So the first cross country practice is only a few weeks away, and you begin to ask yourself: Am I ready? Well, that is a complicated question; there are many steps that go into being fully prepared for that crucial first meet of the season, and many of them depend on your experience as a runner. The most important way to prepare yourself, obviously, is to come into the first practice in solid shape. Sure, the summer may have provided you with a few pig-out days and vacations, but what really matters is that you have kept a consistent workout pattern throughout the summer while gradually raising the intensity each week. Training throughout the off season brings you not only the physical stamina required for successful practices and meets, but also builds confidence so you’re not intimidated when faced with that first hard practice of the season or when you line up for the first race. Being consistent with your training throughout the summer is also crucial in getting your body accustomed to the weather conditions you will be facing during the first part of the season. Not being prepared for the hot temperatures in the first meet will likely cause you to experience early fatigue and dehydration, and hurt your performance especially in the second half of the race. Sure, there is plenty of room to improve if you have a disappointing first race, but a solid season debut can boost your confidence and raise the bar for what you can accomplish this season. After you are in ideal shape to start the season, you should begin to focus on setting a comfortable pace for your first race. You don’t want to go into the first race overconfident and wear yourself out in the first mile but you also don’t want to be too cautious, start too lightly and have too much time to make up at the end. The first thing you should consider is where your ability is at right now and where you want it to be at the end of the season. This involves setting goals as well as doing research about your competitors’ times and referring to a pace chart. What always helped me to keep a comfortable pace was to look at the previous year’s results and find a teammate who had comparable times to me or one who was a little faster that I wanted to overtake this year. A pace chart comes in handy especially when performing workouts of kilometer or mile splits, and a variety of pace charts for runners of any ability can be seen at www.runningtimes.com under “Pace Tools” on the left side of the webpage. However, it may be difficult, especially for a beginning runner, to set a comfortable pace based on a mile or a kilometer. That being said, you should time and measure your longer distance runs and figure out your pace, then make an educated estimate of what percent strength you were going at and how much harder you could really go. Another option with a few weeks to go in the off season is to compete in an all-comer’s cross country race. These are held at different parks around the country and can give you a great idea of where you are currently at as far as a comfortable race pace. If you can’t find an actual cross country race in your area, try a 5K road race; although cross country terrain is ideal for preparation, a 5K is the same distance as a cross country race and can still give you a good ballpark figure for race pace. As the off season winds down in the next few weeks, you should also be thinking about having all your equipment ready for the season. Get stocked with running shorts and T-shirts (Nike Dri-Fit shirts are great for running in the heat) although you might be already, from track season and off season training. Next, pick some shoes that fit you well for using in everyday practices, and possibly some spikes for meets. Many cross country runners wear spikes as they are lighter and have better traction than normal running shoes or cross-trainers. However, hard surfaces can wear down the metal spikes, so if you are running a course with a lot of concrete or cement pavement, taking the metal spikes out may be the best idea. This will give you light strides with plenty of traction without the grinding of the metal spikes against hard pavement. Perhaps the most important piece of equipment you should invest in is a combination lock for your cross country locker at school. We had a big problem with thieves raiding lockers during practices, and for these thieves, your equipment means big money to them. No matter what type of area you’re attending school, always remember to keep your equipment secure.
Pump up the intensity of your workouts through the last part of the off season and prepare yourself for the start of the season and the school year!