I Passed!

February 4, 2014

If you’ve been reading runladylike.com regularly, you know I’m currently going through my marathon coaching certification from the North American Academy of Sport Fitness Professionals (NAASFP).

I’m excited to share that I’ve passed the first portion of my marathon coaching certification – the 3-hour exam!

marathon coaching certification

As the daughter of an elite runner and former running coach, I never in a million years would have guessed I’d somehow be inexplicably drawn down the same path. And yet, here I am. That little girl who attended cross country meets and thought her dad’s runners were superheroes is following in his footsteps. I guess the acorn really doesn’t fall from the tree (no matter how far away we try to get it to land).

Marathon coaching certification
Me with my dad

I began my marathon coaching certification process back in November 2013 when I registered to start the program. The NAASFP marathon coaching certification program is unlike any others I’ve seen in that it is very time consuming and challenging. Most coaching certifications consist of simply attending a weekend seminar, taking a test and then – poof! – you’re a coach. While there is nothing wrong with those certifications (I look forward to becoming certified by other organizations and continuing my education through them too), I think being a good running/marathon coach is about much more than sitting in a room for 2 days and taking a multiple choice test. And, to be fair, coaching is also about more than one’s own personal experience, too.

To me, being a great coach is about the combination of years of personal running experience along with learned knowledge of the body, running mechanics, heart rate training, philosophies of creating plans, pacing strategies, injury prevention and much more. It is about knowing that one size does not fit all. It is about understanding that success is also dependent on building mental strength, not just physical strength. It’s about listening, constantly learning and being flexible along the way. And it is about being able to harness all of these things to serve the unique needs of individuals of all abilities.

That’s why I chose the harder road. In the end, the harder road always pays off.

marathon coaching certification

Here is a snapshot of the steps of my marathon coaching certification process. One down, 3 to go! I’m looking forward to completing my marathon coaching certification and beginning to offer coaching services starting this summer!

STEP ONE: Written Exam (COMPLETE!)
Candidates must complete a comprehensive 100-question, 3-hour multiple-choice test that covers the principles found in the NAASFP coaching manual and 2 other texts on running anatomy and heart rate training. A score of 80 percent or better is required to pass.

The case study provides the candidate with an opportunity to demonstrate an ability to apply the knowledge necessary to successfully coach, prior to working with real clients. The candidate receives basic information on a fictional client, including their background and goals. Based on this information the candidate will design a training program to help the client achieve his or her goal that will be reviewed and scored by a master coach. The program must contain everything from the coaching assessment, training plan, nutrition guidance, proper warm-ups and cool-downs, stretching, injury prevention, evaluation and more. A score of 80% or better is required to pass.

STEP THREE: First Aid and CPR Certification (Scheduling)
Maintaining First Aid and CPR certification is a requirement of certification with NAASFP and critical for working safely with clients. A copy of the completion certificate must be submitted to NAASFP.

STEP FOUR: Practical (Starting this month)
The practical is the opportunity to work with an actual client for a minimum of 18 weeks while under the guidance of a master trainer. The candidate will design a full program and provide weekly guidance and support that is appropriate for the client’s goal and factors in their current fitness level. I have an awesome client in the Atlanta area that I’ll be coaching for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon!

What qualities do you think make a great running coach? Who was the best running coach you’ve ever had?


Kara A. Forrest

Such a huge accomplishment to be on your way to helping and inspiring others to reach their goals! Several posts back on my blog, I wrote, “Ode to a Coach”. My high school cross country and track coach inspired, motivated and influenced me in positive ways that have stuck with me for a lifetime. Coach Steve Perks saw in me at times, what I didn’t always see in myself. He guided me along my path in high school on and off the track. To this day Coach Perk’s motto, “Run Tuff” has stuck with me and so many former high school runners who’s lives he touched along the path to running. A good coach can inspire. Good luck Jessica!


What a beautiful comment, Kara! Thank you for sharing that with me. Your coach sounds awesome and I can’t wait to check out your post on him. I also agree that an amazing coach is able to see in us what we don’t see in ourselves. Thanks again for sharing!

Ashley @ Brocblog

woohoo congrats on getting one step closer! Ive never had a running coach but I think that with coaches and instructors its important to know when to push and when to back off.

