Q & A: Featuring Cory Smith, Founder & President of Run Your Personal Best – Part Two
Q: So your college career ended and you needed to take a mental and physical break from running. At what point did you start getting back into it again?
A: It was 2006, when I ran a 5K race in suburban Philadelphia and got something like 17:03 as my time. I don’t know what it was about that race, but it just put the fire back in me. I started to enjoy running again and remembering why I got into it when I was younger. So from that point on, I started running again on a regular basis, and every year since my commitment has gotten progressively more intense.
I’m in my late 30’s now, so it’s not realistic to think I’ll get the kind of times again that I ran in college, but most of my post-collegiate personal records have happened within the past few years. As far as training goes, in some cases I’m actually doing more miles now than I did in college. I probably run anywhere from six to 14 races a year now, ranging from the mile to the half-marathon. I’d consider the half-marathon to be my favorite race, along with the 5K.
Q: How did you first become involved with coaching?
A: In 2009, a guy I ran with in college and I started a post-collegiate running club in the Philadelphia area called Villanova Elite. We brought on some competitive elite local runners but there were also some recreational runners in the group. So I started helping them with training and workouts, and I realized the idea of coaching athletes was very appealing to me.
I continued doing that for a few years, and then in 2013 I became the assistant cross-country coach at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. That led to becoming the head cross-country and track coach at Penn State Brandywine in Media, PA, which competes at the NCAA Division III level. During my tenure there from 2014-15, the women won the league title and the men achieved their highest-ever league finish. They were the most successful teams Brandywine has had.
I really enjoyed that job and the only reason I gave it up was because my wife and I moved to California in November 2015. But around the time I started coaching at Brandywine, in August 2014, I also established Run Your Personal Best as an online coaching business.
Q: What led you to found Run Your Personal Best?
A: I knew that I had a love for training people and an interest in the science behind athletic performance. At the time, my running had been ramping up more and I was increasingly unhappy with my sales job in the software industry. So I started the online coaching business really as a way to help others. I consider three of my former coaches to be among the biggest influences in my life. And the positive impact you could have on people was something that attracted me to coaching. I never thought online coaching could become a full-time job. It just started off as something I enjoyed, but has just grown each year to the point that it’s now my main profession.
Q: So you founded Run Your Personal Best about three years ago. Can you estimate how many clients you’ve had in that time?
A: Hundreds of people from all over the country and actually the world. My clients hail from at least 25 different countries.
Q: With your coaching model being exclusively online, how connected do you feel with clients?
A: Personally, I feel very connected and I hope my clients who want a high level of connection feel the same way. But it depends on the individual. Some athletes actually don’t want or need somebody to be on top of them regularly. But for 80-90 percent of my clients, I’m communicating with them in some way on a daily basis. The primary method of communication is through the Final Surge app, which is a software system for coaches. But there are clients who prefer text instead, and I’ll text them on a regular basis. Other options include email and phone calls.
Q: Is there a typical age range or gender predominance among your clients?
A: I’d say my client base is evenly split between male and female. As far as age, somewhere between 40-50 is probably the most common. But it goes all the way up to 70, and I’ve also coached college athletes who are on club teams.
Q: For a prospective client who might be skeptical about an online coach as opposed to somebody who would coach them in person, what advantages does the online model offer?
A: One is cost. But to be honest, I never try to specifically sell somebody on my business. It really depends on the individual. I’ve actually had clients who preferred the idea of a personal group, and many people out there are involved in local running clubs where somebody can provide them with workouts. But in that circumstance, often you don’t get the level of attention you would from me as an online coach. Maybe you only meet that coach twice a week, and there may be a track workout with 50 other people.
So you’re not getting the individual pace instruction and not really learning what to do on the days you don’t meet with that group. What I offer is a personalized plan just for you. Not only that, but I’ll monitor you on a daily basis. So I’m constantly either increasing or decreasing the training volume depending on your performance and how you feel.
Q: Would you say that you have a specific coaching philosophy?
A: Just that it all depends on the individual. The biggest point to emphasize is when people come to me, typically running is a goal for them and something they want to have fun with. On the list of their priorities in life, it’s probably no higher than third, behind family and their job. Then would come running and whatever else.
So I need to build a plan around that schedule, and my philosophy is to first listen to the person. I’ll ask, “How long have you been running? What’s your background? What else is going on in your life? How many days a week do you run or would you like to run?” Then I’m going to construct a plan to get you to your goals.
If I have a training philosophy in general, it’s that I believe in the power of strength over speed. Speed is important, but I think it’s more important to develop your aerobic system, especially for the marathon. For a lot of beginners, that’s where they’ll see the biggest bang for their buck. And if they start doing speed work too soon, too fast, too often, they’re probably going to run into injuries.
Q: What do clients say that they like about your coaching?
A: The accountability and the fact that for every run they post an update about, I’ll make some type of comment or acknowledgement. They know I’m watching over their training and providing feedback. I’ve also heard many clients say that the intensity and volume of the individualized training programs are perfect for them. They’re not too hard or easy.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Additional positive feedback I get from clients is the credibility they feel I bring to the table, because of my experience and the level I’ve competed at in my running career. I’ve run competitively since I was 14 years old, so basically for 25 years. In that time, I‘ve gained a lot of knowledge and learned many tricks of the trade so to speak, such as racing tactics and the proper training intensity to reach your goals, because you can’t go hard all the time.
So the fact that I’ve learned all these lessons personally and gained so much experience, combined with my ability to share that knowledge with clients, they feel is a great benefit. It’s always easier to have someone who can help guide you rather than trying to do everything on your own. And if you have any questions, I’m always here to help.