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Summer XC Training Tips

We just wrapped up the State Track meet this weekend and I am all ready to get started with planning out Cross Country season.  Okay, I’ll be honest I have a nerdy binder full of exciting new plans, that I have been working on for months.

I have been getting an increasing amount of questions about summer training from my coaching clients, as well.  I thought now would be a great time to hit on a few key points for high school athletes , and their parents, to keep in mind during summer training

Fall Cross Country Champions are made in the summer, both teams and individuals who find themselves on the podium at the end of the season put in work long before the official August start date. Different states have different rules on how much a coach can work  directly with their athletes. Some are allowed to train together all summer and some are allowed little to no contact through the entire off season.  Leaving those high school athletes left to design their own training.

Overall Goals for high school cross country runners in the summer

Many high school coaches and athletes get trapped in the idea that summer training should be treated as an elongated season.  Doing the same volume of easy and speed work throughout the off season will only lead to increased injury and over-training. The main focus of off season training should include;

  1. Increase overall fitness

  2. Become a stronger more efficient runner

  3. Become more resistant to injury

All about the Bass  Base

The first question a lot of high school runners want know is, “how many miles do I need to run in order to reach X:XX goal time? ” The problem is, there is no one specific answer.  Everyone is different and the training load it takes an individual to reach each goal time is going to be dependent on a large number of factors.  So, instead we train smart, we train consistently and we work to put ourselves in the best position we can when the season starts.

Summer training is all about setting up a solid foundation for in-season training, so that the athlete can physically and mentally manage the training load during the season. The goal is to prepare the body to be able to handle the race specific training when the season comes around, and to be more injury resistant. Does that mean increasing mileage? For most high school athletes, yes it does.  However, a well-rounded summer training plan includes adding Ancillary training components in your run training. This ancillary training should include strides, hill sprints, core, strength, form drills, plyometrics and mobility training.

What about speed work?

I am not a huge fan of a bunch of off season speed work.  There is definitely a place for it, but it should be limited.   I like Steve Magness’ approach of working in extremes and bringing them together.  Starting with logging lots of easy miles and blending in strides and hill sprints to start with.  These faster efforts are quick bursts of speed but limited with full recoveries between each. The athlete shouldn’t be building fatigue when they complete them.

Depending on the level of the individual athlete, as the summer progresses, the runner can begin to build in in what I like to refer to as “transitional” speed work. This is more mid to late summer work that allows the athlete to begin seeing more “structured” training.  This speed work isn’t race specific but more to allow the younger runners to adjust to higher intensity work.  This can helpful in identifying overzealous athletes who want to race every workout.  I like to start with items like progressions runs, moderate pick ups (fartleks) and broken tempos.

As I mentioned above, working from extremes is a great approach for high school athletes.  Transitioning athletes from slow runs to moderate tempos is working from one end of the spectrum. The other end would be elongating strides into shorter repetition work like 200 m repeats.  The goal here is not to overload your legs with high volume but to activate those fast twitch fibers increasingly each week. Again, building to a level that allows you to be ready for the regular season.

More is NOT always better!

While the purpose of off season conditioning is to increase fitness, there is a point of diminishing returns.  Walking into the season running personal best the first week and then getting injured, burnt out or failing to improve can be super frustrating. Your body can manage a limited training load during that summer time period and finding the right balance can be difficult for young runners. The key is listening to your body, increasing the mileage and speed work in small amount and building in rest and recovery period before season begins.

Not sure how to start? RunCanvas now offers customized training plans just for high school athletes. Check it out!

VDot certified! I am a VDot  Certified coach with over 11 years of coaching experience! I have worked with young beginners in the middle school level, high school athletes who have gone on to compete at national Division I championships, and adults runners of all abilities.   For more information click here

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