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Ayala Cross Country Program
The Three "P's"

Article By: Brad Peters
Head Cross Country Coach, King High School

Ayala High School was founded in 1990, and under the guidance of the founding coach Mike Goff, the cross country program was begun with big goals. The workouts given during those first couple of years were not long or intense, but enough to achieve local success and create a desire for more. It was a patient strategy that reaped early dividends, but more importantly set in place a foundation upon which to build for the future.

Over the past five years we have worked diligently to increase our standard of success and achievement. The program has begun to rest upon some traditions that precede it and some principles that guide it. Our cross country program revolves around three "P's": Preparation, Performance and Peak.


Like most cross country teams, we begin our work in the summer. The returning athletes work together in ability groups starting as soon as school lets out until the middle of July when we all meet together for organized workouts. Incoming freshmen are encouraged to run three days a week until mid-July so as not to join the others at that time completely out of shape.

Summer running is our time of base building and, therefore, most of the runs are long in distance and steady in effort. Our varsity boys will build to 40-45 miles per week by August, our varsity girls up into the 35+ miles per week range. We will try to carry those distances into and through September, though that becomes a challenge once the racing season begins. For younger and newer runners, we try to maintain the principles of our early years, give them enough to get by but not enough to kill their spirit. A slightly under-trained freshman has a better chance of making it through to his/her senior year hungry far more than will an over-trained ninth-grader who was "thrown to the wolves" early on. It is a judgment call when we get those occasional freshman standouts, but we still like to err on the side of conservative.

Ayala is ideally situated adjacent to both hilly terrain and flat. It is possible to run 10 miles from school without hitting a hill and to run another route that is 10 miles of nothing but hills. We incorporate both types of training during the summer and early season but tend to run a lot of hills, emphasizing distance runs where we "work the hills". This has tended to lesson the need for hill repeats, though we do that type of workout a few times in August and September. Once or twice a week through the summer we employ "tempo" or "threshold" runs of varying distances. Weight lifting has become part of our regimen all season long, and we are starting to dabble in plyometric conditioning.

Preparation for the season does not just mean running, however. The summer is the perfect platform upon which to build the team aspect of cross country. Each year we must reform and rebuild after graduation. The teams change every year as new personalities emerge. We have found the formation of a "family" atmosphere crucial to cross country success. (This is a challenge that grows more difficult each year with increasing numbers on our team). The extra time summer provides is the time we use to do this. To break the monotony of training and to create times of togetherness, we travel to different locales for training. Beach trips, Raging Waters and local "fun runs" all provide "bonding". The summer is capped off with a week in Mammoth, California where hard training and group dynamics come together for seven days. During the season we take two overnight trips to invitationals. They are a lot of work to organize but they do wonders at bringing the runners together into a team.


September races are designed as "tune-ups" for the varsity runners and "introductions" to our newer runners. We have deliberately avoided strong competition in early September so as not to "blow our new runners out of the water" and because our training has not included a whole lot of race-specific intensity yet. Like stepping into a cold pool, we ease our runners into the season slowly with our ultimate objective for them to swim in the deep end of competition by November.

For our varsity team, the season doesn't really begin in earnest until October. We schedule a "high intensity" meet in early October as a test, we try to run well at Mt. San Antonio College and league finals in late October and then get our sights set on the championships. Over the years, a mentality has developed among our varsity teams that what really counts is how we fare at the championships. Everything else is a prelude. Of course, this has both positive and negative ramifications, but it is a philosophy that generally aids mid-season performance and training and encourages a long term view of the season.

Training shifts during this part of the season to include a lot more speed work with a staple of repeat 800 to 1000 meter intervals. We generally do these in parks or trails nearby and always try to include a small hill in the interval. Step-down fartleks of five minutes hard, five easy, four hard, four easy…..down to one hard are useful. We try to maintain mileage goals but are willing to give a little bit if the runners seem tired or need a break. Over the years, I have learned that with young runners, rest tends to pay greater dividends than overwork.


Like many coaches, the peaking phase of a runner's training regimen is still somewhat of a mystery to me. We have applied principles of peaking philosophies: decreased mileage, increased intensity and rest. Some years we have peaked beautifully, others not quite so dramatically. As we gauge our competition and our chances of moving through the rounds of the championships, we generally back up three weeks from our expected last race and begin our peak phase at that point. Recently I borrowed from Ken Reeves of Nordhoff High School in California (like so many coaches have) and have used his ideas on water running a couple times during the week prior to the championships prelims and finals. Though the runners wouldn't pinpoint a specific factor to their success, their times were generally faster at those meets. Rest is the key to whatever we do during the final weeks.

These three "P's" have guided us over the years through the challenges of running a cross country program. The oil in the machine is taking an approach to running, the sport and the success that are positive and enthusiastic. It takes work but the rewards are worth it.

Coach Brad Peters

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