[Q&A] Cross Country Training During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Posted by Scott Christensen

Coaches have been contacting me asking for cross country training suggestions during the Covid-19 pandemic.  I chose the following stance a few weeks ago.  This is typical of what I am getting and returning.  

Your Questions:

What do you think is the best way to now prepare for Cross Country?

Should we recommend kids train on their own toward an individual time trial in May/June before taking time off and starting Cross Country training asnormal or can we take advantage of the extra time and start Cross Country training earlier?

Overall, what do you think are the most important considerations as we navigate 2020?


This is how I see it:

Most states have and will have serious social distancing recommendations for the next 2-4 weeks at least. I certainly do not want to suggest that team subsets get together and practice for a time trial right now without me.

I do not even want to suggest kids go run outside alone or with a teammate.

I am personally running a lot right now and that is my decision. But, I would never suggest that for anyone else. That is a family decision.

Schools were shuttered and track eliminated in the spring of 2020 for sound immunological reasons and I am not going to suggest anybody circumvent anything. The most important message for my parents and my athletes is to do their part and contain the virus.

I am sure lots of my distance runners are running now and if they choose to do that it is fine. If they chose not to run, that is fine as well. I do not require or even suggest a check-in with me.

That surprises many people because I am a posterchild for micro-managing my runners.

Before the stay and shutter recommendations, we talked about this very scenario. I suggested guys rotate between training days consisting of: mileage days (including a long run once per week), fartlek runs of 5-6 miles, hill repeat days, and repeats of a 1/2 mile trail loop we use often as our VO2 max days.

Related Article: The Nine Day Cross Country Training Microcycle

A distance runner can never go wrong continuing to develop the aerobic system and gain functional strength. Just four simple workout themes to rotate through. So, mileage days 4 times per week, plus once each for the other three.

Nobody can predict how this will end.

I will be surprised if the cross country season is not affected as well.

Whenever it seems like it is socially appropriate to start cross country summer training in June, that is when you should start. We are looking at June 20, but that is just a date. We will do a 2-mile time trial around that date because that is how you set up training, with a VO2 max test. Aerobic training takes about 20-24 weeks to fully develop at any single moment in time. June 20 will be soon enough I believe, and if it is not possible, then we will work through something different.

I have done a lot of peer-reviewed research on high school runners. I can tell you, Coach, that it is a bugger getting that research approved ahead of time by my university’s Internal Review Board because of the vulnerable age aspect of these kids. The IRB looks at me as unknowingly capable of all sorts of coercion that compromises individual decisions and actions.

ON SALE NOW: The Training Model for High School Cross Country

Saying that, I do not want to be the person that puts any sort of pressure on my athletes (or yours) to do something right now that is unethical or unhealthy.
I hope this does not come off as weird, but I do not want me or Complete Track and Field to be responsible for anything that ends up spinning out of control.

Take care.

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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