RRCA Coaching Certification Course Recap

Back in September, I participated in a two-day running coach certification course through the Road Runners Club of America in Newport News, VA. The RRCA does these courses around the country, and you have to be pretty ready to register as soon as they become available, as they fill up quickly. When I was deciding whether or not to register, given that I’d be taking the class as much for personal interest as anything else, I looked at different blog reviews to see other people’s reactions. So, if you are considering the course, read on to see what I have to say about it!

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My motivations to take the course

Earlier in the summer, my supervisor at work asked if I’d ever considered becoming a running coach (note: my job is not related to running/fitness). While I don’t really bring up the topic of running at work, after the Boston Marathon, most coworkers know I run, and they’ll ask questions or share their running goals. And I love hearing about and encouraging their training, and my supervisor knows it. After our conversation, I resolved to sign up for a class as soon as one was offered within driving distance. Thankfully I have friends in Norfolk who were willing to let me stay there for the weekend!

I wanted the course to provide more formal context for what I’ve read over my past 10 years of running and fill in some gaps. And I hoped having the certification and knowledge would prepare me for some coaching or mentoring opportunities with local running groups. Plus, who wouldn’t want to spend a whole weekend talking about running?

The course

Our course was taught by Bobby Gessler, a physician and long-time runner. He was great – entertaining and knowledgeable. 18 hours is a long time to hold the attention of 30 people, and he succeeded. The first day of the course focused on different types of runners and the science around running. (Each course participant gets a spiral notebook of the course slides, so it’s easy to follow along and take notes.) At times I felt like I was back in biology class learning about mitochondria and ATP, but at least it was related to running!

The second day covered some of the business behind coaching (very interesting!), and we broke into small groups to prepare a training plan for a hypothetical client. It was fun to bounce ideas around with my group and then to see what the other groups came up with.

Here is a basic list of topics covered:

  • History of coaching
  • Types of runners and their training needs
  • Exercise physiology
  • Building a periodized program
  • Running form
  • Nutrition
  • The business of coaching
  • Sports psychology
  • Injuries
  • Heat and altitude

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The highlights and take-aways

  • Energy and excitement about running: I was a few weeks away from my first half ironman at the time of the course, so spending a weekend immersed in running was a welcome break from triathlon. Leaving the course I couldn’t wait for the triathlon to be over so I could focus on running again and try some new workouts.
  • Learning from others: I was one of the youngest participants, but everyone had unique backgrounds coming into the course. Some worked in or owned running stores and wanted the certification so they could lead training programs. Others had started informal running groups or were personal trainers and wanted more education with which to lead their athletes. A few were triathletes who made clear that running was their least favorite of the three sports, but they wanted to add to their triathlon coaching certifications. And then there were a few participants like me, who loved running but didn’t quite know where the certification would take them. It was inspiring to hear the various stories about how running fits into people’s lives and how they’re in turn helping other people to enjoy running as well.
  • Context for prior knowledge: I had hoped the course would take what I already knew about running and organize it. The course did a great job of that. For example, 2-mile repeats are not a workout you’d give a novice running. Not rocket science, and probably not the best example, but the course helped me understand what probably is and isn’t appropriate for a given athlete and how to integrate different workouts into a training program.

What’s next

After the course I had to pass a 100 question (open book) test on the materials and complete a CPR/First Aid certification course. Check, and check (this course was quite a while ago now…). So now I’m a certified running coach!

Since the training, I have started coaching a few athletes training for their first half marathons and marathons. I have some more ideas of where to go next, but I’ll have to see how it all plays out. Overall, the weekend course was instructional and energizing, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re curious about the science behind training and how to work with individual athletes.

I’m happy to answer any questions people may have about the course – I fully enjoyed the weekend!

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