Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching has been offering coaching services since 2019 for vertical focused endurance elite athletes through to beginners. Learn more about what I do and how I might benefit you in your fitness journey!


Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching has been offering coaching services since 2019 for vertical focused endurance elite athletes through to beginners. Learn more about what I do and how I might benefit you in your fitness journey!


Moving forward with coaching is a big decision with many uncertainties. There is a risk in letting go of the reigns and placing trust in someone else.

Thank you for taking the first step in a new direction and seeking out guidance and mentorship. I am honoured that you are considering me as your mentor, guide, and coach.

Finding the right coach that fits for you can be a difficult choice. There are many great people to choose from and essentially you just have to go with your gut in your final decision.

My recommendation is to try to find a coach with the philosophy that speaks to you the most. You can also read an article I wrote (click here) on what to look for in a coach.

To ease your mind, please read through my testimonials below to get a feel for how I have helped other athletes to improve their results. Also read about my training philosophy below to gain insight into how I might vary from other coaches out there.

While there is no coach that works for every single person, I do my best to take onboard athletes I know I can actually help, otherwise I will recommend you to someone else who might be a better fit.

Rates and Commitment

There are no upfront fees or long-term commitments. You can exit without penalty at any time (even after the first month).

My rates are CAD $175/month paid in advance and paid month to month. You may also pay a lump sum if you prefer. Some athletes prefer to pay in 3, 6 or 12 month blocks to keep themselves motivated to stay on the program. The choice is yours on how you like to pay.

I am Vancouver, Canada based, but can work with athletes in any area of the world. I can take payment in your currency of choice. USD: $150/month. AUD: $200/month. etc…

For local Vancouver athletes, I also like to do a meet and greet casual trail hike/run to learn more about you (and for you to learn more about me) and I can run you through some drills and tutorial as well. This is not required, but many athletes enjoy it.

To apply for joining my coaching stable as an athlete please send an email to with the following intake questionnaire filled in. Download it here.

Intake windows in 2024 (I am accepting new athletes during these dates in 2024 with conditions):

  • January 1 through June 14 - No conditions
  • June 15 through October 14 - Potential delays of up to 2-3 weeks for intake
  • October 15 through December 31 - No conditions

Testimonials in Brief

“James’ training structure, methodology and support has been nothing short of incredible. I couldn’t be happier with how my running fitness has come along under his coaching. Not only is the quality of the program phenomenal, but his communication is fast and comprehensive, and he’s an all around awesome guy.”

“I feel with James you get great value for money, with a detail orientated coach who wants to make you the best runner you can be.”

“James built a robust and actionable plan to support my trail running goals. Also an expert in nutrition and habit change, James helped me transform my body and showed me how to become mentally fit. I am 53, a stronger and faster version of myself than I was at 19.”

“I felt strong in my races this year. I accomplished all my 2023 goals thanks to James. I appreciate his training plans which are flexible and fit life well. I felt supported and challenged. James was available to listen and offer suggestions and feedback. When life gets in the way, James is very understanding and takes a balanced approach to staying on track. I highly recommend James as a coach.”

“Training with James has really shown me the benefit of structured training with a coach. Before training with James, I had a love hate relationship with running. Not only was running a chore, but every time I ran, I would pick up an injury. 10km was generally my limit but I would come away with a calf issue and be required to rest for weeks. Training with James, I managed to run a marathon. James is clear, structured and always there to help you achieve your goals.”

“James is incredibly reliable, always there to support and motivate you. His knowledge of training is exceptional, and his years of personal experience make him an invaluable resource for anyone looking to prepare for an event or improve their overall fitness.”

“Its been just over a year now since I started and I'm glad I did it the right way by having James as my coach. The adventures in the mountains keep growing for me , the best part is I'm having fun.”

“Throughout my time with him, James has been thoughtful and constructive about what kinds of goals I should set, and, once decided, extremely helpful in teaching me how to reach them. I have gotten, since I have worked with him, fitter, faster, and stronger, and his approach to training has kept me entirely injury-free. James is everything you want in a coach: friendly, approachable, non-judgmental, and effective.”

