The 2nd annual Maine Coach and Athlete Cross Country Clinic was on August 18th, 2008 at the University of Southern Maine. This is the third part of my reporting on the clinic; the first part was about injury prevention and treatment, the second part was about nutrition basics and fueling, and the third part was about selecting proper footwear.
The fourth part of this series introduced you to the 3 athletes on the panel, and this final part will summarize their thoughts on training, teamwork, and racing as they answer the questions posed to them by the people in attendance.
What do you wish you knew in high school that you know now?
Lauren Fleshman only had 2 paces in high school, workout and racee. In college, she had 3 paces, workout, maintenance, and racing. She had a much better idea going into each workout what the goal was, and sometimes that was just to prepare for the next workout. She also would like to have known in high school how much better she could recover from two-a-days than doing 1 longer run throughout the day. In college she would run double 3 or 4 times per week.
Matt Lane would like to have known how important consistency in training was, especially having grown up in Maine where consistent running can be more difficult than elsewhere.
Matt did not run on the indoor track team, and instead competed for the ski team. Unless you are Ben True, skiing is not a complete substitute for running. It gives you great cardiovascular fitness, but it just doesn’t translate onto the track.
Matt would basically not run a single step between November and March, and his high school track times suffered as a result. He considers himself by far the slowest guy in the top 10 at Foot Lockers for his track times.
Matt wishes that he knew that running even once or twice a week would have been good enough to allow him to maintain his running fitness between the cross country and track seasons. Going for 5 or 6 weeks at a time without a run just didn’t allow him to do that no matter how well he was cross training. In the Summer, he did not have that same problem, which is why he did so much better in cross country.
Louie Luchini wishes that he had known what a difference a high volume workload can make, and wishes that he had done some harder workouts in high school.
His biggest problem with the extra volume, though, is that he sleeps too much and morning runs are out of the question for him. (Much to the chagrin of his coaching staff.)
If you can, become a morning. Being a morning person will give you extra time for workouts, stretching, breakfast, et cetera. It becomes so much easier when you don’t have to be out the door 15 minutes after waking up.
Matt didn’t think that he’d ever be able to become a morning person, but while he was training for the Chicago marathon his coaches made him be ready for 15 mile workouts at 7:30 a.m., which required that he get up and get breakfast around 5:00 a.m.
Muscle cells only live for 6 months, and are created out of the foods that you eat. So quite literally, you are what you eat. Every 6 months you have replaced every muscle fiber with completely new cells. Lauren’s diet didn’t improve until she realized that her muscles were made up of various types of fast food and junk food.
As soon as you finish with your workout, eat a power bar or a clif bar or something similar. This will help you to control your immediate appetite following the workout, which can help keep you from stopping on the way home for something like french fries that then fill you up so that you aren’t hungry at dinner time.
Being well hydrated and eating better will lead to feeling good every day and will help you perform well in your training so that you can improve in your racing.
What is the team aspect like when running at the collegiate level?
The entire team ran so well together because they got along and made it a point for everybody on the team to run with everybody else at least once. It makes a huge difference when somebody is having an off day and they can be pulled along by their teammates instead of getting dropped.
Everybody on the team was good enough to train with everybody else, no matter the talent level. “You are only as good as your 5th runner.”
What are some specific workouts to train the people at different levels and to bring that 5th man closer?
Whistle workouts were popular at Stanford. Everybody runs easy at a 6 minute per mile pace until the coach blows the whistle, and then you run hard for anywhere between 1 and 4 minutes until the whistle is blown again.
If anybody falls off of the pace, then they are pulled out of the workout. The folks up front really had to take ownership for making sure that nobody fell off the back and needed to pull along whoever the weaker members happened to be that day.
At William & Mary, there wasn’t quite the same level of talent as at Stanford, but they were still dominant regionally. They ran similar workouts, but rather than bunching the top 5 they would send Matt out for the low stick and then bunch the other 4 runners.
At 1 meet, Matt purposefully wnet out slower to keep the other teams from sending anybody forward with him, which kept him from running his own race and getting his individual accomplishments. It was the best team performance that he had in his college career, though.
For the first 15 to 30 seconds he was devastated that he hadn’t done as well as he could have that day, but that was quickly overshadowed by the team’s success and led not only to a great lesson about how much you can achieve as a team, but also became one of his favorite races that he has ever run.
