Levels and Types of Competition
Cross Country Training
The word competition takes on many meanings in the natural world. For two animals in competition for the same basic needs in the same ecosystem, it means survival, and ultimately life and death. Fortunately for humans, competition in the athletic domain of our society has far less consequences. Loosely defined for sporting application, competition is a rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object or title desired in common. The rivalry usually results in a victor and a loser, but not necessarily involving destruction of the latter. Ultimately, athletic competition may have some psychological destruction that may temper some of the motivation of the loser, but it is not designed to be a fight to the death.
In cross-country running there are tests to measure the collective combination of psychological fitness, physiological fitness, strategy, and desire. These are called races, and are the means by which runners compete. Cross-country races are of varying distances, varying terrain, and vary in the skill level of the competitors. Elementary age cross-country races may be as short as 1 kilometer and can increase all the way to 12 kilometers, which is the men’s long race at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships, a race for Olympic caliber adult men.
For races to be a legitimate assessment of the competitors they need to be of an appropriate length and difficulty for the people that are actually racing. For this reason, races need to be physiologically homogenous in regard to the growth and development factors of the competitors in the field. For example: boys should race boys, girls should race girls, high school age runners should race other high school age runners and so on. This concept satisfies the old apples to apples axiom that is ubiquitous in our society and is continually used to determine what is fair.
USA Track and Field, The National High School Federation, The National Collegiate Athletic Association and The International Association of Athletics Federation are all governing bodies that sanction cross-country races. The administrators in these organizations have determined appropriate age diversity and race length for all levels of competitors. Generally speaking older competitors run progressively farther than younger competitors and boys and men run farther than girls and women in the same age group divisions.
In high school, the typical length for a boy’s cross-country race is about five kilometers. For girls, it is less consistent and varies from two miles to five kilometers. In both gender groups it is common to find cross-country races early in a competitive season that are shorter than the championship distance. These are races that fit well into a developing athlete’s training plan as the less skilled runner struggles to run the full distance. The focus of these shorter races then remains with competing against one another rather than just trying to complete a distance that they are presently unable to effectively compete at.
Typically in high school there are junior varsity competitions and varsity competitions, usually in two different races at the same meet. Many elite-level meets also offer sophomore and freshmen level races that allow for athletes that are novice or emerging to compete against people of their same age. These various situations allow coaches to put athletes into situations that will lead to developmental success. The coach and athlete must be patient in setting up a training and racing plan and focus primarily on long-term success rather than less positive alternatives. Races are the means by which athletes and coaches realistically measure present-day fitness rather than dream about long term aspirations.
Cross-country races should be challenging in respect to terrain and other variables. Distance races in track and field are conducted over predictable surfaces, over exact distances, with weather and competition factors being the only variables. In cross-country, weather is a factor, but so is the footing on the course, the number and gradient of the hills, the number of sharp turns, the visibility of the racers on the course, and a host of other things unique to the geographical area of the race. Courses vary from luxurious golf courses to mountain goat trails on the side of a mountain. In many respects, it is the nature of the cross-country race course itself that draws the most interest to the sport. It is most important to get the advertised race distance as accurately measured as possible so that athletes can compare times from year to year and course to course. Cross-country is a fascinating sport with many more variables than races on the track. Be enthusiastic with your team at each and every race you attend and point out the uniqueness of every course your squad competes at. Focus on the course and competition in order to minimize self-doubt in your runners.
Some things to do in setting up appropriate, interesting, and worthwhile competitions:
- Make a list of the characteristics that would like to see in a cross-country course. Check around with other runners and coaches to find what courses offer the most in what you like. Get in touch with the race director.
- Search the internet, consult with coaches and with other runners to find cross-country races that have the age-group competitions that would be most appropriate for your situation.
- Research the governing association that is most associated with your situation to find how races are conducted in regard to age, distance, and gender.