“During my time with the program, James taught me the importance of running at a lower intensity level. I can now run much farther than before, all while avoiding injuries. He does a great job customizing the training log to perfectly suit my ability. Whenever I have a question for him, he answers it promptly & thoroughly and will add lots of valuable insight. Whether you are a beginner or more advanced, you will not find a better coach!”

“His training fits my long-term plans with visible results right during the first month. The weekly training programs are carefully prepared around my personal needs with adjustments and fine tuning as we keep moving forward. James brings a scientific approach to fitness that he acquired on his world travels and while competing along with the world’s elite athletes.”

Read the full testimonials here

About Coach James Stewart


I’m a Certified UESCA Ultra Running Coach, and I’m a member of the Salomon and Sunnto Pro Clubs, and an ambassador for Bremner Foods, Sunday Afternoons, Owayo.

I’m an experienced coach specialising in trail and ultra run coaching, particularly focused on uphill training performance.

My major areas of interest are:

  • Low energy cost uphill performance
  • Metabolic health
  • Biomechanical resiliency

I have worked with almost 50 athletes over a 5-year period as a high-performance coach. I also have more than 15 years personal experience competing in mountain and vertical focused athletics. This includes countless adventures in the mountains solo that has taught me valuable experiences and lessons that can help others.

Here is my Instagram portfolio and my Youtube Channel where you can journey with me to experience some of the most beautiful mountains across the world.

Ultimately, my passion is guiding people to learn how to train effectively to share the same types of experiences that I have had. I have worked with athletes of all varying abilities and genders and have no preference in who I work with. Some athletes work with me briefly, others have been onboard for multiple years. There is no right or wrong…just what works for you.

Most people who come to work with my coaching are inexperienced and looking for guidance on how to train properly. I can save you a lot of time and frustration by teaching you before you make too many mistakes. More advanced athletes may also benefit by inclusion of more specific uphill training techniques you might not have considered, and a deeper review of your current training processes. It always helps to have more than one set of eyes to correct any mistakes that might be holding you back.

As an experienced elite level trail runner, I cut my teeth in vertical focused events early in my career including competitive Vertical KM and Stair races. This background gave me significant advantages running at high altitudes in Europe above 2000m and 3000m altitude (despite training at low altitudes in Australia).

I've placed highly in the gruelling Mont Blanc Marathon in Chamonix France (55th in 2013 and 21st in 2015 out of 2000 runners). I have the second fastest ever time in the challenging Vancouver 100km race (6500m ascent), have climbed the Grouse Grind 18 times in 19 hours (14,500m) during the 2019 Multi Grouse Grind Challenge, and finished an on-foot Everesting Challenge (100km 9000m ascent and descent in one run) among some of my achievements.

I also raced twice the Red Bull K3 race in Italy, that includes 3000m ascent in just 9km. This triple vertical KM race is a crazy hard race - essentially the pinnacle of vertical endurance races - that tested and challenged everything I had as an athlete. Especially in the heat of summer and topping out at 3500m altitude.

Becoming a high-level athlete wasn’t easy for me. I have experienced a lot of turmoil in my career that has given me a deeper perspective of the challenges that athletes face – especially those that start running late in life. I didn’t start running till age 30 and I had faced enormous challenges with my biomechanics in my formative years – and even still to this date. I have a form of Ehlers Danlos syndrome that makes my joints more unstable than regular people, causing chronic muscle tension and instability. Just being able to survive any ultramarathon required a lot of body management and has given me strong expertise in this field.

I wasn’t able to achieve all I wanted to achieve in my racing career in terms of result, but from where I started and what I had to overcome, I 100% succeeded.

Not everyone is gifted with a body that does everything we ask of it, but there is a lot we can do to build strength and resiliency and give ourselves the best shoot at meeting our high personal expectations. This has given me perspective and insight as coach that relates to the challenges developing athletes face that other coaches might not have.

