Coach Mike Mead

Training Tips for High School Runners - June 2005

If you are a high school distance runner who is trying to get faster for cross country, now is the time to get started! You either made it to state last month, or you’ve been off since your region meet. Either way, you’ve had enough time off! You need to begin laying the foundation for a good cross country season now.

My high school coach had a simple rule to keep us going throughout the summer. He’d tell us that for every day we missed running, it would take us two days to make up. If you’ve been off for the last two weeks, you’re now a month behind!

Rest is important, but for young distance runners, building a base is important, too. You might be asking yourself, “What is building a base?” Think about the very first time you tried running. You probably didn’t get very far before you had to stop and walk. But as you stuck with it and ran more, it got easier and you went longer before stopping. The idea with building a base is so that when you’re introduced to more intensive training like speed work, you can better handle it. You won’t have to stop and walk, or worse – puke your guts out!

However, most young distance runners do not build an adequate base to support their speed training. In turn, they do not get much faster than they are capable, or worse they become injured because they did not do enough base training. They end up spending most of the season base training and never get to reach their potential because their season ends.

A common mistake made by most high school distance runners is that they do not do enough summer training. Part of the problem – or confusion – has been the development of cross training. Cross training is good when you get to a certain level of training, but for the average high school runner, there is no substitution for running. If you’re a baseball player, you spend most of the summer playing baseball. If you’re a basketball player, you’re using the summer to hone your skills. If you’re a runner, you run! You cannot spend too much time doing other activities like swimming and biking and expect to improve. Cross training can enhance your running, but doing too much will detract from building your base.

Summer training should involve running just about every day. An occasional rest day is necessary, depending on the volume (weekly mileage) and intensity of the workouts. If you’re running 25 miles a week at 8-minute miles, you’re building a weak base. It’s fine to maybe begin with 25 miles your first week, but by the time you return to school in August, the weekly mileage should at least be doubled (gradually, that is) and the intensity should be higher, too.

It helps to have some goals for your summer training and fall cross country season. I tell my college runners that they should have a goal of returning in the condition they ended their previous cross country season. You do need to be realistic and cautious with your goals. For example, if we use that 25 mile-a-week runner, you do not want to have a goal of 50 miles a week unless you’ve done some planning. I’ve referred to the “10-percent rule” in a past column and it applies here. You risk injury if you do too much, too soon. Increasing long runs and weekly mileage by 10 percent will keep you safe. If you plan your summer training, you can make that 50-mile week goal by late summer if you train smart.

It doesn’t hurt to run a couple of road races (three or four perhaps) throughout the summer to check your progress and keep you from losing your competitive edge. I recommend running longer distance races than the ones you’ll run during cross country. This will help you work on your mental toughness and pacing. Occasional summer racing will also allow you to experiment with your racing strategy. Instead of blasting out at the start, work at being patient and you should be able to run a more even paced race.

Another mistake by high school runners is they do not get in enough distance. One way to make your self a stronger runner is incorporate one long run a week. How far is long? You need to work up to at least two and a half times farther than your racing distance. In Georgia, the common high school cross country distance is 5K (3.1 miles). That’s almost an 8 mile long run. But for high school boys preparing to make the transition from high school to college, that long run needs to be more like 10-12 miles. High-level girls should work up to that 10-12 mile distance, too. Again, be sure to incorporate the “10-percent rule” for a safe transition. This will help you handle the tougher workouts that your coach will be dishing out during the season.

When planning your summer training, you should consider doing your longer runs in the mornings before 8 a.m. so that you take advantage of cooler temperatures. The early evening is not necessarily best on hot days because the heat builds up and so does the ozone. If you have sensitive lungs, you’re going to struggle. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the summer and get plenty of rest. Naps are a great summertime activity! Avoid caffeine drinks, don’t stay out in the sun too long and wear sunscreen. Also, avoid long periods of time in air-conditioned buildings so that your body can better adapt to the summer temps. Save the AC for bedtime so that you get more restful sleep.

If you properly prepare yourself now, you will run much better and smarter in the fall. In turn, you’ll have a better appreciation for running and a better understanding of the old motto, “Run for Fun!”