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Everything You Need to Know about the NAASFP Marathon Coaching Certification

August 26, 2014

As much as I love to run, some of my most cherished running memories have little to do with me. They come from the joy in watching and helping others succeed. There are few things as rewarding in life as helping someone achieve something they once believed to be impossible. That’s the thing about running – it’s about defying the limits we’ve created for ourselves in our minds. When we have a strong mentor and support system and we start to believe we are capable of more than we ever thought possible, incredible things happen.

On Saturday, I received an email that confirmed I’m officially a certified marathon coach from the North American Academy of Sport Fitness Professionals (NAASFP). *Commence happy dance*

“Congratulations and welcome! You have now joined the ranks of certified NAASFP professionals around the globe by becoming a certified Marathon Coach.

[Lots of technical information I’ve deleted]

Wishing you many years of happy practice.”

The NAASFP even gave me a wallet card and certificate to prove I’m legit *wink.* This was a journey that started 8 months ago. It was a challenging and time-consuming marathon certification process but one I feel proud to have achieved.


The NAASFP Marathon Coaching Certification Process

During the past few months, I’ve received countless emails and tweets asking me about the NAASFP marathon coaching certification process since certification options are quite limited and little is written about the NAASFP course. According to the NAASFP, their Marathon Coach Distance Education certification is a comprehensive course designed to prepare candidates to plan and deliver safe and effective training programs in a one-on-one or group setting.

I’ve shared before why I took this harder road to marathon coaching certification rather than simply attending a more well-known weekend coaching certification seminar and taking the subsequent test. I believe the NAASFP process has made me a better runner and a better coach.

Here are my thoughts on the NAASFP marathon coaching certification process and what others considering pursuing this should know.

  1. This is the most rigorous and thorough marathon coaching certification process I’ve found. This means it can take anywhere from 22 weeks to a year to complete (although you can go at your own pace). Although quite involved and challenging, I believe the extra rigor and attention to detail ensure better development and training for coaches than a weekend seminar and test alone can provide. Coaching is about so much more than memorizing facts and stats about running, training and anatomy. It is about chemistry. It is about a deep technical knowledge combined with years of real-life experience. And it is about practice. The NAASFP marathon coaching certification allows you to flex your skills in all of these areas.
  2. There are 4 parts to the marathon coaching certification process. The steps include: 1) a 3-hour written exam based on a NAASFP manual and two texts on running anatomy and heart rate training, 2) a case study (i.e. written paper) based on a fictional client in which you must design a training program that is scored by a master coach, 3) first aid and CPR certification (you can do this through the American Red Cross) and 4) an 18-week practical in which you coach a real client (that you must find) to complete a half marathon or marathon and provide a lengthy report at the end of the cycle. You can read more about these steps here. You must also have run at least 1 marathon and be 18 years of age or older. To pass, you must score at least an 80 percent on each portion.
  3. The test wasn’t what I was expecting, but you should not have major issues passing it. The number one question I get from people thinking about pursuing their coaching certification is what kinds of questions were on the test and how to prepare. The first thing you should know is that the NAASFP manual and 2 additional recommended books are all you need to focus on for studying. All of the questions come directly from those publications. Secondly, the test is open book. You complete it online on a Sunday of your choosing based on the dates the test is being offered and have 3 hours to finish it. You can refer to all your materials. The best advice I can give you is to know where certain information is located in all your books, as you will spend the most time and be most stressed about locating information you will remember reading but can’t find when you’re on the clock. Some of the questions were much more laser focused and somewhat random than I was expecting. I was expecting more situation-based questions that would ask us what we would do in certain scenarios with a client or how to approach plans based on certain issues, but there were more tactical questions related to anatomy and other similar items presented in the study materials.
  4. The master coaches do not allow flexibility in their coaching philosophies and approach for certification. Running is not a one-size fits all approach. Just like different things work for different runners; different coaches believe in and share different philosophies and approaches – from how they construct their plans on paper to the guidance and mileage they would prescribe to their various athletes. Because certification means that you have mastered all the components of marathon coaching, you must master and follow the way the NAASFP coaches and creates plans. Most all of the information and guidance is excellent in the NAASFP manual; however, there are some things that I would likely do slightly different as a coach based on the different athletes I work with. For instance, I did not like some of the pacing recommendations for certain runs in the manual because I thought they were too fast. Upon asking about it, I was told for the test, case study and practical, I had to demonstrate competency and adhere to these standards despite my gut feelings or personal experience.
  5. You might be math challenged. Even though the NAASFP covers all of North America, they use kilometers throughout their materials since they are headquartered in Canada. If you are an American who is already math challenged like me, the conversion from kilometers to miles can become a bit tiresome after a while. I was constantly using online calculators to adjust from kilometers to miles.
  6. The NAASFP staff is responsive and top notch. Throughout my entire marathon coaching certification, the team at NAASFP was incredibly responsive and helpful. They answered my emails within 24 hours and got back to me within several days with results from each of my steps in the process. As part of the process, they also assign you to a master coach who you can see guidance and answers from as well.
  7. It’s not free, and the work isn’t over. The cost to begin and complete your certification process is about $282 U.S. dollars or $310 Canadian dollars. I feel this is a very fair and worthwhile cost given the support, tedious grading involved and the manual you receive. Once you are certified, you must also maintain continuing education by completing 4 continuing education courses within your year of certification and submitting a renewal application each year.
  8. I learned a lot and validated what I already knew. I think many of us who have been running for a long time and have numerous endurance events under our belts think we know enough from our own personal experiences to coach others. After going through this process, I know that is incorrect. Although much of what I know and would recommend was validated by going through this process, I also learned a great deal and/or refocused on important issues that I hadn’t always focused on strongly. Running anatomy, heart rate training, better warm-up/cool down protocols, proper post-race recovery plans (for up to 6 weeks after races) and critical training cycles were some of the key areas I enjoyed digging into deeper.

Overall, I would highly recommend the NAASFP marathon coaching certification process for anyone looking to become a marathon coach. In addition to the insights listed above, you will also learn and become proficient in the following areas/topics:

•    Coaching fundamentals and philosophies
•    Principles and practices of athletic training
•    Exercise physiology and energy systems
•    Anatomy and biomechanics
•    Conditioning programming and testing
•    Sport-specific training exercises and drills
•    Sport psychology
•    Injury prevention and reconditioning plans
•    Sports nutrition
•    Training cycles and progressions
•     Heart rate based training
•    Training plans
•    Individualization of coaching
•    Client screening and assessment
•    Business of coaching

To learn more about the NAASFP marathon coaching certification, click here. If you have any questions about my coaching certification process or if you’re interested in learning more about my coaching services, please email me at In the coming weeks, I will add more information about my coaching services to the top navigation bar of this site.

Are you a certified marathon coach? If so, tell us about your process and the best thing about being a coach. If not, is getting your marathon coaching certification something you’re interested in? If you’re a runner who has a coach, what is most important to you regarding the support and services he/she provides you?

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