Something that all the different comments got me thinking about was how coaching/having a coach covers a lot of different ground, and serves different purposes. For example, one-on-one, super customized coaching makes a lot of sense for someone who has picked all the low-hanging fruit improvement-wise and really need someone paying closer attention to small details in order to get better. Others mentioned having a coach in the sense of joining a coached recreational group, where, even though the workouts are not necessarily personalized, they get extra accountability & motivation & also face-to-face contact with someone on a regular basis where they can ask questions about how/why/etc. I can also absolutely get behind the idea of paying money for coaching because, screw it, you have the x dollars to spend and it makes you happy, which is really no different from spending your hard-earned disposable income on anything else you happen to want and can responsibly afford. When it comes down to it, I think the key is knowing what it is you need/want/are hoping to get out of interaction with a coach & then doing your research to find the type of thing that's right for you.
A couple of people asked about RunCoach specifically, so I figured I'd give some more details for those who are interested (or just curious).
RunCoach was started by Tom McGlynn, a none-too-shabby distance runner in his own rite (3 OTQs, a bunch of years on the Nike Farm Team at Stanford) who has also coached his share of elite/OTQ athletes (including the amazing Brooke Wells) as well as us ordinary folk. Working with other runners, coaches, & technical-minded people, he created an algorithm based on proven, existing training models where people could input certain information (PRs, average mileage, longest run in last year/ever, etc. etc.) & get a solid, research-&-results-backed training plan way more customized for them than the mostly cookie-cutter plans available in most books & websites. As runners have used the program over the last seven years and uploaded workout & race results, they've continued to tweak the algorithm according to what has proven most effective.
(Um, also, apparently my new massage therapist is on their board? And was a Stanford Track & Field All-American, and still treats their T&F/XC teams? I seriously just learned this reading their staff page. Ridiculous/awesome.)
When you sign up, you create a profile that asks you for some basic information about your running history. (What are your PRs and how old are there? What is your average mileage? Most mileage you've ever run in a week? Longest run ever? Etc. etc.) This is also the point where you enter upcoming races. (There is an option to choose one to check as a goal race.)
After that, you enter your scheduling preference. At first I was like, "Isn't that your job to tell me, Coach???" But let's be honest. Any cookie cutter schedule, I have to tweak anyway to fit my life, and it's becoming popular now for cookie cutter schedules to have multiple levels to choose from based on how many days per week you want to run. So you tell the site how many days you want to run per week, which day you want your long run on, whether you want speed work or not, etc.
With all this information, the site generates a training plan that targets your goal race.
For the details of a specific workout, you can mouse over that day or click on it.
(Notice that you get target paces based on your profile info.)
After you complete a workout, you fill in the info:
(There is a mobile app now for people who are into that but phone screens are just too tiny for me so I pretty much do everything on my laptop. #old)
The idea (hopefully) is that over time, you get faster and enter faster race results. Then, based on those race times, the system updates your workout schedule appropriately.
It also accounts days/weeks when you can't or don't do your assigned workout. For example, if my long run progression goes 15-17-19-21 one month and I'm sick the day of the 17 miler & then get crunched for time the next week & only manage 15 miles again, the RunCoach program adjusts so that I'm not suddenly trying to jump up to 21 a week later. (This is something that I never knew how to handle with cookie-cutter plans & usually just ended up making something up.) I've noticed that it doesn't adjust much or at all for things like missing or cutting short a maintenance day here & there, but for things like long runs or running curtailed mileage for a couple of weeks in a row, it does recalculate so that your mileage continues to build in a way that makes sense.
On top of that, you also get access to forums, which are monitored & responded to by the coaches.
All of this is part of their basic "Bronze" plan, which is $20/month (and less if you pay for six or twelve months at a time).
I wanted a little more big-picture advice (how to plan my year, advice on which races to target, etc.), so I signed up for the "Silver" plan ($40/month), which gives you a more-or-less quarterly individual consultation with the coaches regarding your goals, what's going well/not, answers to your particular questions, etc. In part I wanted this because RunCoach lets me set up my schedule any way I want (number of days to run per week, speed or not, tempo or not, etc.), but I wanted advice about the best way for ME to set mine up and when based on my goals. (For example, right now I have it set to not give me any speed workouts, but once I'm ~4 months out from Santa Rosa, the plan is to start adding some of that back in, so I'll change my settings & have it recalculate.)
(I think they also have a "Gold" plan that's like a super-personalized one-on-one type of coaching, but as I recall it is significantly out of my price range right now.)
Now, I will be honest. I don't always follow it absolutely 100% to a T. Sometimes I do short, easy runs on rest days because I just feel like getting some fresh air & moving around a bit. Sometimes I do a little more or a little less because that's how I feel that day. I think my easy workouts right now are supposed to be in the 8:40-8:50 range according to RunCoach but I am much happier doing them in the 9:30-10:30 range and really feel like that's been working for me. (But who knows, I may change my mind as I get in to Santa Rosa training.) But in theory the algorithm is set up with the intention that you'll do 90% of what's assigned, so I don't worry about it too much.
So there you go! I hope that answers any questions people had, & let me know if you have others. :)