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Boys Cross Country Program

Article By: Gene Gurule
Mission Viejo High School

The cross country training program starts in mid-July. I meet with the team in a class developed to encourage young athletes to train during the summer months. This is not a serious training period, although if a team wants to have a winning season, the summer is where it all starts. The entire running is done at a moderate pace with a variation of distance and terrain. Most of the runs have some up hill running due to the location of our school. To break up the monotony, we do some interval training on the track; usually repeat miles at an easy pace. The main idea of the summer running is to make it fun and, at the same time, develop a good cardiovascular base. We try to have picked up runs where the team runs to a certain destination and is picked up. I find that I can get more miles in with this method. I always try to have ice water or Gatorade at the finish of these runs.

A coach who runs with the team is of great help and makes a big difference in the attitude of the kids. We always have one or two coaches run with our team. On the long runs if I am not running, I ride a bike and make several stops to give encouragement and make comments on running form, breathing, stride pattern and group running. With a large team, we break up into three groups. They are encouraged to stay with their group. Our longest summer training run is 12 miles. In the summer we also run 3 mile fun runs. These are very low-key competitions that serve as small checkpoints and an opportunity to see how other runners are performing. They also provide a break from regular training.

The summer program usually ends with a running camp in the high sierras in Mammoth Lakes, California. Mileage at these camps can range from 50 to 70 miles in a 5-day period. This year's camp set a record for 5 days at 75 miles. We run at 8:00 A.M. and at 4:00 or 5:00 P.M. I cannot emphasize how important the summer class and the running camp are in building a strong and very competitive program. The development of team unity, esprit de corps and good fellowship are but a few of the many benefits that a team gains from participation in these camps.

After our camp, we begin our fall training schedule from September through November. With a good solid summer base we can start getting a little more intense since this is the start of our competitive season. We compete in 5 dual meets and 5 invitationals. Post-season meets are contingent on whether you keep advancing in competition. We have been very successful at Mission Viejo High School, winning 12 varsity championships and 20 regional championships.

The competition phase is a combination of endurance and stamina conditioning. Every workout starts out with a mile or mile and a half warm up run either on the track or a grass field. Stretching and strides are also done on a daily basis prior to getting into the main part of the workout. Warm downs are just as import as warm ups. We usually do one to two miles, followed by a good 15-20 minute stretch. One of the other training methods we use is running in the shallow end of the swimming pool. This is done once or twice a week for 15-20 minutes along with some free style swimming usually after mile repeats or hill repeats. A sample of early season workouts for a week in the fall would be:

Monday: Long, easy run, 5-7 miles
Tuesday: Hill repeats, 12-15 x 180 yard hill
Wednesday: 3-4 repeat miles, Group 1: 5:20 - 5:40, Group 2: 5:40 - 6:00, Group 3: 6:00 - 7:00
Thursday: Recovery run, 5-6 miles
Friday: 2 miles on track warm up, stretch, and stride, 20 minutes on grass field easy, followed by stretch, pool running
Saturday: Time trial or long, slow run, 6-7 miles

Mid-season training is the toughest phase since here the team is strong enough to hold up to harder, more intense workouts. If the athlete develops a good strong base in the summer, the chance of injury is reduced during this period. One of the main objectives in cross country training is to simulate race conditions as close as possible whenever possible. If we are competing on a flat course, then repeat miles on the track or a course would be appropriate. If the course has hills, then repeats on hills are helpful. I like to use circuit training a lot, and our kids seem to like them as well. I emphasize pack running and surging as a pack as much as possible. In September, we competed at the Stanford Invitational where our team placed 1st in Division II. We had 32 seconds separating our 2nd and 5th man. The week before the race Group #1 ran 7 miles on Monday. On Tuesday, we did 15 x hill circuits of 600 yards, emphasizing running in a pack and surging in a pack. Wednesday's workout consisted of repeat miles, 4 at 5:12-5:15. On Thursday, we ran 2 miles on the track and 20 minutes on a grass field. On Friday, we ran 1 mile to a park, did our stretching and finished with an easy run of 1 mile on a grass field and a 1 mile run back to the motel. On Saturday, the team ran a 5,000 meter race on Stanford's golf course that has one major, long hill. Emphasizing pack surging pays off!

Late season training is focused on big meets, so the amount of miles are cut down and we concentrate more on quality in our workouts. By this time we are running our repeat miles of 4 in the sub 5 minute range and we have established a circuit run that resembles the championship course. When we run this circuit, it begins on the track with 2 to 4 laps at race pace followed by 2 to 4 180 yard hill repeats, and ends on the track with 1 or 2 laps at race pace.

A typical late season workout for the week would be:

Monday: Pick up run, 5-6 miles, and top 14 run together with 4-6 surges
Tuesday: 4 x mile: Group 1: 4:45-5:00, Group 2: 5:20-5:40, Group 3: 5:40-6:00 minutes; pool running 15 minutes
Wednesday: 10 x hill circuit surges; pool running 15 minutes
Thursday: 20 minutes on grass field; pool running 15 minutes
Friday: Good warm up, stretch, good warm down
Saturday: Race

There are some things that I have found to be very helpful. Use them as you see fit. I know from past experience that they work.

1. A coach cannot be selfish with his time. You have to spend a lot of time with your team, especially in the summer. If you cannot do it, then hire someone who wants to, preferably a person who can run with the team and who cares about the program and is not doing it for the money. Former runners are a good choice.

2. Always try to be enthusiastic during the workout and do not neglect the slower runners. Praise these runners; they could be your future varsity.

3. Do not be so proud that you cannot learn from other coaches. I always ask what other schools are doing and many times I add it to my own program.

4. Listen to your runners and be willing to make adjustments or variations in the workout. They know best how things are going.

5. Select 1 or 2 good leaders as your captains as they can make the difference in your season.

6. Keep track of your competition on a weekly basis and encourage your team to do the same.

7. Talk to your runners about nutrition and encourage them to take vitamins with extra vitamin C and to drink lots of water before and after workouts. We work out at 2:00 P.M. so our runners eat their lunch at snack (10:30 A.M.) with something light at lunch like fruit, water, sports bar or juice.

8. Do not get in the habit of doing the same thing year after year. I am always on the lookout for new ideas and new places to run. Running in the same meets year after year might be good for a few years, but a change in the schedule is good. I use the Las Vegas Invitational as a reward for running in the summer and going to camp.

9. Recruit freshmen, as they are the future of your program. Recruit the P.E. classes. Many students are just waiting for a coach to ask them out for a team. Be persistent as many freshmen are shy.

10. If you like what you are doing, the runners will sense it and do anything for you. Therefore, just about any program you develop will garnish some success. Just keep in mind that hard work and determination will pay off in the long run. Be gentle, compassionate, firm, persistent and encouraging and your teams will give you a lifetime of fond memories.

Coach Gene Gurule

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