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The Foundation of the Distance Running Program

There was a time in high school sports when the only thing that really mattered was what happened during the season.  For better or worse, that time has come and gone for many high school distance runners.  Most good runners have found that simply running 500 miles during the cross country season is not enough to achieve success outside of their own school and by including the whole year in their training program they can make some real progress.  Today we will consider the foundation of the cross country running program. This is nothing against two and three sport athletes.  In most cases, during this age of specialization in high school sports, distance coaches have been very accommodating to the concept of multiple sport participation. …

Training Ecosystems in Cross Country Teams

Some of the best descriptors in lively conversations are analogies, and cross country coaches often make use of them when talking to or about their teams.  A good one for biology types is the analogy that relates a cross country team, and the training they do, to the hierarchy and organization of life on Earth. Today’s focus is training ecosystems and cross country athletes. In biology, an ecosystem is a slice of the biosphere.  Specifically, an ecosystem may be freshwater aquatic, terrestrial, marine aquatic, etc.  It is an interweaving of different communities of plants and animals living within a particular set of non-living conditions.  How could this be analogous to a cross country team?  The answer lies in two important aspects shared by both ecosystems…

Distance 101 – The Workouts Cross Country Coaches Use

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…

Protein for the Win – Protein Needs of Cross Country Athletes

Low fat, high carbohydrate, low calorie intake, carbohydrate cycling, vegetarian, vegan, junk food!  What else have coaches heard from their endurance athletes regarding nutrition?   Today we will focus on the importance of protein. In the last few decades cross country runners have increased their awareness in how nutrition affects performance, but with diet fads, advertising, and a dynamic society it is difficult to fit the dietary pieces together into an athlete’s lifestyle and family situation.   As a result, many coaches just make very general (common sense) recommendations about what to eat to their athletes.  Notice though, that one never hears about the recommendation of low protein for endurance performance, and that is because protein is essential for many functions in the body and for…

Five Basic Workout Themes the Cross Country Coach Should Use

Cross country training can be rather complicated and confusing for a coach just getting started in the profession.  Many times, a new coach will start by merely constructing a training program that looks pretty similar to what they ran in high school.  Pretty soon it becomes apparent that circumstances and location are different, so adjustments in the training scheme are made to fit the new scenario and this becomes mostly a trial and error experience.  Evolution of the program may consist of simply copying and adding new and different workouts and session sequences learned from a successful neighboring coach or at a clinic.  Without understanding of basic workout themes, after a few seasons a rookie coach becomes a veteran coach and the training program many…

October Training for Cross Country Athletes

For cross country runners, October is the time of racing in big Invitationals and preparing for the championship meets to follow.  For a cross country coach, October is especially stressful because it is the month of capacity training schemes and sequences which are the hardest to master because the training effects are so individualized.  Already past in the macrocycle is all of the general conditioning work and the big repetition/short recovery sessions of the specific preparation period.  In October training the focus now is putting all of the pieces of the 5k race together so that the comfort zone and critical zone are what they are supposed to be for each runner in the important races.     October begins with the transition to a…

September Training for Cross Country Athletes

There is no better time in the cross country season then September.  Fun invitational meets, hard-core training, an already well-formed team, pretty good weather, and still eager runners all make for a very enjoyable month.  For a cross country coach, September training is especially interesting because it is the month of training creativity.  Already past is most of the general conditioning work, and the team is far from any sort of tapering activities, so workouts can be put together that are taxing, creative and full of variety. September begins with the last fragments of the general preparation period.  The focus there is still on building a strong mileage base, strength work in the form of hill repeats, vVO2 max work done in moderation, and an…

Strength Work vs. Intensive Work in Cross Country Training

Are the cross country runners on your team getting better each day, or are they just getting tired each day?  It is surely not the same thing.  Lots of different workouts will leave even the fittest distance runner tired and exhausted, but was it a proper stimulus for the time of the season?  Today we will consider strength work vs. intensive work when training cross country athletes. Oh, how easy setting up workouts would be if fitness gains precisely followed a linear curve of development.  It is because distance development is so non-linear that it needs to be broken down into the four periods of macrocycle periodization: general prep, specific prep, pre-comp, and comp.  The former two periods are generally characterized by training that can…

Stimulus, Adaptation, Fitness, Timeframes and the Cross Country Athlete

Why do distance runners need to train all summer, effectively doubling the length of their fall season, in order to be competitive in the championship cross country meets at the end of the year?  The answer lies in the rate by which physiological changes occur in humans.  Today we will discuss stimulus, adaptation, fitness, and timeframes as they relate to the training of the cross country athlete. Fitness gains to the aerobic energy system requires enough time for structural changes in tissue to occur.  In the same light, strength improvements in the muscular system’s Type 1 fibers requires enough time for the cross-sectional diameter size of the myosin filaments to increase; again, a change in tissue structure.  Improvements in both the aerobic energy system and Type…

Assessing the Athletic Lifestyle of the Cross Country Athlete

More and more scientific studies on distance runners have shown that proper recovery facilitates faster physiological adaptation and enhances endurance-related performance. By ignoring recovery today, it all leads to tomorrow’s poor practice session and, eventually, poor recovery habits that are tough to break. It also reinforces attitudes that can lead to under-recovery injuries. However, by taking advantage of planned recovery and making it an integral part of a comprehensive training program, athletes can experience the gains that elude them when they work hard, but do not have the proper rest and recovery integrated into their plan.  With this in mind, today’s focus is the athletic lifestyle of the distance athlete. A coach can only pester and prescribe so much when it comes to rest and…

Analyzing Work Sessions for the Cross Country Athlete

Cross country coaches need to be prolific note takers because not only is there much data associated with the sport, things are happening so quickly that unless a few notes are scribbled down as they occur, thoughts will be forgotten.  Analyzing work sessions, or the day’s workout, gives a picture of where the runners are now, how fast they are capable of racing, and what to proceed with in the future.  Usually, small notebooks can be seen in coach’s hands at meets with pens moving feverishly as the action rolls past.  These same notebooks are seen at practice each day as well.  Within the pages are notes on kids, what to do later, random items to remember, and data from the day’s workout.  Many notes…

Utilize ‘Check Your Gauges’ Cues to Positively Influence the Cross Country Runner During the Race

Attending a cross country running meet is an exciting experience.  Parents, siblings, teammates, friends, and fans are screaming and cheering nonstop as the runners go past them.  Cross country meets are also a place of work for the coaches whose teams are participating.  A race is a test for both athlete and coach as to the effectiveness of a training plan.  Here we will identify what “Check Your Gauges” means, and its importance in influencing the athlete’s performance in a positive manner. A coach may wonder what they should be yelling, (saying above the crowd), to their athletes as they run past them that may actually be helpful at that moment.  Perhaps a key word or phrase that a runner may pick up on that…

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