What are your thoughts on the athletes in Beijing that you’ve trained & raced with?
It was great to see Shalane Flanagan take the bronze in the 10k, an event that is traditionally dominated by the Africans. Lauren really looked forward to seeing what Kara Goucher and Jen Rhines could do. Women are increasingly running better and better later in life now, and there have been some amazing performances by women in their 30s. “It is great that you can keep having this much fun for your entire life; there is no other sport like it.”
What is more important for a 5k, speed or distance?
If you want to focus on the 5k, then you need to condition your body to run at that zone. Matt gave an example of one of the Michigan Workouts that he would do once or twice a year when preparing for the 5k:
- 2k on track @ slower than race pace
- 2k off track @ 5:20/mile
- 1600m on track @ 10k pace
- 2k off track @ 5:20/mile
- 1200m on track @ 5k pace
- 2k off track @ 5:20/mile
- 800m on track @ faster than 5k pace
- 2k off track @ 5:20/mile
- 400m on track @ all out pace
He would not run that workout very often, but it would do a great job of helping him learn the pressure and the sensations of the 5k in training. He would really start to feel it early in the 1200m leg, and it would only get worse from there. (Be aware that the 2k off track @ 5:20/mile was an easy recovery pace for Matt.)
Instead, focus on threshold work. Especially for younger runners, it is better to do more tempo or pace runs than to do workouts at race pace.
It is also important to get in weight training to improve your strength and prevent injuries.
How much sleep did you get in high school, college, and as a pro?
Louie sleeps on average 10 hours per night.
His coaches in college would tell him that he had to have his morning run done by a certain time so that he could recover for his afternoon workouts, and they would frequently catch him finishing his run later than what they had told him was his later limit because he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) wake up early enough.
“I’m too hyperactive to nap no matter how tired I am despite it being my job.” It can be really difficult for somebody prone to procrastination to get enough sleep. Lauren recommends a minimum of 8 hours every night, or at the very least for the 3 days leading up to a race.
It is also important to bear in mind that you don’t get sick from sharing germs with those around you. You get sick from having a suppressed immune system, and sleep is how you keep your immune system strong, especially for athletes.
You can operate on less sleep, but it hurts your performance. “It’s not enough for races, it’s also the workouts.”
Matt didn’t sleep enough his last year, and it cost him.
You may not be able to control everything about how well you train and race, but sleep is one of those things that you can. Avoid late night computer use, since it can overstimulate you the same way as watching television late. Winding down through reading before bed is a great way to fall asleep fast, as Matt has learned through his last couple of years in law school.
How do you integrate speed work throughout each macrocycle or season?
Sprint work really puts you at risk for injury. You shouldn’t do anything other than strides for most of the season, and it is really important to integrate weight training to build strength and prevent injuries.
“It’s not how fast you are, it’s how fast you are when you’re tired.”
Lauren’s fastest 400m that she ever ran was 59 seconds, but she can run that at the end of a 5k.
Matt rarely did workouts as tough as say 12x400m more than maybe once per year.
What kind of weight training do you do?
Some people can lift weights like crazy and just get really fit. Matt has to be careful about how much he lifts with heavy volume because he puts on weight really easily.
Lauren prefers lifts that are very core based, and does 6-10 reps at a time of cleans, step ups, overhead squats, handstands, and other similar exercises. She prefers to lift heavy weights earlier in the year to supplement the lack of speed work.
How important is it to trust your coach?
You really don’t want to be doubting what you are doing, and you need to understand what is happening in your workouts so that you can help your coach guide you in the right direction.
Lauren’s only bad season was after getting a new coach and not fully buying in to his training philosophies.
It is really important for the athlete and the coach to communicate at the beginning of the season to understand what is going on and how to reach both the individual and team goals. That’s the only real way for a trust between runner and coach to form.
He also stressed the importance of communication. “Don’t overthink it. Get out of your own head,” and trust what the coach is having you do.
Time had run out at about this time, so the clinic ended. All 3 athlete’s hung around for a while to answer individual questions, as well as the half dozen coaches that were in attendance who never had an opportunity to speak.
If you have any questions that you wish had been asked of the athlete’s, then leave them in the comments or email them to me and I will do my best about getting them answered for you.
If there is any interest, I will also try to get one or two of them onto a teleconference where they can go into more detail about training and competing at a higher level.