that allows communication and feedback, use that! Here are some of the comments I have received from my athletes through the platform I use and other mediums such as text and Instagram.

'Still a little fatigue in the hips but the rest felt good. Another couple of days and I’ll be good to go for sure!!!'

A comment from an Athlete after running a marathon a few days before. This gives me an opportunity to map the next few days training appropriately for him to get back on track ASAP since we had an ultra trail race to prep for in a fortnight.

'While running I just didn't feel explosive at all. And calves were crazy tight the entire run. Even after stretching.'

The eagerness to train after an ultra distance run for this athlete clearly shows with a test of speed. We can then manage her rehab & muscle recovery to return to normal without causing injury.

'This was a great run for me. I had uninterrupted sleep (kids stayed in their bed for once!) and I hit all the pace targets for our 5k time trial in 2 weeks. Keen as beans to grab my PB finally!'

It's welcomed to get this feedback. It shows the training is aligned well with the goal in mind, as well as understanding other environmental factors that can either hinder or prove to be beneficial to training.


Hiring a coach stems from many reasons, mostly because someone is looking for accountability and to improve their performance. Another common reason is often a runner will wake up on a Monday morning with no clear understanding of what type of training to do for the week.

If you have found the right coach, you would expect they have the credentials and experience behind them to know what to prescribe so you achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

One of the first things I say to a new athlete is trust the process and respect the work that is put in front of them. Following a plan takes time and commitment. Depending on the hours of training during the week it almost takes on the same effort as a part time job. It's important to open your mind and trust the work that is prescribed for you.

A Trail Runner I've been working with for 10 months now came to me with an average of 130km's a week of slow and easy running. We gradually reduced the volume down by 30% and introduced variety, including strength and cross training, speed and hill work. We've seen a noticeable improvement in his sleep patterns, fitness and also posture at work! Training has even become more enjoyable for him.

So you want to be better than you were yesterday? It's no secret that you need to work hard. There will be days you simply don't want to run or train. Have a think about the impact this has on you over time. The race you have entered in 6 weeks time is still going ahead no matter what.

If I have a good relationship with the athletes I'm coaching it definitely helps them keep going and to understand why they need to do what I'm asking them to do. This particular exchange of text messages resulted in a very happy runner in the end. It may look cold on the surface but it's the relationship I try and form with my athletes - tough love!

It's the work others don't see that counts. There is only so much a coach can do, especially if the coaching is online. You need to get up and train during the times you least want to. Trust me, it pays off!

Remember, although the coach is the one mapping out and planning the training, it's really the athlete that executes the work.

All too often I see people cram a block of runs together in quick succession a few weeks before a race, only to find out they have been sedentary in the weeks before.

I say to everyone, even if you don't have a goal or race you're working towards, it's important to keep your base training at a moderate level so when you do want to focus on training for an event we don't have to rebuild strength and fitness before dialling in specific training.

This isn't to say you need to train as hard as you did when prepping for an event, just don't stop altogether.

If you turn your training on and off like a tap, it can be very hard to find your routine again after a significant amount of time off. There is a higher risk of injury, as people tend to rush their training and expect fitness to return to its former state quickly.

I recommend training all your round. If you are a runner and coming into a season with no races e.g. Christmas, enjoy mixing up your week with cross training and different goals

Training doesn't have to be the hamster wheel - mix it up and don't stop moving.

It's simply a given this one. Training should not be a chore. You may be putting the work in, but if you are not enjoying it, chances are this is affecting your progress and also reflecting in other parts of your life.

Don't get me wrong, there will be days you just don't want to move.

Someone out there is working harder than you for the things you want

Whatever floats your boat, get's you moving, mantras you have - we all need encouragement once in a while.

I have found working with athletes, there needs to be a real desire to do what they do. First is to have that desire and short term end goal of what you want to achieve. Most often this is a race or personal goal anywhere from 1 to 12 months away. Outside of this, the training needs to fit in with your lifestyle and long term outcomes, which needs to bring positivity to your life and those around you.

Training should not consume your life, more so compliment your life and bring value to your relationship with family, friends and your career.

What an Athlete expects from a Coach

Expectations from athletes are varied when it comes to hearing from their coach. Just like I expect to hear from my athletes frequently and receive feedback on their training, in return they require to hear from me as well!