To inch everything out of my body, I have spent over 15 years obsessing over training science, exploring the minds and methods of the best coaches, observing how other athletes train, and also trail testing various approaches during my diverse trail running career as an elite level athlete. I intuitively know what works, having trained myself to a high level, and helped many athletes improve their health and fitness significantly which has given further insight into how my approaches effect other athletes.

You can learn more about me and find a list of my achievements here.

Training Philosophy

What I found is that becoming highly efficient on the uphills in shorter events carries over tremendously to other events, including longer ultra trail events. If you can save a lot of energy on the uphill in long races, it really pays off in the back end of races. You can effectively “rest and recover” as you climb in some of these longer races when you become highly efficient.

However, the way I see many trail and ultra endurance runners is to focus too little on short duration uphill training in their formative years, often trying to push the distance of their runs or their speed. There are many ways to skin a cat, but remember the saying, “uphill training is speed training in disguise.” I would go further and say its also “Strength training in disguise too” . Uphill training is also a great place for beginners to start their running journey as uphills reinforce better technique and reduce impact loading on the body.

As an experienced coach, I can tell you that basically all athletes who come to me aren’t training correctly in numerous ways and are making many mistakes that hold them back, or risk their long-term health, or safety in the mountains. This is both understandable and concerning. We all have to learn somewhere, so my role is to help athletes avoid mistakes and to prevent you learning the hard way. Learning the easy way is always faster and more beneficial.

In simple terms, if you're not experiencing significant improvements each year, and/or training is tiring you out, or your body is not responding well, then something is not necessarily right with your existing approach. You might need assistance to get over the hump.

Training errors are largely the consequence of a diet of bite sized social media training tips, social group activities with many egos involved, and common mainstream running/fitness tropes that aren't the reality of how the best athletes in the world train. Most recreational athletes are actually working harder and doing too much high intensity training than they need to be.

Learning under a coach can take away a possible 10-year self-learning period and get you on the right path in under a year. Plus, its knowledge you will never lose and can experiment with on your own once you feel you have an improved understanding.

Usually, I recommend about 2-3 years as an athlete to learn the ropes under my coaching paradigm and to see the best results. I do have athletes who have been with me for much longer because they enjoy the constant changing training stimulus I use in my scheduling.

Many long-suffering recreational athletes need to go back to basics in the first year and teach their nervous system to respond differently to training and to rebuild their mitochondrial health. Athletes in these situations usually go backwards temporarily in fitness as they step away from high intensity training but will see substantial improvements in the second and third year. This is what punches them through those stubborn plateaus and soars them to new heights once they have learnt to train a different way.

You don’t have to be a “no pain, no gain” style athlete to build great endurance but you do need to be consistent, motivated, and work hard at meeting the training objectives I set out for you on a weekly basis. This means going easier than you might want to, or cutting runs shorter if your body is reporting an off day. Not every day has to be a gruelling challenge.

Most athletes become over obsessed about aerobic performance trying to get faster i.e. training and breathing hard as the way to get faster. However, they neglect the other critical attributes that make a strong endurance athlete. Particularly building metabolic fitness (i.e. a strong aerobic base), energy transfer optimisation, fuelling correctly, and improving biomechanics. Most athletes are being held back by their poor fuelling and recovery habits, tight/weak muscles, and too much high intensity training. Spending some more training time these other areas and reducing time spent just “running” can often lead to major performance improvements.

Everyone wants a bigger VO2 max – especially athletes focused on mountain performance - and a steady diet of short duration high intensity training is what everyone is typically influenced to do (which is still correct when applied properly), but if this was the case the world’s best endurance athletes would be cross-fit athletes. Sadly, this style of training is only temporarily highly productive (weeks only or 3-6 months at best) before your health and performance begins to trend downward. The opposite of what you want if you have longevity and reaching your athletic potential at the top of your bucket list.

