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By Ken Reeves

Nordhoff High School

One of the most successful coaches I know, Joe Kelley of Peninsula High School, has stated that the most important thing a coach should have is a philosophy. Why are you in the sport of cross country and what do you want your athletes to accomplish by being in the sport?

The philosophy of our program at Nordhoff High is focused in three directions: to the individual, to the team and the competition.

First of all, we are trying to develop exercisers for life. The goal is to involve each in some sort of regular aerobic activity which they can participate in for a lifetime. Most competitive athletes stop exercising on a regular basis on the day of their last competition. We want running to be a fun part of each and every day.

The coaches goal is to develop the team as a "family" unit. As in any unit each and every member is important and each has a role. All members need encouragement, regardless of ability. The team is out to support each other. We run the course as a team, we warm down as a team and we travel to and from meets as a team. We also have team dinners and study halls together. Each member's goal is to improve and help those around them to improve. In short, we are trying to become friends and, as friends, we can work better to achieve higher results.

The competition part of our basic philosophy is to enable each of our runners to become competitive within their own realm. To be competitive, proper preparation must take place. For the vast majority of the runners, that means getting gradually in shape.

Competition is different for different runners. Some are out there to be elite athletes. Others are out there because their friends are running or because they want to get in shape for another sport. Therefore, we define what competitive means. Competitive means improvement. Timewise, we want the runners to improve one second a meet. A perfect season is where everyone runs their lifetime best at the championships or their last meet of the season. By setting achievable competitive goals, many of the runners will easily exceed the one second per meet goal. Each time they are successful, the competitive drive seems to intensify.

Intensity is not part of the summer program. Starting in mid-July, we meet two nights per week. Monday and Thursday nights are our team days, and we try to increase the mileage of the runs each week. The more motivated runners certainly run more than those two days, but the vast majority of our athletes just run on these days in July. In August, we expand the practices to three nights a week. One of these nights might be ultimate frisbee or other aerobic types of activities. Once official practice starts, we meet daily in the morning and the majority of the team goes to our beach camp the week before school starts. As with the majority of our summer activities, the goals of our camp are to build basic fitness and team unity. Our summer program is very low key and most of our runners do not participate in road races during the summer.

Once school starts, we become a six-day-a-week program. During the month of September, we train Monday through Friday and run an invitational on Saturday. Due to the structure of our League, we have two races in the same week only once during the season. Thus, we are able to train fairly consistently. September is used to build up base work and most of our runs are aerobic in nature. A week's worth of workouts in September will include one day of hill circuits, one long day (long is relative to running age of the athlete), one day of race pace work, two days of steady state running and one day of competition. Our goals in September include increasing the distance of our long run, increasing the pace of our steady state runs, fearing no hill and improving our overall fitness level through injury-free, daily training. While we emphasize competing in races, we do not focus on any one race. The boy's varsity level returning runners may do up to 45 miles a week, with the returning girls probably doing 10% to 15% less.

As we move into October, our invitationals shift from Saturdays to Fridays. Our longest week of the year is usually the first week in October. Now, our weekly workouts will include a hill run, a hill circuit, a tempo run or a race, a long run, a pace day and a steady state day. Our long run is on Saturday, and we always take an "adventure" run. We meet somewhere where the team does not normally run. Usually, we do an out-and-back run, going uphill for the first half of the run and cruising down the hill on the way back. We focus on no particular meets in early October, with our pre-meet day being a fairly challenging workout. Usually this includes 2 x 880 at team race pace (what we want our pack to run for each level team) followed immediately by a 2 to 3 mile steady state run. We then finish with an 880 at just below race pace prior to warming down.

The latter part of October and early November moves us into championship meet season. For us, this includes the County Championships and the League finals. Most of our athletes finish their seasons with these two meets. We want these athletes and those qualifying for CIF competition to finish the regular season with a bang! For those concluding their season with these two meets, we slightly curtail the distance and the intensity of the workouts. For those we expect to go on, we shorten the long run, but increase the intensity of the run. We also shorten the hills but emphasize cresting the hill and running the downhill at a more rapid pace.

With CIF competition now being three weeks long, we change into our post-season mode. The goals here are to keep workouts fun, improve confidence, compete well and stay healthy. To keep the training enjoyable, we change locations drastically. During this three-week period, we only do the same workout twice, this being our pre-meet workout before CIF Prelims and CIF Finals. To improve confidence, we do "bench mark workouts." Some of these bench mark workouts have been used for 12 years and athletes can compare their performance at this time of the season to past CIF finalist and State Championships teams. We repeat our early season two mile time trial course for the first time since early September. However, for the first time of the season, we use racing flats. Every single runner usually has significant improvement over their early season times and they become a little more confident about their fitness.

Because our hard days are a little harder than earlier in the season, and the intensity has certainly increased for those new runers who have just made the runing breakthrough to join our varsity group, we want to make sure that recovery days are actually recovery days. As a result, all of our recovery days are done in the pool. Using the pool work we feel allows us to work a little harder while keeping our legs fresh.

To focus competitively, we meet together to create goal cards and race plans. We will set a specific goal in each meet that can be achieved with no regard to our competition. We also set a goal which is specifically based on our upcoming competition. As always during this portion of the season, one of our goals is to get a little better each week. While some teams may beat us, we do not want to "lose" races by not performing to the best of our ability. Of course to do, that, we need to add a little magic. Part of this magic is provided by our team socks. A tradition started in 1985 requires us (including the coaches) to wear magic socks. This year, Sonic the Hedgehog graced our feet.

As is always our philosophy, we feel it is much better to be undertrained and on the course than overtrained and talking about the team that could have been. Our entire emphasis during this portion of the season is team. Everyone is working to try to make all 9 runners faster and everyone is a part of the success of team during this time.There are no secured spots on the top seven. Those people who are performing well or appear ready for the "big pop" toe the line. It is purely capitalism with the fittest making the trip to the starting line. Those who are not racing that day (we warm up all 9 like they are going to race that day as we have had to replace runners right before the start in the past) are given specific jobs on the course so they have a role once the race starts.

The goal of every season is to place well at the State Championships. This peaking is really more mental than physical because we are really just starting to get in shape by the time of the final meet; our athletes truly believe that they will run their fastest at the big meet. Our girls have made it there every season except for 1988 and our boys have finished in the top 2 for the past 5 years. This has as much to do with these runners motivating themselves as it has to do with talent. Every one of our athletes started running cross country at the high school level, as there are no youth cross country programs in our community. Through our progressive training program--we baby new runners--we feel we can hook athletes to the sport of cross country and gradually improve their performance.

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