I am a coach, would be happy to talk here or off list.
chris @ jbvcoaching . com
I would say the difference between hiring a coach and riding like hell is how much difficulty you're having in achieving your goals. People usually don't hire a coach when they're flying or winning with ease. They hire a coach when some obstacle gets thrown into the mix (trying to break thru to the next level, a job, kids) and need help in overcoming that.
Keep in mind, because a guy races fast doesn't make him a coach. I am not saying it can't happen but you would be better off IMO looking at a guy that coaches full time and makes a living at it. I think Chris Mayhew really understands cross and how to get fast.
I hired a coach for two seasons, and saw no improvement in my results.
two seasons or two years? my big takeaway from coaching is that fitness is cumulative and consistency matters. i could see using a coach for a few months to lay a foundation, get through a plateau, or help structure a training program - but I wouldn't expect a step function improvement in fitness or results in a short amount of time, especially during the actual race season when recovery is a key element. coaches aren't magic - real improvement takes a lot of time and work, some trial and error too, and I see the the coach's role as making that time and work as efficient as possible based on one's goals.
the best thing I did for my fitness *this year* was to have some physiological testing done at the end of my 'cross season (December) *last year* - my coach took that data, so he knew exactly what he was working with. i laid out my goals for the year. he built a plan. we started training for real in mid-January with an eye on the Fall. I gave lots of feedback. we communicated often. I learned a ton along the way, including how to be patient. real noticeable improvement came in May/June and progress continued through the summer. health issues have kept me from racing cx year - really bummed about that, but i have a new level of fitness to build on for next year.
bottom line: don't get a coach and expect miracles. be methodical, have patience and give your coach a chance to find the right recipe for results.
You didn't have a good coach.
I suggest Russel Cree from Upper Echelon Fitness out of Portland, OR. I've done clinics with him and he works with a staff of very strong local talent. I think Adam Myerson also provides coaching services, and he's regularly among the stronger Cat A/Pro race finishers nationally.
If nothing else, a coach can advise you *how* to best train with the available time and resources, addressing workouts, diet, rest, etc.