The athletes who continually trend upward and have longevity have it figured out. The science has shown that athletes with the highest recorded VO2 max levels are in fact endurance athletes who polarise their training with 90% easy training over the course of a year. It’s a high volume of easy training that builds and sustains higher VO2 levels – and to increase VO2 substantially requires a careful fine-tuned balance of hormetic stress applied over a long period of time. This is what most athletes fail to learn. And simply training slow all the time isn’t the holy grail either. It’s finding the right balance - at the right time - that is most crucial.

High intensity training should also be called high stress training – and doing too much of this before your body is truly ready for it, teaches your nervous system to respond negatively to even the thought of exercise. It’s not uncommon to see athletes coming to me with heart rates that soar with even the slowest possible jog. This essentially means your nervous system is in emergency mode whenever you think exercise and is also damaging to your overall health as you continue to apply this unwanted stress to your body every week.

When most beginners get off the couch and start running the slowest possible shuffle is a high intensity activity. This is actually not the right way to start training because it reinforces a stress-based reaction in your body whenever you exercise. Very bad! But it can feel good to be pushing hard and the endorphin rush can start to become addictive.

Instead, the beginner would benefit more from a lot of hiking and walking first, building volume and strength with a diet of carefully increasing short duration run intervals that are applied with a low stress response. Its humbling to start from an easier progression, but its also crucial to success in training.

The most successful endurance athletes do not over emphasise too much high stress training. They teach their body to respond to exercise in a low stress and relaxed way. This is also why elite athletes look so relaxed when they are performing fast. From this relaxed place they then apply the higher stress workouts and get the right adaptative response. The athlete returns to a low stress recovery baseline that is hormonally anabolic rather quickly following their high intensity sessions. This is what leads to positive adaptative response.

Athletes who are chronically stressed by their training, never really drop down into to the low stress anabolic state, leaving them in a chronically high cortisol catabolic metabolic state that rather than building increased muscle and mitochondrial strength, instead eats away at existing muscle tissue and creates too much cellular oxidative stress that leads to overtraining syndromes. Overtraining can be otherwise thought of as a metabolic energy disorder. Correcting this is easy if you understand the processes that cause it. But the easy part is also time-consuming to correct and can lead to multi-year setbacks in your training.

Ultimately, you cannot unlock a high level of endurance performance with a chronically stressed out body. Under my program you have to “earn the right” to run fast – and you will spend a lot of the first 1-2 years building the right platform for applying high intensity training in a way that is low stress on your cellular environment. This is how you truly reach a high level of health and performance that develops athletic longevity. Healthy mitochondria also offsets many age-related diseases and is also crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle into old age.

How quickly you get there depends on your level of health and how your body is instinctively responding to the training stress we apply. If your body handles it well, we add more training load, if its not handling it, then we troubleshoot and keep building resiliency before trying to push upward again. I use various training metrics that tell me specifically how your body is responding to the training stress being applied and I continually adjust the training loads on a week to week basis, led by an overarching framework that looks multi-year ahead.

A coach helps to hold you accountable, forces you out the door on days you don’t want to train, and holds you back when you’re feeling really good and stops you from sabotaging the long-term process. The coach looks forward years down the track and helps you to get there and lets you focus on the process and having fun outdoors. You just need to find the right recipe that works for you and there is a lot of subtlety and art that goes into the mix.

The right balance is very hard to achieve, and most athletes tend to push too hard when things are going well, which leads to a cycle of growth and setbacks repeated over and over. A coach can really help you to recover and rest during times you might not necessarily consider it for yourself and keep you on that upward trajectory. Consistency in training is where the real results come from, and I do everything I can to keep you healthy and consistent.

Some of my athletes have expressed how my training approach is at odds with many of their friends who work with other coaches, but in a good way. My approach is more long-term focused and respects the health and longevity of an athlete and looks further beyond the next race or even the upcoming season. Plus, they found my approach gave them significant improvements compared with their originally equally matched friends after a 1-2 year period, without having to do as much hard training comparatively speaking.