I find setting those response time expectations from the start are important. This is usually in the initial consultation interview.

An athlete needs that regular check in to make sure what they are doing is right. Some motivation and encouragement goes a long way as well.

Often an athlete can feel alone and isolated, especially in the heart of a tough and arduous training block. Regular checks can help get them through the tough and fatiguing weeks.

Everyone is unique - I'm currently coaching people from varied backgrounds, such as a highly skilled and technical software analyst who has a love affair with data and detail, through to a tradie who just gets in and runs fast when it's fast and slow when it's slow.

Not only is the language different between individuals, but the way the prescribed session is laid out.

Improving your running performance can often be quite a lonely journey. If you're in it for the socials and kudos from these channels, that's okay, but I find that connection can be quite shallow.

A coach isn't just there to set out a training plan and prep you for a race. A coach needs to be involved in the athlete's journey through all stages, from getting started and understanding the challenges that comes from forming new habits, through to being there for the athlete when a race doesn't go to plan.

Continual improvement is something the coach and athlete need to work on together. There are going to be 'off' days in training and competing. Often just talking it out is all that's needed for the athlete to stay on track.

When the work pays off and the athlete succeeds, shouting that out loud and proud is a reminder that the hard work and dedication has paid off.

Walk the walk& talk the talk. Credentials or experience? How do you choose a coach? There are a few considerations and it's really a balance between a number of things.

Your coaches own experience in training and racing for themselves and other athletes should have a high level of influence towards your decision to choose a coach.

Have they and the athletes they coach trained and raced in a similar or same event you want to work towards? Not every coach was the best athlete and not every coach is still an athlete. However taking into consideration if your coach has experience and success in your sport to guide you to a greater level of performance is important.

Exercise prescription has changed a little over the recent years, so it's important to choose a coach that is willing to bury themselves in the process they are asking you to undertake.

Don't be shy to ask them for their own racing experiences and successes (or failures) of other people they coach. This will help you decide if this coach is a good fit for you.

Does your coach have any formal qualifications? If they are prescribing strength training specifics in your running training, do they have the qualifications and experience to deliver this to you? It's okay for a coach to just prescribe the running component of your week and outline a strength day. This just needs to be clear from the start.

 W/U 15min Z2 HR F/B 30sec Z5 Pace w 60sec Z2 HR rec x 6 F/B 5min 5km Pace F/B C/D 15min Z2 HR

Got it? Ok go for it! The above is confusing for me too, so there are a few considerations here. Not everyone that starts with me has trained with structure like this before, so these types of sessions can seem like a foreign language.

Clearly outlining the training planned for an athlete, especially when it's online, gives them every chance to execute what is planned. A session should easily be studied prior to beginning, without the need to continually refer back.

Often I get asked why am I asking an athlete to do speed work, when they are training for an ultra race where the start line looks like a shuffle of the feet. Or why there's a cross train in the pool session, when an athlete thinks they should be running. Having the answers available when it's needed helps the athlete buy in to the process, to get the most out of the session and understand the bigger picture.

I find when people decide they want a coach, they are wishing to bring a better version of themselves to a race or event. Although their motivation levels are relatively high, there's still a spark or drive within them that needs to be fired up and pushed.

I'm not talking about sending motivational quotes daily from Ghandi or Eleanor Roosevelt! Often this can be the coach identifying progress and improvements in the athletes training they may not be able to see for themselves. The best form of motivation is looking back to see how far you've come. This is often very difficult unless someone (your coach) identifies this for you.

A good friend I'm coaching improved his running economy by 10% and improved his race time by an hour at the same race 9 months apart. When we did a post race brief and went through the comparison stats, it was only then he could see the improvement in his performance and that the work he was putting in was paying off. More on these results here.

Other ways I work on inspiring and motivating the athletes I'm coaching is by connecting them with each other and sharing their successes, as well as connecting them with other professionals in my network such as nutritionists and sport psychologists.

Final considerations

This is a business and personal relationship. Both the athlete and coach should be comfortable enough to speak the hard truths with each other and bond well enough to achieve great long term results.This level of relationship has sometimes taken a few days, through to 6-7 weeks with some of my athletes and the only way to get there is through communication - the number one ingredient.

Looking for guidance, mentorship and support in your training and racing goals? Get in touch jamie@runvaultperformance.com.au or book a time in my calendar for an obligation free chat here:

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