The NIXC kids came home with some memories from a great showing at the USATF Junior Olympic XC Championships in Reno last December. Rowan Henry set the tone by dominating the 8-under boys race and becoming national champion while most of us were huddled in our tent staying warm. By the end of the meet the NIXC added 12 All-Americans, the 11-12 boys took the third place team award, 9-10 girls were fourth, and the 11-12 girls placed fifth. They had another seven runners in the top fifty of their race. What a day!
We wondered if it was the altitude or a bowl of their favorite cereal that morning that led to all the success. After the meet we talked to Coach Erin Lydon and asked her about team practices and more.
What is your basic coaching philosophy?
Each week, I give the team a motivational quote that guides our training for that week. If I had to pick one quote that sums up what I do as coach, it would be "The difference between wanting and achieving is discipline." Our practices are long, often cold and dark and involve both physical and mental challenges for the athletes to overcome. The foundation for much of our team's success is the relentless pursuit of improvement that permeates each practice. I focus on perfecting form, drills and mechanics. I expect a lot from my athletes; so they learn to expect even more from themselves.
How do you keep them motivated?
Every runner has a bad day. I am their toughest critic but I also remind them how much I love to watch them run no matter the outcome. After each race (good or bad) I ask the kids to focus on three things they did right and three things they could do better. These include race prep, nutrition, race strategy, hills, starts/finishes, or surges. As a team, we celebrate successes and support teammates through challenges. I also say, "Make the next race your best race." That's what's so great about running, there is always another race.
What's a typical workout week for North Idaho at the beginning of the season?
We practice 2x/week in June and July and then 3x/week in August. (They don't run track.) Our weekly regimen includes a lot of time on hills and working on form and mechanics as we slowly build mileage. Summer training is all about getting stronger. Every workout includes time for core training and race strategy. I also lead very specific drills such as surging, running around trees, race starts/finishes, falls, and how to manage race day fears. We have a specific way of running down hills. We also spend time in the pool working on breathing drills and cross-training. I am very conservative with mileage for the younger runners and vigilant about injury prevention. I have found that building a strong core and doing little summer speed work goes a long way in keeping my runners healthy for Fall.
How did the workouts change after state and leading up to nationals?
At this point in the season, we are training eight hours a week. We continue with our weekly hill, endurance and core work program but also add in one session on the high school track for speed training. Each runner has customized targets to hit whether it be their mile splits or 200m repeats. Every Monday, we do conditioning where the runners do a continuous circuit that includes mechanics, speed, endurance, and strength drills. I also dedicate practice time to visualization, race strategy, nutrition and analyzing the upcoming race course map for areas of strategic advantages. I devise a battle plan, so to speak, and the kids absorb and retain all the maneuvers to succeed.
Do you work with each individual on their goals?
As a team and individually, we talk often about goals for the season and the steps needed to succeed. Before Nationals, I meet one-on-one with every runner and discuss specifics for the upcoming big race. Every runner on our team can visualize the race course, they know where to surge and where to hold, they know every hill and turn and each has a race strategy to achieve desired outcomes. I teach the kids to 'control the controllable, and let the other stuff go (weather, competitors, race officials, course condition). We prep for every possible scenario so there are no surprises on race day.
How do you encourage an athlete who has a disappointing race?
First, I tell them it's ok to feel mad/sad. That's normal. Sometimes you plan your race but don't race your plan. It happens. Next, I ask them to articulate two or three things that didn't go according to plan and to learn from that experience. Every mistake is an opportunity.
What about fun? Besides the meets and practices do you get together for other functions?
Yes. Our team really is one big family. We socialize together and see each other outside the race season. The kids all attend different schools as our team draws from a 30+ mile radius but we stay connected. We have pool parties and movie nights. We ski together and camp together.
All athletes are different, but do you have one piece of advice for other young athletes?
Yes. Don't stop when you're tired. Stop when you're done. By that I mean figure out what sport you love, dedicate yourself to it, set big goals, be disciplined and remember that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. See yourself succeeding and then take every step possible to make that dream your reality even when it's hard. Don't quit on yourself. I always tell my runners to make themselves proud. Don't run for me or for mom and dad. Run because you love to run.