RRCA Certified Running Coach

Last month, a few of my running mates and I took a 2-day class in San Jose, CA to become certified running coaches through the Road Running Club of America (RRCA).  Our motivations for becoming certified were all very different, and as I discovered, not everyone who takes the class is even interested in coaching.  Some people just want to expand their knowledge base, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  For me, I’ve been day dreaming about drop kicking the corporate job most of my adult life to pursue my real passions that generate zero income.  But since I’ve never been a gifted athlete, maybe teaching others what I’ve learned over the last 32 years of running might be one way to give back to a sport that has given me so much.

The RRCA course has been taught for over 20 years by Patti and Warren Finke who split their time between Portland, Oregon and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.  They are both decorated runners.  My own coach, Andy Froumis, thought he might be the most experienced runner attending the class with me after surpassing 100,000 miles earlier this year.  We quickly learned Warren has run 140,000 miles, including a few years when he ran over 6,000 miles a year.  Warren is an instructor for the RRCA coaching certification program.  He has been coaching beginning to elite road and trail runners for more than 25 years. He has competed in over 170 marathons and ultramarathons, winning more than 20.  He is two-time U.S. track record holder for 100km and was the 2nd place veterans finisher in the 1992 Boston Marathon.  Patti is an exercise physiologist and current chairperson of the RRCA coaching committee. Patti has been coaching runners and walkers for over 25 years and has held individual U.S. age records for 50km and 50mi and has three times been Oregon Road Runners Club Age group runner of the year.   They are the founders and directors of the Portland Marathon Training Clinic and authors of Marathoning, Start To Finish.  OK, so I figured I could learn a thing or two from these people.

Due to Patti’s background in exercise physiology, the first 2 – 3 hours of Day 1 was a blur of sports science, physiology, biology, and a few other subjects I struggled with in high school.  I quickly realized it wasn’t so important to understand every single detail.  The idea is to learn their proven system, which is well documented in their class material.  Patti and Warren are the first to admit students may not agree with their system or may prefer other coaching methods, but the test is based on their system, so you had better learn it.  if you don’t score at least 80% on the test you need to take the whole class over and that would be a serious bummer.  I was happy to learn one entire training system even though some things certainly sounded different than anything I had ever known.  And that’s why they’re the instructors.

The first day is intense; you need to pay attention.  They cover a lot of ground and move fast.  Think 10K pace but it lasts all day.  The second day is dedicated to creating real training plans.  It’s the hands on piece and they put you on the spot.  The exam is 100 questions in an online test.  It’s open book and they encourage everyone to take the test with someone else in the class so you can discuss the answers.  Four of us from my running club studied together and I passed the test with a 90% score.  Wish I knew which 10 I got wrong.

The final requirement is CPR and first aid certification.  I took a full day course at the Red Cross.  Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to learn CPR and I’m glad I finally did it.  My very knowledgable instructor was retired Navy.  Let’s just say he kept my attention.  I learned how to treat a choking infant, administer full CPR on an unconcious adult, use an AED (the “paddles”), and treat various injuries.  I actually now feel like I could respond in an emergency situation and know what to do.

I highly recommend the RRCA class if you’re interested in coaching runners. If the class is not offered in your area, they’re willling to come to you.  They just need a local host who will take care of planning and logistics.  The class I took wasn’t offered in San Jose until one of my friends took it upon herself to organize it.  Patti and Warren explained they will also be offering an advanced coaching class soon.

So, I am now a certified running coach.  I’m fully aware that simply having a certification does not make a good coach.  Any kind of coaching is half science, half art, and all people skills.  I was surprised with how little running experience some of the students had in my class.  I felt confident I could properly coach a beginner or advanced runner before I took the course,  but it’s nice to have a proper set of core principles as a foundation.  Patti and Warren said if you only buy one book on running, get a copy of Lore of Running, by Dr. Tim Noakes.  My mother-in-law gave it to me for my birthday earlier this month.  It’s a whopping 804 pages and would keep an RV from rolling downhill.  There is always more to learn.

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