Running in the Modern World
Responsible coaches are many things to their athletes. Most of the focus of responsibility concerns teaching the athletes the skills that allow them to be successful. All coaches recognize the dangers in their sport, with some scenarios more obvious than others. A track coach may briefly explain a few rules about running on the roads and trails, and then forget about it. That is until something tragic happens. Training for success in middle-distance running is much more dangerous than one would expect it to be when analyzing the events of track and field. There are certain environmental factors relating to safety that will need to be addressed by the responsible coach, as well as the injury possibilities that could occur while running on trails, through forests, and up and down hills. These types of inevitable minor injuries go with the territory, and in reality, any activity an athlete may choose to participate in has some particular inherent risk and injury possibilities that are native to that activity. Injuries are part of sport.
Unfortunately, there are other injuries caused by accidents that may occur and can be catastrophic to the middle-distance athlete, and could lead to death or disability to the individual. Usually these accidental injuries are caused by running improperly (or properly) in automobile traffic under dangerous traffic congestion situations. However, it is not limited to high traffic situations as an accident can occur at any time. Many of these injuries or deaths could be eliminated by using common sense, following the law, and recognizing the automobile for what it is: two tons of steel that at any time could be driven by an inattentive driver. Many drivers feel that pedestrians are an annoyance and are not entitled to the same rights that a vehicle has on the road. Endurance runners must ward against a defiant urge in making challenges to the driver or car itself while sharing the roadway when something suddenly or unexpectedly occurs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Center for Statistics and Analysis in Washington, D.C. reported 5,338 pedestrian deaths in the United States in 2011 caused by the automobile. That is approximately one death every 113 minutes. The injury rate is even more alarming at one pedestrian injured every eight minutes. While many of these deaths and injuries were caused by the automobile striking a walker and not a runner, the same laws of physics apply.
Training for middle-distance running involves running many miles per week of mindless base mileage at an intensity that can be best labeled as “conversation pace”. Picture a group of teenage runners trying to carry on multiple conversations while running in a pack together. A good number of these miles will be on roadways. Most schools are in populated areas. These two factors, plus the fact that runners are not always attentive at any age, is a dangerous equation. The NHTSA reported 836 pedestrian deaths for junior high school and senior high school aged people in 2011. 73% of these deaths were in urban areas and 90% were during normal weather. And, importantly for runners logging the miles, 77% of the deaths were at non-intersection areas where attention wanes for runner and driver.
There are a number of important points to stress with middle distance runners as they head out onto roadways to train this spring. A coach should take 15 or 20 minutes at the beginning of the season to emphasize the importance of running in a safe way while on the roads. The important points to stress would come from the following list:
- Always cross the road at marked intersections.
- Wear bright clothing while running.
- Follow the traffic laws at stop signs and traffic lights.
- Always know the route and plan ahead.
- Teach the athletes to observe the driver’s eyes as they approach cars.
- Run on the shoulder of the road, always facing traffic.
- Use extra caution and wear reflective gear at night.
- Run single-file under all circumstances.
- Understand that pedestrians have equal right to the road, but laws must be followed
- Be alert and use common sense.
- Teach your runners that safety is more important than the workout
- If you run with your team model safe behavior.
- As the coach, always stress safety above all else.
by Tony Veney
Even though I have been making hurdle contributions, I have had some success at 400 meters. I wanted to share one of the more useful 400 meter sprint drills I have come across in the last 10-15 years. I got it from the “Gopher State”, and former head Minnesota University Track coach, Phil Lundin (currently head coach for St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota). During his tenure at Minnesota, Phil’s 400 meter men were always solid, highlighted by the performances of Adam Steele (1st place 44.57) and Mitch Potter (3rd place 44.58) at the 2003 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track Championships. I was encouraged to contact coach Lundin by Dan Pfaff as we were discussing 400 meter training and how I could get my young men to run the whole race without the usual race hiccups I was seeing.
