Coach Watt gives his perspective on the "Indoor Track Season" and how to transistion from cross country.
Indoor or Winter Track is the one portion of the Distance Runners’ Triad of Seasons that is the poor stepchild sport. Why? Facilities or the lack thereof governs what communities, counties or states hold an Indoor or Winter Track & Field season. For instance, the neighboring states of Oregon and Washington who are well known for their cross country teams’ prowess do not have a high school indoor track season. Head to the southern states and the winter season is the time to prep for a longer outdoor season. The only facilities for indoor track in the South and Southwest found were built by major college D1 Sports programs. For the high school athlete who perhaps ran indoor track in another state or competed with a USATF club team, what are their options if they live in a state or county that does not support indoor or winter track? How do you properly transition from Cross Country to the Indoor Track Season? First thing, let’s examine the distance runner who has to seek an alternative path as his or her state does not have an Indoor Track season.
Shift training back to “base training for Outdoor. Most coaches in states that do not have an official indoor track season have their distance and mid-distance runners restart their base training. Call it a reboot of training. There is no need to focus on intense track workouts or longer interval training when the Outdoor season is 3 months away. Everything needs to get into a cycle so that athletes can get into a training rhythm. The cross country season was a long one and every runner needs to be able to reach peaks on the track. That discipline to be able to maintain a base mileage is key to success on the track. You do not hear about too many successful distance runners who take 3-4 months off in a year. Then again, there are the exceptional high school-aged runners who can do another winter sport like swimming and jump back to Outdoors and find success.
Running for a Club team when your state has NO Indoor season. High School coaches may not like it yet the only alternative for high school athletes in the winter who desire to compete “indoors” is to join a Club team. Yes the high school coach loses control over workouts and preparing for the Outdoor season. The boy or girl in a state like Washington or Florida who excels at Indoor distances must seek an alternative path. Many independent track coaches are available in the locales where the sport of Indoor Track is not offered. Parents may see them at cross country meets or get word of x-coach of a neighboring athlete. This scenario is not what parents want to face, but for those runners who desire to compete and who may have aspirations to run in college, the choice of going with a certified coach and / or a Club team is the only option. There is the case of a high school runner who was able to compete in Indoor Track their first year or two of high school, moves to another state and finds out that there is no Indoor Track season. If they excelled and loved the indoor venue setting, then they will do all they can to find a path to compete. One reason Indoor Track is considered the lesser of the two track seasons is the fact that only 50-60% of track athletes compete during the indoor season. The option of a club team or independent coach is the only option for athletes stuck in this predicament.
Peaking for success Indoors. You have just finished your fall cross country season. You may have extended your post-season racing to compete in a qualifier for Nationals, either Footlocker or Nike Cross Nationals. The indoor season most likely started just before Thanksgiving and now you and your coach have to decide when to start racing indoors. There seem to be two schools on this question. First is the desire to post a fast time that could secure an Auto State qualifying time in the Mile or 2 Mile for instance? Second, you have to weigh mental fatigue and physical fatigue. Should an athlete take off 10 days to 2 weeks to recover and then reboot their training? On the other hand, should that same athlete go race 2 weeks after their final cross country race and go for that state qualifying time. It is not a clear-cut situation. Then the question comes in about peaking for the post-season or Championship season for Indoors. You want to be racing at your peak when the Regional and State Championships occur. You hope to ride that peak for 3 weeks.
Staying fresh and avoiding injuries from the indoor curves. This is the hard part of indoors: building the peak and avoiding injuries that can be the byproduct of the smaller and tighter curves on indoor track venues. Young runners need to strengthen core muscle groups and hip joints in particular. Many young girls have weak hips that include the IT bands and fascia that connect joints like the hip. It is imperative that exercises or strength activities in a weight room work on these injury prone areas. Indoor track also poses the issue of staying healthy and avoiding colds and the flu. One can only step into an indoor track facility and immediately realize that germs are aplenty! All the precautions preached to kids about washing hands are paramount during an indoor track meet.
What makes Indoors special. Many track coaches grumble (me included) about the lack of facilities in states that conduct an Indoor Track season. We moan and groan about overcrowded indoor meets and indoor track venues that are outmoded for competition. Despite the lack of good facilities, there are the premier Invitational Meets and post-season Championship meets that bring out great competition and fast racing. The noise and crowds are right on top of the athletes. It is the one great aspect of Indoor Track at the high school level: fans in the stands bringing energy to the competitors and the meet. Go to places like the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury MA, the New Balance Armory in NYC or a college venue like ones at UAB (Birmingham AL), Notre Dame, or Virginia Tech.