So you’ve been enjoying the first few weeks of summer, but you’re ready to get back to training as cross country season is only about a month and a half away. There are plenty of ways to go about with your offseason training. One effective way is to create a mileage plan, which involves setting your mileage goals for each week, or simply setting an ultimate goal for the rest of the summer as to how many total miles you want to achieve by a certain date (say, the start of XC season). When setting your mileage goals, you should take into account how experienced of a runner you are. How many years have you been running competitively? Also, how long has it been since you’ve done distance-running workouts? Were you a distance runner during the last track season or have you not run multiple miles in a workout since last cross country season? Evaluate your ability as a runner and decide on a challenging but realistic mileage plan. This will likely vary from about 5-8 miles per week for a young, beginning runner to 25-30 for a top high school varsity runner challenging to place in the state meet.
When constructing your mileage plan, remember that you shouldn’t be pushing your body to the limits every single day. Use a few days a week as shorter, recovery days and take at least one day off per week. While you may feel the desire to go hard every day, running puts great stress on joints, muscles and bones in your legs, specifically in your knees and ankles. You may try running on softer ground, such as a bark dust trail or an actual track, to minimize the constant pounding of your feet on hard concrete or asphalt. If you are experiencing major soreness, don’t just ignore it and try to work through it; take a day or two off and consult a coach or trainer for suggestions. During my freshman season in track, I was experiencing soreness in my quadriceps which turned out to be a pulled muscle. I was still able to compete but my coach noticed a limp in my strides and immediately held me out of the next meet. It was disappointing at first, but I was thankful for it later on as I was able to make a full recovery and set a personal record in the following meet.
An effective off season training regime my high school coach used during the summer for off season cross country training consisted of hard workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and easier recovery days on Tuesday and Thursday. For the weekends, Saturdays were optional light cardio workouts on our own, and Sundays were our off days. The “hard” workout days were either shorter, faster workouts, such as 3-5 individual kilometer or mile runs at close to cross country race pace with 5-10 minute breaks in between, or longer, slower workouts, such as a 5-15 kilometer (depending on ability) bark dust trail run at about 60-70% of race pace. Alternating between these two types of workouts is a great way to work on both endurance and speed, which are the crucial components of a successful cross country runner. The recovery days were what my coach referred to as “run-how-you-feel” days where we let our body’s condition determine the distance we would run that day, which was usually around 2-3 ½ miles at a light, comfortable pace. Again, this was determined by experience and ability, but most of us took it easy on these days to recover from the previous day and rest up for the next day’s hard workout.
Measuring your progress is very important for working toward your season goals. Every 3-4 weeks, have a teammate or coach time you in a set distance. When I was training we did 1 ½ miles because that was approximately half of the 3.1 mile cross country courses used for most high school meets. It helps if others are running with you, especially if they are close to your ability so you can pace yourself better, as you would do in an actual meet. Time trials not only measure your progress, but also give you some simulated competition, help you figure out your cross country race pace, and give you some realistic goals.
Time is running out until the start of the season, so get prepared by evaluating your goals and setting an effective workout plan!