The hiccups were getting out too fast and dying in the stretch, not getting out fast enough and having to run hard the last 300 meters, or just an overall malaise until the last 100 meters when they try a mad rush. At one point in their experiences, all of these racing mistakes did not result in getting beat because they were genetiucally superior. But those racing errors become glaring problems when you face 7 other fine 400 men (or women) who are equal in ability. At that poiunt, proper race distribution becomes my focal point. I have tried running split 200’s (1st 200 with short recoveries followed by the 2nsd 200), in and out 200’s (running 0-200, 100-300, and then a 200-400 with short recoveries), hard 300’s with short recoveries and push the last 100, and repeat 350’s. All of which are fine workouts, but I was still not getting the feel of the run for my quarter-milers.
That’s when Coach Lundin was kind enough to speak to me about his workout he called “133’s.” Here’s how you set up the track:
You set up 2 double cones at 123 and 133 meters, and 266 and 256 meters. Now the fun starts!
Block start to 133 meters (which teaches an aggressive 60 meter start and how to take your foot off the gas without losing the benefits of the acceleration as you run off the turn). Walk back to the 123m (you only get 60 seconds of recovery. Standing at the 123 you then accelerate and the coach does not start their watch until they hit the 133 cone. This teaches how to “float fast” down the backstretch and still produce some aggression going into the turn. Running the whole 2nd turn is a lost art in quality 400 meter runs. Repeat the process giving your kid 60 seconds as they walk back to the 256. Again you don’t start your watch until they reach the 256 and run off the turn as they head for the finish (133 actual meters). This section teaches you how to run off the turn and staying focused on frequency and floating home as fast as possible.
I give my 400 runners a 60 second recovery between the reps, and 10-12 minutes between the sets depending on how tough the kid is. I have run as many as 4 sets (the more sets you run add 30 seconds to the recovery) and sometimes my “400 babies” were only able to hit two. Remember with high school sprinters, the number of “Got To’s” (things you gotta do all out) can wear them down so they have no emotional stomach for the biggest races at the end of the year. With that in mind, a 133 workout, a Wednesday, and Saturday track meet is a bad idea. But it’s a great 400 meter trainer early in the year and as a sharpener when you only have one meet that week.
I also like to put a cone 100 meters left to go of the last 133 (256 to the wire) so I can gauge if they are running the last 100 meters with the relaxed aggression needed.
60 59 58 57 56 55 52 51 50 59 48 47
20 19.6 19.3 19 18.6 18.3 17.3 17 16.6 16.3 16 15.6
What also makes this a tough run is due to the accelerations required to hit the running time. In an actual 400, you only have to hit your acceleration once. But in the 133 workout, you have to forcefully accelerate to race velocity three times and hit the pace. This makes it a doubly difficult workout. It’s a good one but not one you would run more than once every 2-3 weeks.
Alright friends I have a couple of important announcements for you today.
I’ll attempt to be brief and let you ask questions if you have them. First up:
The 2013 CTF Summer Clinic is moving to Harvard!
Yes, this year the summer clinic will be moving to Harvard University instead of Brown University where it has been held the past two years.
There are also a couple of other changes we’re making this year that you’ll need to be aware of. Here are the important things you’ll need to know:
1. The clinic will be held on Saturday and Sunday July 20-21, 2013 at Harvard University.
That’s right. There is only One Session this year. All event groups (Sprints, Hurdles, Jumps and Throws) will be run at the same time, the same as Session II from last year. That means:
2. You must choose only one event group: Sprints or Hurdles or Horizontal Jumps (Long Jump/Triple Jump) or High Jump or Shot Put/Discus or Javelin.
You can’t spend one day at sprints and one day at hurdles because it is not fair to the other coaches and athletes to have to reteach skills and concepts you missed while at another group.
Also, we are not having pole vault this year. Keep that in mind.
