It’s safe to say that running is having itself a moment. More people are participating in running events than ever before—in 2012 almost 16 million people crossed finish lines all over the country! Even themed races like Tough Mudder and The Color Run have seen an explosion in popularity, with almost two million participants in 2012. These events are attracting rookie runners, to boot: Roughly 60 percent of 2012 Color Run entrants had never run a 5K before (Way to go, newbies!).

As the popularity of running grows, so, too, does the stream of resources available online that help people get started and get better. From training guides, running apps, and assorted other tips and tricks, it’s perhaps never been easier or, er, more overwhelming to get started with running or take your training to the next level.

But If piecing together running workouts using apps and articles seems daunting, it might be time to follow the lead of the more than six million people who work out with personal trainers. Yep, there is such a thing as a personal trainer who just focuses on helping you run better.

So when is it a good time to bring a coach on board? And what, exactly, are they supposed to help with?

We spoke with Greatist experts Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track and Field certified coach and the founder of Strength Running, and Jon-Erik Kawamoto, owner of JK Conditioning and a strength and conditioning specialist, to find out all the different ways running coaches can help you take your running and running-related nutrition, recovery, and mobility to the next levelThe Effectiveness of Personal Training on Changing Attitudes Towards Physical Activity. McClaran, S., J Sports Sci Med. 2003 March; 2(1): 10–14. Published online 2003 March 1.. Here’s what a running coach can do for you:

1. They help you define—and meet—your goals.
Coaches are trained and experienced in helping runners figure out exactly how to meet their fitness objectives. “Any runner who has a specific goal can benefit from a coach—whether that’s a time goal, qualifying for Boston, or even losing weight,” says Fitzgerald. “They’ll also help you set other goals by telling you what’s realistic, what it will take [to meet your goals], and showing you the path to get there.” This adheres to research which finds that the more measurable and intentional goals are, the easier they are to acheive.

2. They keep you consistent (and motivated).
“Consistency is what I call the ’secret sauce’ to good training, and your coach can help you be more consistent than ever—and ultimately [help you] get faster than you ever thought possible!” Fitzgerald says. “Running is itself a long-term sport, so runners need to remind themselves that results don’t happen in weeks or even a few months,” he adds.

Sometimes, staying consistent means staying motivated—and coaching may play a key role in keeping spirits high. One study suggests that one-on-one personal training is effective in not only changing attitudes towards physical activity, but also increasing the amount of time participants spent being physically activeThe Effectiveness of Personal Training on Changing Attitudes Towards Physical Activity. McClaran, S., J Sports Sci Med. 2003 March; 2(1): 10–14. Published online 2003 March 1..

3. They’ll warm you up, cool you down, and help prevent injuries.
Different coaches’ program designs may vary, but any structured plan will include structured training runs, warm-up drills, cool-down and recovery activities, nutrition guidance, strength training, and race-day prep.​

​Kawamoto explains that structured training plans that include strength training reduce the risk of injury. One recent study found that strength training significantly reduced the occurrence of sports injuries and injuries related to overuseThe effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Lauersen J.B., Bertelsen D.M., Andersen L.B., et. al., Institute of Sports Medicine Copenhagen, Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen NV, Denmark, British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2014 Jun;48(11):871-7..

“Reducing injury risk takes proper planning for running workouts and total mileage run per week. Coaches can also help with other factors related to injury prevention, like proper footwear, running surface, and strength training,” Kawamoto says. “Runners will benefit from… exercises that improve hip strength and single-leg balance and stability. Any good coach will be available any time for you and should be willing to revise your training plan, help you with recovery (sleep, fueling, appropriate workouts, or injury management), and answer any questions you have.”

4. They have great tips for nutrition and fueling.
Nutritional guidance can be a part of the coaching experience. And, as most athletes know, nutrition is key when it comes to enhancing physical activity, athletic performance, and recoveryAmerican College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, et. al. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise. 2009 Mar;41(3):709-31.

Fitzgerald stresses that, “From a running coach’s perspective, there are some definitely do’s and don’ts of fueling that I cover with my runners.” The particular challenges of fueling for long runs or a rigorous running schedule can all be covered with a qualified coach.

A Match Made in Running Heaven: How to Find the Right Coach

Knowledge, experience, and personality are all things to keep in mind when finding the best running coach for you, says Kawamoto. He also recommends looking atcoaches’ specialties: Some focus on track and field events, others on marathons, and still others on shorter distances like 5K or 10K races. Professional certifications are important, too; Fitzgerald recommends being on the look out for credentials from a reputable organization like USA Track & Field or the Road Runners Club of America.

Fitzgerald’s parting advice when it comes to finding a coach? “A good coach is successful when they accomplish one thing: helping their athletes achieve their goals. Make sure your coach can demonstrate their effectiveness by showing you their runners’ success stories, testimonials, and feedback. Getting results is what makes runners hire coaches [in the first place]!”

Not sure where to start? Check out these sites to find the right coach for you:

1. Road Runners Club of America
2. Training Peaks
3. RunnersConnect
4. Coach Up

No Money, No Problem. Cheap(er) and Free Alternatives

If personal or group coaching just isn’t in the cards, don’t worry! These apps can give you a helping hand at little or no cost.

1. Run Coach
This free app is powered by MapMyRUN and offers a variety of training plans for those interested in the basics or racing.

2. Couch-to-5K
This app will take you from the couch to a 5K finish line in nine weeks with 20- to 30-minute workouts three times per week.

3. Personal Running Trainer
This app offers professional coaching instructions voiced over your choice of music. Users can train for races from all distances, from one mile to a marathon.

These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.