Continuing Summer Training: How should I vary my workouts?

So you’ve been training for about a month now, and you’re starting to build up toward the start of XC season, which is just over a month away. You’ve developed a good workout rhythm and kept your motivation despite the temptation to take days off, or....maybe you’ve been busy and are getting a late start on your summer training. Regardless of your current standing as to what kind of progress you’ve made so far in the off-season, varying your workouts is a great way to enhance your workout plan and maintain your motivation. Below are some creative and effective workout types that can be used to spice up your off-season training.

Interval Workouts: These can be modified by length and speed according to your own skill level, but the main idea is alternating between a faster and slower pace. Interval training can also be done with uphill running as the vigorous intervals and flat ground running as the easier intervals. One way to perform an interval workout on your own if you have access to a track is to run briskly (XC race pace or a little faster) on the straight-aways and lightly jog the curves. If you have access to a treadmill, most of them have an interval training mode which usually alternates speeds every 1-2 minutes and allows you to implement an incline. The time duration for this type of workout will depend on whether you are using it as a recovery or hard workout day. From an average runner’s perspective, I would go about 30-40 minutes on a hard day and 15-20 on a recovery day.

Uphill Training: Running hills is a great way to train for cross country race competition, and most of us live within jogging distance of at least one hill, whether it is on a road or a dirt trail. For an entire workout, try a combination of shorter, steeper slopes and longer, more gradual slopes. It also helps to jog in between hills for a workout comparable to an actual race. The hill circuit my cross country team trained on consisted of three different hills, one short and steep and the other two long and gradual, which we ran 2-4 times each. The three hills were separated by about a mile total, which allowed us to jog in between. Practicing uphill running is crucial as a hill in a cross country course can make or break your race. Lack of experience in running uphill, especially if you are a beginning XC runner, can cause a dramatic increase in fatigue when you are faced with a daunting hill in a race. This can in turn disrupt race pace and cause you to slow down considerably for the remainder of the race. In these workouts, you shouldn’t be running the hills too fast because in a race situation, the time you are gaining with speed will simply end up being lost in the energy you expend to push yourself up the hill. When performing uphill workouts, choose a pace close to your actual race pace and remember to stop and recover if you begin to experience extreme fatigue or cramping.

Speed and Endurance-geared Workouts: These can be alternated on your harder workout days to focus on both aspects of a cross country race. The key to a successful race is developing a swift, steady pace, and also being able to maintain that pace into the second half of the race when the fatigue starts to set in. During my years as a high school cross country runner, we would have two hard workout days per week, one speed day and one endurance day, which were organized around the meet days. Endurance workouts should be longer than the cross country courses you will be running (5K for most high school competitors) and at a slower pace than you would run in a race. If you are running on a loop trail or a course with mile markers, have someone time your splits (at every half mile or mile). This can assist you in fixing your strategies if you find yourself going out too slow or too fast. Speed workouts involve running lesser distances with breaks in between at a faster pace. One of the most effective speed workouts I performed in high school was individual laps on a 1000-meter bark dust trail at XC race pace with 5-minute breaks in between. These were fairly longer intervals for a speed workout; you can also try shorter intervals with shorter breaks in between. Speed workouts give you some race simulation and help you develop a comfortable pace which will be a starting point for your first meet of the season. These should also be timed to figure out your pace and monitor progress.

Use these suggestions and develop a creative array of workouts that will keep you motivated through the dog days of summer and continue to prepare you for the first day of XC practice!