Megan (Running Toward the Prize)

CONGRATS!!! This is such amazing news and I LOVE that you are following in the steps of your dad – what a legacy! I can’t wait to continue to follow this journey, you will be a fantastic coach!!!

Victor Mariano

Congratulations Jesica!! That has to feel so good 🙂 such an accomplishment and so exciting for you!! You will do great, I just know it.

To answer your questions. I have to start with your second question first. My dad was my best running coach. Yes it was a long, long, time ago that I was in high school and my father was a science teacher, high school football and track coach. As I entered high school he was coaching for another local school and would have been coaching against me…looking back now he made the difficult decision to stop doing something he truly loved in order to let his children stay in the school where they grew up. He started a dairy farm and with any free moment was inspiring me, training me and teaching me the importance of applying yourself to the best of your ability, sportsmanship, pride and under no circumstances — do not quit — do not stop — finish what you started. With my dad coaching I placed in state at the pole vault and ran the 220 yard dash (ok I know — they didn’t measure in meters back then) Quitters never win and winners never quit.
So fast forward some thirty years and I decide to start running again. I knew nothing about what I was doing except that I was overweight, recovering from kidney cancer and thinking life was really crappy. So in 2007 I bought a pair of running shoes (they looked good) and a NikePlus sensor and start walking, then running, then training. My first “race” ever was a half marathon in Alpharetta. Again I knew nothing about running or pacing or start or finish lines. Fueling and hydration. What are those. Garmin???
But I just watched others that all looked like they knew what they were doing and strapped my number on and lined up to run. I only knew what I read in Runners World about being a newbie. I ran my heart out that day and somewhere around mile 11 I was getting tired and didn’t know if I could or should keep going. Then somewhere out of the depths of my memory I thought of my dad… and I heard is voice say do not quit son.. do not quit. So I finished and it was under 2 hours!!! And now some 65 races and thousands of miles later I still remember mile 11 of that first half marathon.
So you my friend, will inspire and bring that sense of accomplishment to some many in years to come. Again High FIVE !!!


Victor, Thank you SO much for sharing this incredible story with us. Wow. Just wow. I am so inspired by all you have accomplished and I love that your dad also had a big impact on you when it comes to your running. It is funny how those moments like your first 11-mile memory stay with us forever. Thank you so much for your kind words and sharing this journey with me. Keep up the great running!

Sarah @RunFarGirl

Congrats!! I checked out their website, this is legit! Next to getting certified by NASM as a personal trainer. Were you a part of a trial group? I didn’t see any courses listed?


Hi Sarah! Yes, it is an awesome program and quite intense. There are no courses. It is all self-led. You register by completing the application form and choosing a test date. You will then be assigned a master coach mentor who helps you through the process. Rather than sitting through a seminar for the first portion of the certification, you do a self-led study based on 3 texts to prepare for the exam before moving on to the next part. One of the things I like about it is that you can move at your own pace. I am loving the process so far, although I’m ready to finish it 🙂

jenn @ runnderlust

Congratulations! I think good coach qualities include: flexibility, supportive, knowledgeable, clear lines of communication, judgment-free, and personable. I think being personable has been my strongest attribute with the kids I coach and it allows them to open up to me more.


All great qualities, Jenn. Thanks so much for sharing!


Awesome!! Congratulations!




Fantastic!! Go for the harder goals…..You deserve it!!!!

Tina Muir

Yay! How exciting!!! Congratulations! I am sure you will breeze through the rest and become a great coach!

I think that adaptability is one of the most important traits as you have to be prepared to modify your training plan to suit the individuals strengths, and work on their weaknesses. You also have to be prepared that things will go wrong, and be prepared o adapt for them. My coach has helped me achieve so many incredible things….running in the olympic trials being the highlight, and I would never ever have done it without him.

Cant wait to see what you help your runners achieve!


Tina, I couldn’t agree with you more. That is so key. I know many people who have coaches that rarely deviate from plans even when the runner needs an extra rest day, is becoming mentally fatigued, etc. It is so important to adapt to what is going to make the runner their best self. I’m so glad your coach has played such a critical role in your inspiring running journey! Keep up the great work!

Gabrielle from Austria

Congratulations, Jesica!

