How to Plan Summer Training for Cross Country Runners

Posted by Scott Christensen

As the track season winds down in the spring, distance runners enter a time that sport scientists call the transitional phase in the annual plan. More specifically, it’s the time where summer training for cross country becomes the priority.

Track is an unusual sport in that there is no one time that all of the athletes are finished with their season.  An athlete that finishes up with a junior varsity meet or a sophomore championship meet may end their season more than a month earlier than the athlete competing at the state championships.  And of course the very best runners may go on to run at an all-star meet or USATF Junior Nationals. 

It is just not a clean ending for everybody. 

The transitional phase serves to re-align the training program of all of your distance runners while also providing a time for regeneration and relaxation before summer training for cross country runners starts.

“How much time should I take off from training coach?” 

This is a frequently asked question once a runner competes in their last track meet.  The answer is not intuitive.  The fact is the runners with the lowest training age need the most time off to regenerate. Runners with the highest training age usually need much less time. 

A young runner should take three to four weeks off from training. Older cross country runners require two to three weeks. 

Note that there is a difference between summer training for cross country and just running.  Training is consistent everyday running. 

If the athlete gets bored during this regeneration period and is anxious to run a little bit then they should feel free to step out and run a few “easy miles”. But they should avoid structured training or set mileage patterns.

Around the third week in June is the time most good cross country programs get organized for their summer training.  For most teams in this country that means about eight weeks of summer training camp before the actual cross country season officially begins.

Because there are so many components to a middle distance training program during the competitive season, it is necessary to set up microcycles of 12 days.  Since not quite as much anaerobic work is needed in spring, long distance and fall cross country these microcycles are set up as complex nine day training periods.  During the summer, when general preparation is the target of training, it is easy to set up microcycles of seven days. This pattern fits the calendar nicely and allows both coach and athlete to easily monitor summer training mileage.

If you are setting up an eight week summer training program then a good number to choose for a total distance goal is 400 miles or 50 miles per week on the average.  This total would be appropriate for those athletes with a training age of two or greater.  If you are planning on giving a t-shirt or other reward this would be the magic number.

Coaching Resource: The Training Model for High School Cross Country

The first three weeks of the summer training for cross country plan should be very basic with nothing more then workouts done at the aerobic threshold or what can be accurately described as “gossip pace”.  The first week should contain six runs of five miles each day.  Advance mileage over the next three weeks in accordance with the “20% rule”.  That is, never increase the weekly total by more than 20%. 

After three weeks of general mileage you should prescribe two workouts per week that go beyond the training effect of aerobic threshold runs. 

These would be strength and power runs. 

For the next five weeks do one hill training session per week.  Select a hill to repeat run that is far enough away from school to add a three mile warm-up and end with a three mile cool-down.  The hill itself should be about 200-250 meters in length and should be of a sufficient grade to tax the body’s strength component.  Run the hills as hard as one can and then jog to the base and repeat. 

For power, aerobic power is the training component and this is the definition of VO2 max.

On the fourth week, set up a two mile run for time on the track or accurately measured flat stretch of road or trail.  The value each athlete records are their VO2 max velocities and will be used for the next four weeks in training. 

On the fifth week, break that two mile time in half and have the athletes do three to four times one mile repeats at their individual value with equal time rest. 

On week six, using the same velocity have the athletes do seven or eight times 800 meters at VO2 max pace with equal time rest. 

Weeks seven and eight can be the same sorts of workouts.  Scientists say it takes 27 weeks to fully develop VO2 max in a training period so do not wait until your fall season actually begins.  If you do, your athletes will be late for the party.

Also check out:  Peaking Workouts for Distance Runners

Beginning week four, a true long run constituting 20% of their weekly mileage total should be done, once per week in a single session.  For most of your runners that is a 10 mile run at their aerobic threshold.

If an athlete wants to run a couple of 5K races to test their fitness over the summer encourage them to that and call that their VO2 max workout for the week.

Summer is also a time for the coach to regenerate and relax.  Make sure that occurs as well. 

Fall is not that far way and the meat-grinder starts all over again.


If you want to dig deeper into this topic, I’ve created a (free) coaching ‘cheat sheet’ that gives you specific instructions on how to properly structure your high school cross country annual plan. This is great for general preparation, specific preparation, and the competition phases of the season.

Just click the link below to enter your valid email address and I’ll send download instructions directly to your inbox. You’ll be able to start applying more specific workouts and strategies to your program before your next practice!


CLICK HERE for your free download!

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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Two Peaking Workouts You Must Do with Your Cross Country Athletes