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Open Mic Friday: Interview with The Running Coach: Christine Hinton

Posted Mar 20 2009 3:14pm


After experimenting with our own running, its feels great to get some expert help.

This week’s guest is professional running coach Christine Hinton.  Christine has been trained and certified by Road Runners Club of America and the American Sport Education Program.  She is a contributor to Runners’ World and Women’s Running magazines.  In her community, Christine is active in her running and triathlon clubs, the author of articles for their club newsletters, and has coached local high school teams and running camps.  In addition to her coaching business and website, Christine also hostsThe Pregnant Runner website.

A wife and mother, Christine takes a holistic approach to coaching runners, helping them integrate their running into the rest of their lives.  As a coach, writer, and speaker, she has a reputation for lifting and guiding runners to new levels of success and enjoyment.

Please welcome Coach Christine!

Christine Hinton 2 What are the key credentials, capabilities and experience runners should look for in selecting a coach?

I recommend runners look first for a certification.  Credible ones include RRCA (Road Runners Club of America), USATF (USA Track and Field) as well at USAT (triathlon) certifications.  This tells you that the coach has at least basic knowledge of the sport and training.  A good place to start when looking for a coach is the RRCA website’s list of coaches.

The coach should be willing to talk to you prior to being hired.  Ask the coach about their experience assisting runners like yourself as well as any other questions to help determine if this coach is the right match for you.

A coach does not need to be a past Olympian or even locally competitive in their day to be a good coach.  But, I do feel it is important that the coach have personal running and racing experience.  The knowledge and empathy gained from pushing yourself to run your best is an important component to understanding athletes.

Finally, I think it is important to find a coach that takes into account the life you lead.  I try very hard to accommodate my client’s obligations outside of running when designing their training.  If something comes up, they let me know and we rework the schedule.  Ask the prospective coach if they take the rest of your life into account while putting together a program.

Christine Hinton In your experience, what are most runners hoping to get out of coaching? Program design, motivation, discipline?’

Most runners want structure to their running. They want someone else to be responsible for putting the program together and adjusting it as needed.  My runners tend to be very organized and enjoy having concrete direction with their training.

Runners also want to be held accountable.  Most of us are surrounded by folks who could care less if you miss your run.  But, knowing you have to report back to your coach adds that motivation you may need to get out the door when weather isn’t perfect or the alarm clock snooze button is appealing. 

You use an interview process to learn about the athletes you coach.  What details are most useful to you in custom-designing a training program?

I do an initial consultation that usually takes about an hour.  During the consultation I go through a questionnaire and we get details of where the runner is presently and where they would like to be.  We talk through the questionnaire together because it gives me a chance to get clarification if needed.  People tend to open up more in conversation then they do writing out their responses.

I can’t say that one piece of information is more important than another.  I look at the whole picture and put the individual pieces together.  This is the only way to truly get a customized program. 

Blackwaterpic2 What typically prompts a runner to move from self coaching to using a professional coach?

Runners ready for a coach’s direction usually fall into a few categories.  Those wanting to take their running to the next level.  That can mean running faster or racing farther.  There are also runners who want to improve but are not sure how to change their current running program.  A beginner who has no idea how to start. Those wanting structure to their workouts without having to think about it themselves.  Runners who are losing motivation and need someone to hold them accountable or recharge their excitement of the sport.

What do you see runners are looking for when they come to you to be coached?

Runners are looking for personal attention and individualized training.  You can get a training plan for any distance in running magazines or online. Clients want assistance in making the training fit into their busy lives. They need someone to help them understand the results or lack of results they are getting.  To give them answers and learn about the sport of running.

In addition to the training programs you design, what else do you emphasize to boost runners’ performance? 

Excelling as a runner, whether your goal is to own a new PR or to stay fit, is a balance of many components.  A good running program will only take you so far.  You absolutely need to fuel yourself properly, stretch to increase and maintain flexibility, participate in core strength and general strength exercises as well as rest.  Each of these is crucial to success, no matter your ultimate goal.

Cross training can be an active form of rest.  I highly recommend mixing in cross training in place of some easy runs.  Cycling is my favorite and has been proven to be beneficial to running. 

What are some common mistakes runners make in terms of designing their own training programs? 

I find that one common mistake across all levels is training above your current level of fitness.  Runners, who are coming back from an injury or other time off, want to start training where they left off.  New runners assume they can do more or don’t need to rest because they are not running as much.  I have had a new runner run 7 days in a row (against what the plan called for) and then develop shin splints.  I have had seasoned runners bump up their paces to times from a few years ago only to be disappointed or injured as a result.  Running is a sport of patience and consistency.

Base training is often looked at as “putting in the miles.”  What can you tell us about base training and how to get the most out it?

I only employ the typical base training (mostly easy distance) for runners who are fairly new to running and just don’t have that time on their legs. These runners or those coming back after time off, need 3 or months of slowly increasing the time they run.  

Runners who have years of consistent running do not follow a typical base period in my programs.  Since my programs are individualized, everyone’s will be different.  But I will usually mix in some speed and steady runs into the base period.   It will usually be mini high intensity workouts and set according to their current fitness.  I think this helps maintain the fitness of certain systems while concentrating more heavily on base and aerobic development.

Get Finally, what’s the highest complement an athlete can pay you as a running coach?

I feel like I have done a good job when my runners get excited about running and discovering what they are capable of.  It brings me great joy to think that maybe I made a difference.  When a new runner crosses the line of their first 5k smiling, excited about their achievement and at the same time excited to open the next door.  And nothing feels better then my athletes hitting their goals.  But, even when they don’t, and that certainly happens, although disappointed, it never stops them from continuing on.

Having anything to do with people creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, is a huge compliment.

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