1st annual Maine Cross Country Coaches Panel
The 1st annual Maine Coach and Athlete Cross Country Clinic was on August 16th, 2007 at Falmouth High School. There were about 75 people in attendance, and the clinic lasted for about 2 and a half hours. I have split up my notes and thoughts on the clinic into two parts, the second of which will appear this afternoon.

The clinic was put together by Falmouth coach Danny Paul, and sponsored by John Rogers of the Maine Running Company. The panel brought together some of the best local (and not so local) coaches and experts to talk on various topics relating to a high school cross country coach and his/her athletes. The topics covered are also relevant to other coaches and to the athletes themselves, of course.

The panel and the (very) general topics covered were:

  1. John Rogers, Maine Running Company (introduction & questions)
  2. Bob Bramen, Florida State University head coach (progression)
  3. A physical therapist (stretching)
  4. Mark Lech, University of Maine head coach (goal setting)
  5. George Towle, University of Southern Maine women’s coach (intervals)
  6. David Weatherbie, Cape Elizabeth High School coach (recovery)
  7. Jorma Kurry, Falmouth High School coach (mental preparation)
  8. Danny Paul, Falmouth High School coach (team)

John Rogers began the evening by laying out the general format and introducing everybody on the panel. The following are brief overviews of each of the topics covered, although each topic did have some overlap and the coaches took turns adding value to one another’s discussion points:

Progression is the key to success

Bob BramenThe first panel speaker was Bob Bramen. He spoke for 25 or 30 minutes on progression, and how important it is when designing a workout program for your athletes. Progression is the process of moving from one level of fitness to the next during different phases of training. What you do during one phase builds up to what your body can do in the next phase.

To illustrate how he implements progressive training in his program, Bramen provided handouts of the training schedule that he uses at Florida State. His program consists of five phases:

  1. 2 weeks of Distance Re-Orientation to get back into daily training
  2. 4-5 weeks of Base Building to build aerobic base
  3. 6-8 weeks of Lactate Threshold Training to improve LT and ready the body for VO2 Max workouts
  4. 5-6 weeks of VO2 Max Training to progress into racing and high intensity running
  5. 2-4 weeks for peaking to rest and prepare for optimal racing performance

Bramen tailors his programs for each individual athlete. He compares coaching an athlete to driving a car; you begin by driving with the athlete in the back seat, doing what they are told. As the season and their career progresses, they get to move up to the passenger seat where they have input in the type of training that they are going to do. Eventually, you need to take the passenger seat and let the athlete drive, making sure that they stay between the lines and navigate them appropriately so that they can meet their goals.

Tools that he uses to accomplish that goal is to have every athlete complete a training log, where they record the essentials such as what they did and how long it took. More importantly, he wants his athletes to let him know what their perceived effort was and the conditions that they ran in. Details are very important, and he wants to know whether the athlete was happy with the workout or not. He also has every athlete fill out a goal card before every race, and then reviews the cards after the race to see whether reality matched up to their expectations.

Conditioning in the off-season and warming up prevent injuries

Next to speak was a physical therapist, who spoke about the importance of conditioning in the off-season to make sure that the body is ready for the work load and speed work during the season. He also stressed the importance of properly warming up by increasing your core temperature through an easy jog or some sort of dynamic stretching.

The body never pulls the hamstring into a full extension while running, so static stretching should be reserved for after workouts rather than before them. Stretching is important for increasing your flexibility and helping your body perform better in later workouts, but it does nothing to prepare your body to run during the current workout.

Dynamic stretching, such as butt kicks and high knees, do a much better job because they are active and they put your muscles through the ranges of motion that are actually going to be employed. Foam rollers and massage sticks are also another good way to introduce your muscles to a workout.

When conditioning the body, he reminds you not to ignore your core strength and upper body. Your glutes, quads and hamstrings provide the horsepower for your running, but the relative effort of utilizing that horsepower is dependent upon how strong your core is. He compared it to the difference between running on a nice track on a windless day and the effort of trying to run at high tide along the beach during a storm.

He also brought up in his discussion the selection of proper shoes and how important that they are for injury prevention, something that I have spoke about constantly on this website. Danny Paul, Bob Bramen, and John Rogers all chimed in with some specific suggestions:

“Goals must be based on reality but with a touch of dreaming”

Mark LechThe third speaker was Mark Lech, who seemed much more comfortable towards the end of the evening during the question and answer period than he did during his talk. He read straight from his notes throughout, and included quite a few quotes. He spoke about goal setting, and how you needed to work towards your goals even in your individual workouts.

As Bowerman said, “Pace judgment is not inherent, it is learned.” You need to do your hard workouts at an intensity that will teach you to run at the pace that you want. Workouts only help you if you get something out of it, and running at the wrong pace does not help your body progress to the point that it needs to be at. He stressed the importance of becoming a student of the sport and learning from legends like Emil Zapotek.

There are two key elements to our failure to perform on race day or during workouts:

  1. Fear of Failure
  2. Stress (due to the fear of failure)

Lech stressed the importance of learning a mental toughness and believing in what you are doing and in yourself. If winning were easy, then everybody would do it.

This is roughly the first half of the evening. The second article summarizes what the remaining speakers had to say, as well as the question and answer period towards the end. You can read part 2 here.