Distance 101 – The Workouts Cross Country Coaches Use

Posted by Scott Christensen

In a simple distance training scheme it is effective to longitudinally separate the season into three different segments of time and the workouts cross country coaches use in each.

Early season is a strong preparation time characterized by general running, athletes not focused on their best event (all training together), and races that are interesting but not all that crucial.

Mid-season is a time of transition from preparation to competition and is characterized by greater workout specialization by event, the hardest work of the season, and races that are becoming increasingly more important.

Late season is the last and shortest segment of time in the training season and is characterized by high intensity, specialized workouts by event, increased rest between hard training sessions, and races that are crucial.

A distance training scheme that is based on the laws of adaptation, over-load, and reversibility; and separated into these time segments need not be complicated.


* Training Resource: Speed Development for Distance Runners


Here are a few examples of proven workouts:


Aerobic Workouts

Anaerobic Workouts

Early Season Begin with daily continuous runs of 3 miles and work up over a month to daily comfortable runs of 5 miles at conversational pace.

Occasionally, add a tempo run that is fast enough over 20 minutes to stop conversation.

Twice (two weeks apart) do a two mile time trial on a well measured road to gauge improvement.  Record the times and add to their career profile.

Separate their first 7 mile run by splitting it into two runs of 3.5 miles with a 2 minute interval rest recovery between.

Begin with 5 days of mostly continuous run training and work toward 6 days.

End 5 weeks of early season training with an 8 mile continuous run with everybody but the 800 meter runners.

Immediately introduce high heart rates over a short distance by doing hill repeats, ex. 4 x 30 second hills with a jog recovery.

Add fartlek to the aerobic distance run occasionally by adding three to four 100 meter fast segments during the run.

Introduce track work with fast repeats on the track of 7 x 50 meters each with a walk recovery.

Time an all-out 400 meter twice, three weeks apart, (at the start of practice following a warm-up) during this period and add to their career profile.

Mid-Season Reduce aerobic training (continuous runs) to 3 days per week, one long run, one base run, one recovery run.  Space them apart to fit the race schedule.

The long run needs to be 20% of their total weekly mileage, usually 7-8 miles.  The base run is 12% of their weekly mileage, usually 5-6 miles.  The recovery run is usually 3-4 miles.  All runs done continuously.

The 20 minute tempo run is done every two weeks for the 1600/3200 runners.

The 800 meter runner should do 12 x 400 meters at 60% of their present 800 meter pace with 20 seconds rest between, ex 2:00 runner, 12 x 400 at 100 seconds each with 20 seconds rest between.

Introduce aerobic power (VO2 max) work by doing 800 or 1600 meter repeats at their individual 3200 pace, ex. 11:00 3200 runner, 4 x 1600 @5:30, with 6:00-6:30 minute rest between.

The 800 meter should do 7 x 800 meters at about 80% of their race pace 800 meter time with 3 minutes rest between.

Introduce both long (300-600 meters) and short (150 -300 meters) interval style sessions, ex 6 x 400 with 3 minutes rest between, or 7 x 200 meters with 2 minutes rest between.  They are done hard, but not hard enough so the last ones are really off.  Do a short interval session one week and a long interval session the next week.

Very fast work done between 60-130 meters is crucial to the 800 meter runner, ex. 5 x 100 meters with 5 minutes rest between (5 x 5 workout).  Do this every 2 weeks.

Add 5 x 80 meter strides barefoot on the grass following long and base runs for the 1600/3200 runner.

Late Season Maintain continuous runs but bring the volume down about 30%, ex 8 mile long run is now 5-5 ½ miles.

Eliminate base run and go to two recovery runs per week.

Eliminate tempo run, but maintain VO2 max work with a shorter number of repeats, ex 3 x 1600 meters at present day 3200 per mile pace with rest time=work time for the 1600/3200 runners and 4 x 800 at 80% of present day maximum 800 meter velocity with 3 minutes rest for the 800 meter runners.

If an extra rest day is needed, give it.  Always go into an important race coming off a light recovery day.

Let the important races serve as most of the aerobic training stimulus.

Continue, but reduce the number of both short and long intervals (alternating week to week) while dramatically increasing the rest interval to ensure very high intensity ex. 2 x 600 meters with 15 min recovery between for an 800 meter runner, or 4 x 400 meters with 10 minutes recovery between for a 1600 meter runner, or 3 x 500 meters with 12 minutes recovery between for a 3200 meter runner.

Continue, but shorten and reduce the 60-120 meter intervals for an 800 meter runner, ex 4 x 80 meters with 4 minutes recovery.

Eliminate stride type work done at the end of workouts.


* Coaching Resource: The Training Model for High School Cross Country


There are many simple workouts that are effective if they fall into the correct time of the season.  Variety of training is an important piece in keeping distance runners motivated and can be achieved by taking the following workouts and changing locations, changing sets and reps, and tweaking rest throughout the season.



Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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