The results speak for themselves. Read my athlete’s in-depth testimonials here

My role as a coach is to do the following for you:

  • Supportive and Nurturing Mentorship. I don't expect you will make all the needed changes and improvements immediately. Every athlete goes through ups and downs, challenges and more – failure is often the best teacher. Also, everyone moves at their own pace and speed. I provide a nurturing and supportive environment that encourages open communication, mutual respect and patience. I am not a drill master, but I foster a trusting environment where we can speak openly with each other about what is working and what might not be. Clear, frank and honest communication between athlete and coach leads to the most effective partnership.
  • Correct Training Errors. My intake questionnaire and training processes quickly uncover any deficiencies in your knowledge and/or training approach. Enhancements can be made without necessarily having to make radical changes to how you currently train or take away from your joy of training.
  • Education. Athletes are provided with a detailed training manual they can use to guide and use as a reference in the training journey. This ensures an athlete "buy's in" to the methodology and approach I use. An educated athlete will make better training decisions and become more intuitive listening to their body, rather than pushing on because the schedule says so. I teach you how to adjust you training activities on the fly based on what your body is reporting to you through the warm-up and early parts of the activity.
  • Maximise Enjoyment. I aim to maintain a high level of fun and adventure in your training, rather than monotonous structure. However, there also needs to be a middle ground here. My goal is to meet as much of your love of training and adventure with some structure that guides the long-term progress in a safe and effective way. Too much structure can suffocate something that you should love doing. If you’re not loving training, you’re not going to stick to it long-term. Loving the process is most important for true longevity and success, not just being motivated by achieving the end result.
  • Expand Your Training Horizons. I will encourage an expansion of your existing training experience to seek out new approaches, routes and terrains that can have a more developmental effect on your performance. My goal is to keep you interested in training and use new experiences and challenges to help you meet training load targets and avoid boredom.
  • Free Your Mind with Logistical Support. I provide structure and take away much of the logistical burden of planning your weekly training and working toward a long-term outcome so you can just focus on the training process. I use informed scheduling to seamlessly integrate training into your busy lifestyle. This helps me find the right work-train balance for you so I can plan training progressions that consider other life stress – all of which can throw off the hormetic response to training into negative terrain.
  • Low Energy Cost Training. Have you ever noticed how elite runners seem to run fast uphill looking relatively relaxed and in control? This isn't some gift bestowed to a select few, its largely a response to effective training. Most beginner and recreational athletes believe the way to attain this relaxed efficiency is through "force" with no pain, no gain, style training. Work ethic and mental toughness alone is not enough to get you there, you need to train smart. I provide a liberal diet of uphill training drills that teach your body to stay relaxed on the uphills, burning lower amounts of energy, while increasing power and speed over time. The goal is to go as fast as possible with the lowest possible energy cost.
  • Unwinding Negative Nervous System Training Response. Most novice athletes see their heart-rate and breathing surge the moment their body sees a hill or they start running. Typically, this nervous system response is reinforced by always training hard, but this is highly damaging to your health long-term. To unwind this negative nervous system response takes 6-12 months of specific training drills and methods to reinforce to your body that hard training is not an emergency that pumps out a heavy load of negative stress hormones. Many athletes must learn how to walk before they can run, but ultimately most people jump in too deep in their early training years, which is why so few make it to the higher levels.
  • Emphasis on Positive Hormetic Stress Response. Applied training stress is how the body adapts and grows stronger, but too little or too much stress causes failure to thrive. I ensure you are fuelling your training and recovering properly to maximise an anabolic hormonal response to training stress that improves your recovery times, rather than a catabolic state that leads to tiredness and injuries. Aerobic training can either be anabolic or catabolic depending on the training balance and nervous system health. We cannot push up training loads if your body isn’t responding to maintain your energy levels. Most athletes reach a threshold of improvement, a barrier or plateau they can’t break through, for years on end. This is why.
  • Metabolic Health Focus and Permanent Fitness Development: Long term health and optimal energy generation is a crucial component for endurance performance. It’s crucial an athlete is improving the quality and volume of their cellular mitochondria (the part of our cells that generate ATP - the energy fuel your muscles use for performance), particularly in slow-twitch muscle fibers. This builds what I call “permanent fitness”, fitness that takes a long time to decline, even if you take months or a couple of years off training. We focus on training your muscles to hold more muscle glycogen in its stores, to increase capillary density and to uptake oxygen from the blood to push into the muscles more efficiently.
  • Polarized Training and Benchmarked Peaking Phases: First we create a training environment that leads to significant improvements in cellular mitochondria (your aerobic engine) and energy generation systems. Once you hit certain training benchmarks, then your body is ready to take onboard a steady diet of high intensity training to take your performance to a new level without the negative metabolic cost. You will reach levels of performance and burst through previous plateaus easily. This is how the world’s best athlete’s train and reach the pinnacle of human athletic performance. These methods are not just reserved for Olympians but for athletes of all levels.
  • Intuitive Training. I teach you and provide you with protocols on how to intuitively listen to your body, to know the times when its ok to push harder or its time to pull back and try again another day.
  • Structure with flexibility. I provide a weekly training schedule structure, but you will know how to make adjustments on the fly, like how to catch up on missed training load on the back end of weeks. My training load calculations take onboard distance and elevation, and you can adjust either of these parameters to hit training load targets. For example, if you’re short on distance you might add more elevation and so on. You will know how much distance equals how much elevation in this equation.
  • Biomechanical resiliency. Most athletes focus too heavily on aerobic training in the performance pie chart. There are many other important components to effective training performance. One of the biggest hurdles athletes face in being consistent with their training and making year on year progress is their body’s ability to handle the demands of training. Almost 50% of beginner/recreational athletes suffer injuries each year, making a significant hit in fitness progress. The demands of the mountains and trails is even more ruthless on dysfunctional biomechanics. My goal is to develop highly resilient and powerful multi-dimensional athletes by using baseline testing across a number of distinct training attributes that help to maximise athleticism and resiliency in the body. Many athletes neglect this side of training, but its what’s really holding back their development most of all. Read more about this here.
  • Mindset Training: Patience is a necessary component of success. I ask athletes to look where they want to be in 3-5 years and be patient with building the right foundation that will deliver results in the long term. All our short-term plans work seamlessly toward the multi-year outcome that is carefully mapped out based on your longer term ambitions.

