by John Unrein
Distance running makes you compete against yourself as well as opponents. Ignoring pain, sweat, and negative thoughts are a constant along with finding the confidence to make a move when running during a vital part of a race that spans five kilometers (3.1 miles). How one trains and the relationships they forge with their teammates and coaches helps determine whether goals may be reached in a grueling sport.
Approaches that high school programs take for cross country workouts may vary. Some may do progressive runs across long distances. The idea being you go at a moderate pace during the first half of your run, only to increase the speed and intensity during the second half. Progressive run training has been associated with building the capacity to pick off opponents as a race progresses.
Interval training is another workout method where runners perform at a high-speed intensity for a defined period (perhaps a mile) followed by a short recovery span before repeating the process. The idea being that a runner increases their speed and stride efficiency by doing repeated intervals with high intensity during training.
Tempo runs are yet another model for distance running training. You try to find a tempo to run at that’s slightly slower (perhaps 15 to 30 seconds) than your race pace. Tempo runs are difficult without leaving you feeling completely exhausted afterwards. Andrew Meyers of Crunch Fitness in Arizona describes tempo running as targeting metabolic fitness. The higher intensity builds greater lactic acid thresholds according to Meyers, which means you shouldn’t fatigue as quickly come race day.
Grain Valley High School Boys and Girls Head Cross County Coach Nick Small believes that race training for the student athlete has really started to evolve in the 21st century. Small cites using values that weren’t readily available in the past such as heart rate as being huge.
“Nowadays kids have watches that in real time can tell them what their heart is and it’s a good indicator of where they are at on a given day with all factors added in. Whether that be the outside temperature, how much they ate, how much they slept, their heart rate is going to tell them how hard they’re working,” Small said.
“We’ve tried to slowly move into heart rate training. It allows us to get specific with each individual student athlete in being productive with their running. If I tell our group that I need them running at a seven-minute mile pace, that may be anywhere from taxing to easy for each individual in the group. Instead, telling them a heart rate range hits their individual target.”
The Eagles Cross Country programs has also found a weekly schedule that works well for them in season. The teams meet on Sunday night and does a long run. Monday then becomes an off day. Tuesday is a training run of a shorter length. Wednesday is a workout day that cycles through a menu of activities. Thursday is a recovery day and Friday is a pre-meet training day.
Small likes that kids have a protected day of rest that allows them to seek tutoring and take care of academic needs as well.
“We meet Sunday night because research shows after a race on Saturday, the next day is important to get junk out (lactic acid, etc.) of their legs through activity. I also like that our kids have a mental and physical break on Monday away from the sport where they can put their focus on any learning need in the classroom they have,” Small said.
Small also tries to individualize the amount of mileage that runners put on their legs based on ability to best suit their needs. The goal being to maximize potential while protecting participants from injury.
“We are by no means a high mileage program. The focus is how do we attain quality miles. When intensity ramps up, then the mileage needs to come down to avoid injury. We have found in the past that certain kids may need extra mileage, while others need less mileage and more intensity,” Small said.
“It’s about evolving to find what works best for the four to six years (if they run during middle school as well) each student is with us. Right now, at the peak of what we’re doing, some of our kids are hitting sixty to sixty-five miles a week.”
Senior Jaxson Jarman and Junior Valerie Holcomb both agreed about the family bonds they have formed as the thing they enjoy most about participating in Cross Country.
“I enjoy the memories I am making with my teammates. Some of the friendships I have made with my teammates will be lifetime bonds. They extend past just cross country,” Jarman said.
“I would have to agree with Jaxson. The atmosphere and family bond that exists with the girls and guys teams brightens your day,” Holcomb said.
Each of the upperclassmen has also put some thought into goals that they want to accomplish this season.
“We want to make it past sectionals and have our eyes set on state. My personal best time last year was 17:59. I want to get into the high sixteens or low seventeens with a new best time. I am setting some high goals for myself. You must be mentally tough in this sport. It’s going to be hard to compete if your mind is not focused as your body breaks down. I don’t want to disappoint my teammates,” Jarman said.
“I really want to improve on my mid race which is a point where you tend to break down. The girls team runs in a pack this year. You have to tell yourself that you’ve gotten this far, and you need to keep going. The second mile mark tends to be where you start to see the separation gaps grow. You have to stay on the hip of your teammate and go when the choice is made to make your move in the race. We run for each other,” Holcomb said.
The Eagles Cross Country program will partner again with Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation during Breast Cancer Awareness month. October 5th will be the Sock it to Breast Cancer meet.
“Uniforms will have pink accents to promote awareness and we are partnering with host-a-program with health professionals coming out to collect donations and sell ribbons for fund raising to promote cancer awareness and help us give back,” Small said.
The Grain Valley High School Cross Country programs will have their kickoff meet at Grain Valley North Middle School on Saturday, August 31st.
Left to Right: Senior Jaxson Jarman, GVHS Head Cross Country Coach Nick Small,
and Junior Valerie Holcomb. Photo credit: Valley News staff