The inaugural Ultrarunning Coach Conference recently took place in Colorado Springs, CO, led by the United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA) and coach Jason Koop. The three-day event drew coaches from various locations across North America and featured an impressive array of speakers, including notable individuals such as Stephanie Howe, Ph.D., Nick Tiller, Ph.D., Lindsay Golich, MSc, Wouter Hoogkamer, Ph.D., Justin Ross Psy.D and other experts.
When asked about the conference, Rick Prince, founder of UESCA, said, “Ultrarunning is one of the fastest-growing endurance sports but despite that, there was no ultrarunning-specific conference where ultrarunners could come together and learn from not just each other, but from the top experts in various areas as it relates to ultrarunning performance.”
Nearly 100 professionals gathered at the conference which served as a pivotal moment in cementing the professionalization of coaching within the rapidly expanding niche of ultrarunning. During his opening remarks, author and head ultrarunning coach of CTS, Jason Koop, underscored this significant development. “I was impressed with just the overall interest in the conference. This speaks to the increasing professionalism in coaching. It’s always telling to see who is there and who is not there (at these conferences and other opportunities). In my experience, the people who don’t invest in their profession don’t stick around for very long.”
This collective effort not only reinforced the value of the UESCA Ultrarunning Coach Certification but also underscored the importance of the conference itself.
According to Stephanie Howe, Ph.D., “There is a need and desire to create and disseminate evidence-based scientific research.” As the sport experiences ongoing expansion, a considerable number of athletes are actively seeking coaching to facilitate their progress, whether they are elite or non-elite participants. A hopeful increasing trend among athletes is the adoption of evidence-based training principles over-relying on approaches that may have worked for running partners or elite ultrarunners. The crucial emphasis for coaches lies in providing individualized training that is free from biases stemming from personal experiences or the experiences of others.
As athletes make this shift, Koop weighs in on the substantial opportunity within the coaching market. “I still feel that many people are afraid to ‘make the leap’ and coach full time. Some of that is just a byproduct of hedging their bets but the opportunity is obviously there. There were probably more than 2,000 athletes’ worth of coaches there. That’s not a trivial size market and one that when you look on its surface, many people can make a full-time living. Both the business structure as well as the adoption need to come around to help fulfill this and happen in parallel.”
I attended this conference with a certain degree of skepticism regarding the coaching profession as a whole. I consider myself fortunate to collaborate with numerous top-tier coaches in both cycling and ultrarunning. However, my exposure to some of the practices and strategies advocated by other coaches on social media or through athlete experiences who approach our coaching company at CTS often left me disheartened. Yet, my experience of engaging with the coaches present at this conference has rekindled my optimism in the profession and its future. Whether it was through one-on-one interactions with fellow attendees or witnessing the high-quality questions raised during Q&A sessions, it became clear that the representatives participating in this conference are steering the coaching profession in a positive and promising direction. Koop added, “We still have a long way to go in business practice. Many of the things ultrarunning coaches are doing now are things that cycling and triathlon did 10 years ago and no longer do (because the business models are not viable).”
The conference featured a roster of scientists and leading experts in various domains and attempted to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and coaching practice. This commitment empowers professionals to enhance their knowledge and expertise in their respective fields, thereby advancing the quality of coaching within the industry. “We’re collectively (coaches and researchers) starting to ‘figure out ultras.’ I could not say that 10 years ago. There are always going to be things to learn but in terms of one, here are the basic limiters/what drives performance and two, here is how we can train for those limiters. Not every coach is actively aware or using this, but the knowledge is getting rounded enough to drive best practice,” said Koop.
Alongside the esteemed academic presenters, there were also panel discussions on a wide range of practical topics. “I was blown away by how engaged all of the attendees were during all of the sessions. Perhaps the thing that I loved the most about the conference was seeing how all of the attendees socialized with each other,” said Prince.
“The networking effect is very real,” added Koop. “Coaches who have a network around them and build that network are going to be able to serve their athletes better. There’s no way you can be a specialist in every area.” The conference brought together an array of specialists and provided an opportunity for coaches to expand their network and learn how to use it best to serve their athletes.
The UESCA Ultrarunning Coach Conference provided a platform for a diverse array of experts from various disciplines to converge and share their insights, knowledge and passion for the dynamic world of ultrarunning. As Dr. Nick Tiller said, “It was an honor to share the stage with so many knowledgeable and experienced professionals. There are few places in the world where such a multidisciplinary field of experts blend together so seamlessly, all sharing their passion for this thrilling, rewarding and utterly ridiculous sport of ours.”
As we look ahead to the future, it’s evident that the UESCA Ultrarunning Coach Conference is not just an event, but a community committed to the growth, professionalization and enduring enjoyment of ultrarunning. We anticipate even more exciting discoveries, shared insights and camaraderie in the years to come.
For more information or to sign up for next year’s event visit uesca.com.