Cross Country Philosophy
By Daniel C. Gruber
The cross country season is about to begin and it is a perfect time for a coach to reflect upon his/her philosophy. Without a basic core of beliefs, values, and goals a coach cannot be totally effective. I always use the end of the season to write a brief critique of my coaching and how I handled the runners under my tutelage. I often jot down ideas that relate to each of my runners. I then spend the off season thinking and planning. I might make a rough schedule of training, but I donít make up workouts until the week before they are scheduled to do the workout. This way I am able to adjust to the athletes rather than adjust the athletes to my workouts.
Doing this "philosophical research" has led me to certain rules or concepts. If one is around distance running long enough one can see consistent positive traits exhibited by some coaches and negative traits displayed by other coaches.
Here are a few of the things I have learned and adopted into my approach to training high school runners:
- I donít care how good of a coach you are or think you are, it takes talent to make you look good. But you should coach every kid like they are the most talented. Try on getting the most out of each kid. Some of the best and most respected coaches by their athletes have never won a major championship but their athletes improve dramatically. When you do get talent, donít screw it up. It takes a lot of work by a coach to screw up high school kids. But many have done so.
- It has always been my philosophy and something I learned from my high school coaches is to get your runners to the starting line hungry. When in doubt about training, error on the side of caution. There is no way to rest an over trained or injured athlete at the starting line. If you make a mistake, under train.
- On the same theme, a high school kid doesnít need to run any more than 8 miles a day (56 miles/week). The longest track race is 3200m and cross country is only 5K. Watch your mileage, give the kid room to develop physically and progress after his high school career. A high school kidís muscles are resilient but their joints, ligaments, and tendons are still developing.
- The Central Nervous System of a teenager does not have the same time table as the muscles. It takes eight days for the CNS to recover completely from severe physical stress. The day-to-day stress also adds up, that is the reason for hard-easy type workouts.
- Donít train a kid to beat a certain opponent Ė train him/her to do their best. Focus on their self improvement rather than to beat runner X from the rival school. You canít control how other runners perform, only how your runners perform.
- Always tell your athletes to race the race, not the clock. If you race well, the time will come. Course records and meet records are only incidental and are fleeting.
- After races and workouts always stock up on fluids (immediately) and food. It is best to feed about 20 minutes after rigorous exercise. Because most kids arenít hungry this early after a race I try to get them something within and hour, not perfect but it aids in the recovery.
- I have often overlooked flexibility in my own running and this has caused me several injuries. It is critical for injury prevention and speed development that they stretch. Flexibility is important.
- Always do what is best for the kid. Donít let the ego of the coach determine what and how the kid trains and races. Donít double a kid because you want to show the dominance of your program.
- Get to know the kid Ė you are a mentor. Listen to the kid about everything going on in his or her life. This will give you a clue about how to best prepare your runner.
- Keep running enjoyable. Let the kid have fun once in a while. It should be more play than work. Kids wear down emotionally before they do physically. Involve their friends. Kids are social creatures and they often will invest more in a race if friends and peers are there to share.
- Donít race workouts and donít use races as workouts. Good runners use emotional energy in races because they care about their performances. Try to give some of your top runners a break from competing against their own teammates.
- Donít be a dictator to your athletes Ė guide them. Let them feel that they are invested in the program and can make the decisions they need to make.
Be true to your self and your runners. Enjoy the experience because distance runners are probably the most enjoyable group of young people with whom to work. Find something positive about every race for every athlete.
I have always felt that a runner should be set up on a four-year plan. I donít train a freshman the same way I train a senior. I try to use a year-by-year progression for the athlete. I feel we, as coaches, have an obligation to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of running. Here are examples of how I would structure a typical mid-season workout week:
Typical Workout Week Ė Midseason (Varsity/Senior)
Monday: 2 miles warm up, 4 miles of intervals and recovery (ie., 6 X800m with 400m jog), 2 miles warm down.
Tuesday: 6-8 miles, 8 X 100m strides.
Wednesday: 4 miles, 8 X 200m hills, 2 miles.
Thursday: 8 miles (either rolling hills or with 1 mile of the run "hard").
Friday: 4 miles easy.
Sunday: 8-10 miles.
Total: approximately 50-52 miles.
Typical Workout Week Ė Midseason (Freshman/Sophomore)
Monday: 2 miles warm up, 2 miles of intervals and recovery (ie., 3 X 800m with 400m jog), 1 mile warm down.
Tuesday: 4 miles, 4 X 100m strides.
Wednesday: 2 miles, 4 X 200m hills, 1 mile.
Thursday: 4 miles.
Friday: 2-3 miles easy.
Total: approximately 24-25 miles.