I think a good runnig coach can bring out the best in a runner, no matter if it’s an elite runner or any person from the back pack. A great coach inspires. We all are “born to run”, no matter how fast we are.


Well said, Gabrielle! I couldn’t agree more 🙂

Kristen @ Glitter and Dust

Congratulations! You work so hard and it’s so evident that you love what you do. You deserve it!

Amanda @runtothefinish

Congrats that is so exciting!!! I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up in a running household. Hmm maybe I would have tried it before the end of college!

Kelli Kerkhoff

Congrats and best of luck with the remaining portion! I’ve had a coach who treated me like I didn’t matter, I was just some income (didn’t even contact me two weeks before and not even after my goal marathon). I’ve had a coach who’s bent over backwards to adjust my plan for my needs, injuries, races. I’ve had a coach who really didn’t know all there was to running but he believed in all of us. So to believe in your clients, even when they don’t believe in themselves, and to treat them like they matter are two really important aspects of a coach. You’ll be awesome!!!!


Wow, Kelli! You have had such a wide range of experience with your coaches. I’m so sorry to hear about the negative experiences, but glad you’ve also had some really positive ones. Your advice is so important and I really appreciate you sharing it!


Congrats Jesica! How exciting!!!

Lacy @ Running Limitless

Jesica that is so awesome! Congratulations. You are going to do great and fly through the rest of the course. You are definitely an inspiration to so many people and anyone will be lucky to have you as a coach. I am hoping that the coach I just started with this week will be amazing. I am sure he will and I can’t wait to see how it goes. Congrats again!


Thank you SO much for your kind words Lacy. That really means a lot to me. I can’t wait to hear how your experience goes with your coach! Keep me posted. xoxo


Congrats Jes! Proud of you – finish it up in style!!


Congrats! That sounds like a really great, thorough program you are going through. Good luck with all the remaining portions.

Abby @ BackAtSquareZero

Congrats that is awesome.
I have never had a running coach before, but will begin with one on Monday.


Awesome, Abby! I hope you’ll keep me posted on how your experience goes!!!

Laura @losingrace

Very Very exciting! Congrats, your hard work paid off!

I think a big asset in a coach is knowing when to push and knowing when not to. This is something that would be different for each person you work with. A coach who is ALWAYS a hard ass, or ALWAYS your best friend aren’t going to help one succeed as much as knowing the right balance. This is more of a personal/social skill more than a running one.

meghan @ little girl in the big world

Congratulation Jesica!! That’s so exciting; I know how much you’ve wanted this and how hard you’ve worked for it. Can’t wait to see where it takes you!


I’m so glad I found your blog! I have been volunteering as a running coach and I love it! I am thinking about becoming certified as a coach and was exploring the different certifications when I found your blog. I was thinking about going the rrca route, but after your blog, I might rethink that. Thanks for the post!


Hi Andrea! I’m so glad you found me too! Thanks so much for stopping by! Keep me posted on your certification process. I have loved the marathon coaching certification through NAASFP and highly recommend it. I have gotten a lot out of it. Best of luck!!!


Hi Jessica,

Great job on becoming certified so far! I have a question for you, I am supposed to be writing my exam on April 20th but I am not sure how/where I find the exam when it is posted. Can you give me a little guidance on this?



Hi Kendra,
NAASFP will send you a link to the exam the Friday before the test (test is on Sunday). The URL will go live at 5 p.m. EST on the date of your test. If you email them they will share all the details with you as well. Good luck to you on your test! Keep me posted on how it goes!!!


Hey Jessica, I’m studying right now for the exam and also getting a lot of value from it. Just curious on how difficult you found the exam and if you have any tips or key things to be ready for it? Thanks in advance.


Hi Ian, Congrats on working toward your marathon coaching certification. I actually thought the exam was tougher than I was expecting because there were a lot of random questions. Rather than presenting scenarios like Runner A has this issue, what would you recommend, there were questions like where does the tricep originate and very tactical things that are in the manual but that you will likely not use much as a coach. I wish they had focused on some of the bigger issues related to coaching rather than some very specific and random things like that. I probably could have spent a little more time studying, but I was able to pass. Definitely know where everything is in the manual … what takes the most time is trying to flip through and remember where certain content is addressed.