Training Camps for Cross Country Runners

Posted by Scott Christensen

Physiologists have shown that it takes about 25-27 weeks to establish a peak in aerobic development for a novice or emerging cross country runner.  Since exhaustive performance in the five kilometer race has been shown to depend on 92% of the necessary energy particles (ATP) to be produced in the aerobic energy system, full development of this system is a real competitive advantage for the runner.  Today we will consider the value of organized summer training camps for high school cross country athletes.

A cross country season for most high school runners in the U.S. is about 14 weeks which is not nearly enough time to fully develop the aerobic energy system.  Most cross country coaches stress “running in the summer” to their athletes but most give little direction other than “just run some miles”. 

That is ok to a point, but if your state association allows it, a more structured ten week summer program could extend a cross country season to the 25 weeks that is necessary for full aerobic development for a runner at this particular stage of their career.

One of the components that some high school programs use to make the organized summer training program special is a group training camp for just their team. 

Studies done on team training camps have shown that they are highly effective for both individual fitness improvement and positive team development. 

Training camps can be found at the high school, collegiate, and even the Olympic level in this country and they all show some similarities. 

The three essential commonalities are:

1). training camps are highly organized (well in advance) in the creature comforts of housing, food, and transportation,   

2). training camps are not highly organized in regard to non-training activities, and

3). running and other forms of training are the absolute focus of a successful training camp.  They are not as effective if they are planned as, or evolve into, site-seeing vacations for the coach and athletes.


Team training camps need to meet a minimum time requirement or they are merely a weekend camping trip.  Those shorter types of trips are fine too to but they work better as inclusive, early in-season activities.  Seven to eight days is the ideal length of a summer training camp that is stressing the stated objectives of individual improvement and team development.

There needs to be requirements in place to qualify for a team training camp.  It is not a place for young and inexperienced novice runners.  These athletes need to work and perform their way onto the camp roster over the years. 


* Training Resource: Peaking Workouts for Cross Country Runners


The training camp needs to be designed and structured for the emerging and experienced cross country runners on a team.  The cross country runners with training ages of 3-4 will benefit the most from the work and the training camp atmosphere.  Even then, many quality teams have many more emerging and experienced runners than could possibly attend. 

For large teams, spring track performances are the very best means for selecting the summer training camp trip.  The qualifying mark used should come from 3200 meter meet performances only as that is the event most associated with the cross country 5K race. 

The coach should thoughtfully consider a 3200 meter performance marker that will qualify 12-14 runners for the summer training camp.  For the top 100 boys teams in the USA that mark will probably be about 10:10 to 10:20 in order to qualify enough underclass athletes.  Seniors should not attend as they will no longer be part of the team. 

The mark for a team should be wherever it needs to be to secure enough runners.  By setting the mark before the track season begins creates a tremendous amount of excitement all spring long as runners attempt to qualify for the trip.  Even the novice runners will make ill-fated attempts but will learn to race aggressively and learn lots of lessons for the future.

Planning the summer training camp should begin up to one year in advance.  Asking selective moms and dads to plan, attend, chaperone, and help with transportation is a tremendous time saver for the coach. 

The first decision is tents or cabins/condos?  The second decision is distance from home.  Most high school training camps go the big condo route within a days drive of home.  Wherever “exotic” is, one days drive from your school, should be the goal. 

The next decision is food.  Cook in the condos?  Is there a cheap restaurant associated with the resort that may give you a meal plan?  A combination of the two? 

How are the athletes, coaches, and parents going to get to the training camp?  Is the best way to do it by cars or renting two 15 passenger vans from Avis? 

However you work it all out it needs to be “affordable”.  $400-$500 for each athlete would keep the trip in line with other sports like traveling soccer, AAU basketball, and traveling lacrosse, and they make many trips per year.  There is always fund raising to help with the cost of the training camp.

The coach can then spend the winter planning running routes in the mountains, along the sea, or through the woods off of USGS maps.  Ten to twelve mile continuous runs are a nice distance to shoot for each day. 

If the athletes know they will be running such distances at camp the training days at home in the month leading up to camp are a real side benefit.  The athletes know they will need to be in top shape and will run to get that way.

Make the training the highlight of the day.  Do not cram in a lot of hikes, swimming, sites, etc into their day.  Let the athletes recover in the afternoons.  Pick out in advance about three must do “extra” activities for the week

If you are going to the Black Hills of South Dakota for example, spend an afternoon at Mount Rushmore, one afternoon hiking up Blacktail Mountain, and one afternoon and evening in Deadwood.  Recover, talk, set goals, etc., during the rest of the time. 

Championship athletes need to be taught the skills in how to recover and this is a great opportunity to teach that.

A team training camp is a lot of work.  They are much better than sending your runners off to other “camps” at the local college or state park however.  At those places they would be running with strangers and doing generic workouts. 


* Coaching Resource: Advanced Topics Symposium in Cross Country


Your own team training camp will create lifetime memories and will also make one powerhouse of a team in the fall.                      



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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