EDITOR'S NOTE: Wondering what training will be like if you run cross country or track in college? Olivia shares her experience and offers solid solid tips for your future as a college runner.
When I made the transition to college running, one of the largest questions I had was how I would adjust to college training. I had heard plenty of stories of programs forcing freshman to run 80 miles a week, workout several times a week, and lift weights daily. All of these stories made me nervous because I feared that if I was forced to do these things, I would physically and mentally break down. Luckily though, within a week of training, my coach had created a mileage and workout plan that was specified to fit my personal needs.
Senior year cross-country districts
As a high schooler, I was a relatively high mileage runner. By my senior year, my peak mileage would hit around fifty-five. In general an average week would be around forty-five to fifty miles. I was running a lot of miles, but most of my runs were done at an easy pace. Coach had me do one or two workouts and one long run a week. On top of running, I did a short core routine about twice per week. The summer before my freshman year of college, my new coach sent out a training template similar to this:
Monday: AM: Recovery Run/ Core PM: Easy Run for miles+ Dynamic drills/ strides
Tuesday: Workout: Fartlek/Speed work +weights
Wednesday: AM: Recovery Run/ Core PM: Moderate run (Similar to tempo)
Thursday: Cross train or Easy run +weights
Friday: Easy Run/ Core +Dynamic drills/strides
Saturday: Workout: tempo/ endurance work +weights
Sunday: Long run (20% of mileage total)
I understood what she expected on most of these days, but the aspect I knew the least about was core and weight training. The core I was used to from high school was very short, and I had never lifted weights. Unfortunately, the NCAA prohibits direct training advice between Coach and incoming freshman, so most of my questions about training were left ambiguous.
My roommate and I on the first day of training
Luckily though, when I arrived on campus, all of my questions were quickly answered. My coach interviewed all of the freshman about our running and injury history. Once she understood our background, she created individualized plans to suit our mileage history, and to keep us healthy. The template I included above was the general weekly layout. Within this layout Coach expected me to run 50-55 miles a week. The other girls on the team had plans that fit their own needs.
Even though I had an individualized plan, the first couple of weeks of training were very difficult. I struggled with weights, core and the intensity of the workouts. There were moments when I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the rigor of it all. I even experienced a few moments when I thought about quitting running all together. After about three weeks of struggle, I started to get used to the training. In my first race, I bettered my high school personal best by fifteen seconds, and felt relaxed doing it. In regards to this, remember that adjustment is hard, but that your coach and team are there to help you get through it.
Finishing my first college invitational
Since everyone had their own weekly mileage, a lot of times the team would split up into groups to run. I was used to doing every run with my team in high school, so this took some time to get used to. After a while though, I began to like this. Since our team would run in groups of about three to five girls, I was able to get to know my teammates on a more personal level.
Workouts also were structured differently. In high school, everyone would start each interval and tempo run together. In college, workouts are much more measured efforts. Before every workout our Coach gives each runner a set of paces or range of times they should hit for the workout. For instance, on my first tempo run, the senior girls did an eight-mile tempo at a set pace, and I did a six-mile tempo at a set pace. Having set paces took time to get used to, but now I view them as a useful tool. Since Coach assigns paces, normally I would end up working out with the same group of girls. This was one of my favorite aspects, because when it came to race day, I had a core of girls I knew I could rely on.
My workout partner, Coach and I at WAC indoor track championships
College training is incredibly intense, but also a lot of fun. There are days where I question if I can keep going, but as soon as I get to practice, those anxieties are lifted. Training is fun because of the atmosphere of practice. Unlike high school, everyone on the team is fully bought into the program. Being surrounded by people who want to train is not only inspiring, but also lessens the feeling of training being “work”. On a final note, everyone on the team remembers what it was like to be the “freshman” and were always eager to help me get through the harder days.
My teammates and I at the division 1 west regional
Trust your Coach. Your Coach wants and knows what is best for you as an athlete
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are worried about something, or are curious about how something will benefit you, don’t be afraid to ask your coach about it. In my experience, my coach has been happy to address my questions and concerns.
Take care of yourself. Many schools offer medical trainers and facilities in order to keep their athletes injury free. Always take advantage of these resources; trainers are paid to help keep you healthy.
Don’t hide injuries. College training is rigorous, and if you try to hide injuries, you may never fully recover.
Listen to your body. Often times, Coaches won’t plan “Days off” into a weekly training schedule. They normally leave “Days off” out of the schedule because every athlete has their own set of needs regarding these. If you ever feel beat up and overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to take a day off. Also, don’t be embarrassed or try to hide days off, Coaches like to know how you are adjusting to training. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is that listening to my body is the most important thing I can do to stay healthy. After weeks of struggling to find a good balance between being sore and being too sore, I have learned that I need to take a day off a minimum of every two weeks.
The team at running camp