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

Posted by Scott Christensen

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 Gaugesmeans, 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 will influence performance, especially if it is from their coach, who is the person most responsible for them being in this position?  Or is screaming “be tough”, “almost there”, “run tall”, or the dreaded: “move your arms”, all that is needed?  

At the next meet try yelling: “check your gauges”!  Ok, but what are the gauges they are supposed to be checking?  Fuel?  Oxygen?  Temperature?  No, none of these physiological gauges

During the race, have the runners frequently check their psychological gauges from start to finish.  These four gauges should sit in a very special console at the very edge of their consciousness, right in front of their eyes so to speak.  Like all gauges they should have an optimum range that is dangerous to stray from and doing so serves as a warning to the affected system. 


*** The four gauges should read levels of:  1-motivation, 2-practice, 3-purpose, and 4-hope. 


At the start of a cross country race, it is likely that most runners have high levels of motivation, practice, purpose, and hope.  Then the gun goes off and almost immediately the various aspects of fatigue begin to influence these high levels shown on the gauges. 

For novice runners, the readings may begin dropping almost immediately, but for experienced runners it may not be until deep into the race that the gauges may begin to be dangerously out of whack and negatively influencing performance.  Nonetheless, the athletes should be constantly monitoring these gauges, and because they are psychological in nature, they should be trying to use learned mental skills to keep the readings high for as long as they possibly can.



Gauge-1: Motivation

Motivation is their reason for being there.  When the going gets tough, one has to constantly remind themselves of the reasons for doing a difficult activity such as cross country running.  They cannot just be interested in running, as they must also be interested in competition and testing to be successful. 

Many runners list “the challenge” as their main reason for joining a cross country team.  That challenge motivator cannot start dropping early in the heat of a competitive race.  Some runners prefer cross country racing to races on the track.  When the hills are steep, the course is soggy, and the wind is blowing, they cannot let this interest diminish.  The interest gauge will begin to flash a warning. 

Drawing on pleasant memories of the satisfaction of racing hard and positive self-talk help to keep the interest gauge high during a tough race and keeps the urge of the runner to feel sorry for themselves at bay.    


Gauge-2: Practice

Practice is their reason for having the skill to perform.  A safe haven for the mind when the going gets tough is the thought that all the difficult and varied practices they did leading up to the race is what is going to get them through this painful ordeal. 

Confidence is the result of quality practice.  Courage is the result of quality practice. 

The constant thought in their head of “I can do this well” while racing is the result of quality and deliberate practice and will be read as such on the practice gauge as fatigue begins to erode their skills.  The coach yelling: “check your practice gauge” while the racer is climbing a tough hill with three opponents clinging to them is a reminder to the athlete that all the hill running that was done at practice should keep the practice gauge high.   


* Training Resource: Peaking Workouts for Cross Country Runners


Gauge-3: Purpose

Purpose is their reason for following through with an activity. People start lots of different pursuits, but unfortunately very few of these pursuits reach completion.  This is simple human nature.  A cross country race requires a follow through, just as a season and a career do. 

Virtually everybody begins a cross country running career with an “I” purpose.  I want to run.  I want to be on a team.  I have friends here.  That is a good start but the purpose gauge reads a combination “I” and “we” on its dial. 

When the racing gets tough the “I” portion will not be enough to keep the gauge from falling back.  The “we” contribution is critical to keeping that purpose gauge high.  The runners on good teams mainly run for each other and that is why they are good.  Picture this: it is a championship meet (Section, State, Nationals) where the stakes are very high and the runner is feeling lots of fatigue at the two-mile mark; he hears his coach say “check your purpose gauge” and processes it as a warning call to find everything that is physiologically possible to help the team reach success. 

A strong will of purpose in doing an activity is a great indicator of follow through, success, satisfaction, and ultimately happiness.  In difficult and challenging pursuits, the “we” purpose is the most important.


Gauge-4: Hope

Hope is their reason for pursuing athletic challenge.  Every runner goes to the starting line of a cross country race hoping “today is my day, a PR!”.  Sometimes it happens, often times it does not, but that is the nature of the activity.  One goes back at it tomorrow with the same level of hope. 

The hope gauge stays high in a runner when they pass checkpoints and analyze their performance and conclude it is a good race so far.  Hearing mile and two-mile splits are crucial in this analysis.  Sometimes just seeing their position on the team or in the race field as the race progresses keeps hope high. 

Racers have to constantly be looking up and around them to take in and process this information in order to maintain high levels of hope.


The next time you are coaching your runners at a race what are you going to yell at them as they pass in order to influence their performance in a positive manner? 


* Coaching Resource: Advanced Topics Symposium in Cross Country


Hopefully, something that has true meaning to you and the runners.  “Check your gauges Samantha” or “check the hope gauge Robert” is a pretty good start.  Both of you will know exactly what it means.




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.

Related Posts

A Workout Ingredient List for the Cross Country Coach

Middle School Training for Cross Country Runners

General Adaptation Syndrome and Cross Country Training

Functional Endurance Strength in Cross Country Training

Two Peaking Workouts You Must Do with Your Cross Country Athletes