The summer training period is crucial to the seasonal success of a cross country team. Because athletes have other obligations during the summer months it is not easy to organize training activities that get everybody to practice on the designated days. Many coaches utilize a team cross country summer training camp.
In some situations it is easier to have the athletes run on their own, and in other instances some state organizations have restrictive rules as to when and if an organized practice can even occur. If an organized cross country summer training camp is desired then the coaches commit themselves to a great deal of summer time that may be difficult in their personal life.
It is difficult to study the effects of an organized summer training program against just letting the athletes figure it out on their own. There are too many variables to make any valid conclusions because of all the variables involved. However, there are four important points to summer training and camps that have been shown in multiple scientific studies and they are:
- Athletic performance usually improves following an organized cross country summer training camp situation.
- Unsupervised training activities usually need to undesired training effects.
- Cross country summer training camp usually leads to better team dynamics and is reflected in better performances.
- Further development of the aerobic energy system require 20-27 weeks to show marked improvement during any training period. Cross country seasons in high school are not nearly that long.
A high school cross country season is usually about 14 weeks in length. If you have runners or a team that enjoy post-season championship meets another three weeks can be added. The total training weeks still does not reach the time needed to build a robust aerobic energy system in a 5k runner.
Physiologists have put forth a suggestion that a high school distance runner requires about 10% of the calendar year away from training. Collegiate and recreational runners need considerably less time away from training. Why the difference? The answer is found in maturation of the body and growth issues in high school athletes.
Resource: Peaking Workouts for Distance Runners
Taking this suggestion and incorporating it into the annual plan of the team means that about six weeks each calendar year should be away from training. This should be done in two blocks of time, twice per year, with a minimum of two weeks in a block. In the northern part of the United States, it usually means four weeks of rest following the last cross country meet and two weeks off following the last track meet. In the South, with earlier state track meets, the resting schedule is reversed.
Looking at a possible scenario in the North, with a state track meet held the last weekend in May, it means the athletes will return to training about June 15 and will have about eight weeks of summer training before cross country officially begins about August 15.
Total training volume is always a prime consideration for the athlete whether in a camp or training on their own. Because the focus is strictly aerobic energy system development at this time, a good target for the athletes is 300-400 miles. Prescribe more miles for the skilled runners and less for the others.
Since a cross country summer training camp situation is usually the best scenario, then it is important to establish when it will be held. Will it be evenings, very early mornings, or something in between? Will the camp be six days per week or something less? If a commitment from the athlete is expected than the parameters need to be set so the athlete can meet or exceed expectations.
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Begin the camp in June with 50% of the weekly mileage that is expected at the end of camp. Keep it low for two weeks as they just came off of their short summer rest period. After four weeks of general preparation training add strength work. This can be in the weight room or running hill repeats, or both. After five weeks, add an aerobic power session for each week left in the camp.
These are date-paced workouts centered on their individual VO2 max pace, so establish what that marker is first with an Astrand protocol field test of two miles for time. For the next two weeks do a 1000 meter session and then a 1600 meter session at that pace. Do three or four repeats of the work distance followed by equal time rest. This is not speed work! This training session is designed to establish aerobic power.
Related Article: The Balke VO2 Max Test
Many cross country teams travel to a distant location for part of the summer training camp. It may be a seven day trip to the mountains or a two day trip to a local state park. These situations can be very good for a team as long as they are structured, both with training and activities. Always make sure you keep the training focus on strength and aerobic exercise. Evenings at these distant camps are a good time to do team building games and activities that pay great dividends later in the season.
Some coaches advise their runners to attend an established camp which are often held at many colleges and universities in the area. It is a good time to meet other serious runners and try a variety of new workouts.
A high school cross country summer training camp establishes the culture of a team. If the team is dormant for the summer it will take many weeks for it to be a functioning organization once the season begins. Use this time to establish rapport with your athletes, develop the team leaders, and grind out the volume of miles needed for a fantastic aerobic energy system.
By the way –
If you’re looking for an alternative to the week long summer training camp, consider attending as a coach, as well as sending your athletes, to the 2 day Complete Track and Field Summer Clinic held at Harvard University the third weekend in July.
The distance group is run by Harvard University University Director of Track and Field/Cross Country, Jason Saretsky. The weekend focuses less on race strategy and tactics, overall athletic development and a targeted look at modern distance training and competing.
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Scott Christensen is the head track coach at Stillwater Area High School in Oak Park Heights, MN.