The Training Philosophy of Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching

Developing greater health and endurance doesn't have to be a painful pursuit. What works is finding your fitness passion. For many people they don’t know what that is, but find it once they start moving their body in nature. Sadly, most people never tap into the large reservoir of their fitness potential.

How Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching Works and Your Responsibilities as a Coaching Athlete

This article describes our coaching process and your roles and responsibilities as a coaching athlete

About Coach James Stewart of Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching

My name is James Stewart. I'm an Australian born 43-year-old ultra-endurance and vertical focused trail running athlete living in Vancouver Canada. I’m also an experienced adventurer, health and fitness advocate, adventure photographer/film-maker and performance coach!

Contact and Sign up with Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching

Here is how to contact and sign up with Couch to the Summit Performance Coaching. I am currently accepting new athletes!

Coaching Testimonials

Here is a selection of some of our coaching client testimonials.

What to Look for in a Trail Running Coach?

Coaching is a big investment in your time, money and health, and vetting and choosing a coach is likely to be challenging process. What should you be looking for in a coach?

When to Begin and How Long Should I Work with a Coach

Deciding to work with a coach is a big decision. So how much time should you give yourself to work with a coach in relation to the goals you have is an important factor to consider?

The Couch to the Summit Philosophy – My Ten Elements of Health

Health professionals and scientists universally agree exercise is necessary for physical and psychological well-being. Defying exercise is like trying to defy the laws of nature and it appears life doesn’t seem to go optimally for any lifeform defying nature’s laws. In the end, nature finds a way to restore order and balance.