{rrca run coach certification course & test}

As you may (or may not) know, I headed up to Portland, ME a few weekends ago to attend a two-day running coach certification course by the Road Runners Club of America. I only started running regularly two summers ago, when I began training for my first half marathon. Before that, I had been running one organized race, usually a 5K, each month for about six months.

So, really, I’m a very new runner. But there are a ton of things about running that have improved my life, including:

  • Overall physical health
  • Slight contribution to better mental health (running is NOT therapy – therapy is therapy – but running helps burn off a little bit of the crazy)
  • Long-term commitment and planning exercise
  • New friends

I’ve mentioned several times in this blog that I’m a member of my local chapter of She RUNS This Town/Moms RUN This Town. Honestly, without this group, I probably wouldn’t have survived training for that first half, let alone gone on to run a 200-mile relay or two marathons.

Anyway, the point of all this is, I’m still a relatively new runner, despite these big experiences. I’m not sure when I will decide that I’m no longer a new runner. But I’ve had a lot of experiences, and I want to be able to provide well-intentioned, ACCURATE guidance to others who are where I was when I started.

This is why I decided to pursue my running coach certification.

The purpose of this post is to provide a brief overview of the course and the associated exam. I touch briefly on my personal opinion/experience, but it’s meant to be more of an observation than a complaint, per se (although, I DID provide feedback regarding my personal experience in the course when given the opportunity to do so).

So I registered for this course back in March (I think it was a birthday gift to myself).

Pro tip: If you’re considering attending an RRCA Coaching Certification Level I Course, you NEED to start watching the calendar early. By the time I decided to pull the trigger to register, the course that was within daily commuter distance was already full, so I ended up selecting the next-closest location (Portland) which I felt required and overnight stay.

As the training date comes closer, the instructor (my course was led by Randy Accetta) gets in touch to share details and provide some pre-class homework. It was a 30-ish-minute video about the history of coaching and some of the major contributors, including many people I’ve never heard of, and ONE that I have – Jeff Galloway (run/walk for the win!).

The coach course is two days – Saturday and Sunday. Two LONG days… 8:00am to 5:00pm. There’s a lot of sitting and staring at a screen at the front of the room, or at Randy as he paces around.

Pro tip: Wear something comfortable, and that should include layers… and maybe even bring a pillow to sit on or tuck  behind your back. The chairs aren’t necessarily going to be comfortable. That said, participants were encouraged to stand up and stretch as they felt it necessary.

It was unexpectedly HOT AF. The course was held at the YMCA in Portland, and the room we were in didn’t have AC. It happened to be a pretty hot and humid weekend, so I personally felt like a sweaty, hot, melty mess. I have a hard time focusing when a room is too hot or too cold, so it was a pretty hefty effort for me to stay dialed in all weekend.

I was surprised by how large the class was – I didn’t actually count, but based on the one photo from the entire weekend, it was probably 35 people.

Here’s my personal opinion/experience: I have to be honest, I felt like the least accomplished, least qualified, least experienced person in that room. And generally my pace doesn’t bother me, but I also felt like the slowest runner in the room… the only reason I bring this up is because there’s a bunch of “math” involved, and Randy frequently used faster paces when discussing training concepts, so I felt like I had to slow down and crunch numbers for slower paces to understand some of what he was talking about.

There is a lot of open discussion during class, and it relies on participants’ personal experiences with running, training, and coaching. Some have been coaching, some haven’t. There might have been one or two other people who, like me, just wanted to learn more and be better informed. But the vast majority of participants want to be active with their local RRCA chapter or strike out on their own.

Topics covered included:

Day One

  • Coaching overview and case studies
  • Types of runners and their training needs
  • Physiology
  • Types of running, building a periodized program, and more case studies

Day Two

  • The business of coaching
  • Sports psychology
  • Building programs (breakout session)
  • Short touches on nutrition, injuries, and form

To be absolutely clear, it is easy to go off topic during class. Many people want to provide their opinion or ask questions, and it resulted in running a little behind. As a result, we spent significant time on some topics, and barely breezed through others.

Pro tip: The course materials are just a print out of the slides reviewed during class, so you don’t really need a notebook. There’s plenty of room to take notes in the margins. Any supplemental information that is required for the test is in the back of the book.

Randy made it very clear that the test is based on everything covered in class, there shouldn’t be surprises. The test is 100 questions, multiple choice, and his exact words were, “There is always going to be one answer that is best.”

The requirement to pass the test is 85%, the test is taken at home/online, and all notes and course materials can be used. It must be completed within 30 days of course completion.

I started my test on July 8th – I answered all of the questions to the best of my knowledge and PDFed each page (10 questions at time) so that I could review them at a later date (July 22nd) before I submitted my test for review.

Pro tip: You have the ability to save your test and return to it, which is nice. However, it is recommended that you find a solid block of time without interruptions to focus, and I would kind of agree with this. But keep reading for more on that…

I find that I work best being able to walk away and digest information, then coming back to reassess. My test took me a total of 5 hours and 7 minutes of time logged in… that includes all of the time I spent flipping through course materials to check my gut choice for answers, pacing around the apartment, and getting snacks.

My final score was a 90%… so I passed!

The other requirement for earning the coach certificate is passing a first aid/CPR/AED course and providing the certificate within 60 days of attending the running coach class. It cannot be done online. There is a live skills assessment component that is required by RRCA.

I took the Heartsaver course through New Hampshire CPR in Bedford, NH. I had tried to take a course through the Red Cross, but they kept cancelling my class due to low registration. NHCPR doesn’t cancel classes – they need a minimum of one participant to hold class. It cost me $95 for the course, plus I ordered the book ahead of time on Amazon for $17ish, because it was cheaper than buying through NHCPR.

Anywho, long story short, I do recommend the RRCA certification course for anyone who is interested in learning more about running all the way to those who actually want to coach.

Now, excuse me while I go build fictional training plans for myself.


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