3. Registration opens on Tuesday March 19, 2013 at 6:00am Eastern.
Don’t procrastinate. Secure your registration early. The last two years we have cut registrations early and many athletes got put on a waiting list. NO ONE from the waiting list got to attend the clinic.
Those are the main things to know. If you have questions, you can post them below.
If you don’t already get my emails, get on the ‘Clinic Updates List’ here.
The second major announcement is to let you know that on this Wednesday, March 13, 2013 we will be releasing Marc Mangiacotti’s ‘Advanced Concepts in 400m Training’ program.
It is based on the collegiate season and it contains a lot of sick information. The running time is just under 5 hours because Coach Mang just kept adding more and more information.
If you’re looking to up your 400m game (and who isn’t?) then you’ll definitely want to get your hands on this before you get too deep into the spring season. In my opinion, this program is best suited for college coaches and high school coaches who already feel fairly confident with their 400m training, but are track nerds and just want to consume as much information as possible. For example, if your first question is, ‘But how do I condense this stuff into my 12 week high school season?’, well, maybe you’re not quite ready for this.
But, if you’re reading this and saying ‘Oh man, yes, give me more 400 knowledge because I can never learn enough about getting the most out of my long sprinters’, well, you’re going to be pretty excited about this.
So, again, that will be available on Wednesday morning so keep an eye out for my email.
If you have questions about that you can post them here.
- Latif Thomas
Follow me on Twitter: @latif_thomas
What’s in Your Tool Box?
by David Cusano, Wheaton College (MA)
I pose this question to every coach everywhere.
We can all understand training philosophy, training theory, physiology, biomechanics and motor learning. We can purchase DVDs, go to conferences and even get certified.
Do we know what’s in our very own tool box?
What, exactly, is your tool box?
It’s the training tools you have in your possession. What you own, what you can build.
What do you have in your tool box that helps (or hinders) your ability to develop your athletes?
Do you have hills or stadiums? Do you have a weight room? Are you training in a basketball gym or high school hallways? Do you even own blocks? Bullet belts? Is your facility over booked?
Wait. I’m sorry. Maybe I moved too soon. Do you even have a track?
While we are all working so hard to develop our athletes to their highest level, as well as develop ourselves as teachers and coaches, we need to take a long look at what’s in our own tool box!
We may not all have the weather on our side or state of the art facilities, but recognition of what we have or don’t have is imperative. Once recognized, then and only then can we begin being innovative. We can bring our programs to greater heights by knowing which tools we do have and what which ones we don’t. Identification of these tools will aid in building our athletes to their highest potential.
Here are some examples of how you can stock your tool box, even if you aren’t blessed with a multimillion dollar facility and football team sized budget:
Take sand from your jump pits, put it in a plastic bag and then put the bags into a backpack.
Now you have weight vests.
Take gallon containers and fill them with sand or water.
Now you have dumbbells.
Can’t afford sleds?
Drill a hole through an old tire and loop some rope through it.
Now you can do resisted runs.
No acceleration ladder?
Get some sidewalk chalk and draw progressions on the track or on the concrete.
Geographical location should also be a tool. Are you in Maine or Wisconsin and its April and there is still snow on the ground? Or are you in Florida or Louisiana and its April and 88 degrees?
Are you bundled up doing 4x100m exchanges or trying not to overheat? Are you in a mountainous area or a place that’s extremely flat?
Are you taking advantage of all the things your geographical location and physical environment afford you?
When developing your training inventory you must also think about your facilities, equipment, and geographical location. Thinking outside of the box to use nature or even house hold items to specifically aid in your athletes’ advancement is absolutely necessary to ensure we are giving are maximum effort.
So we should all ask ourselves if we are using all of the tools in our tool box? And if not, how much time are we leaving on the track? How many inches are we leaving in the field?
More for Coaches: Athlete and Group Management . . . What’s Important in Coaching
Have questions about how to build a bigger tool box? Please post them below.