1st annual Maine Cross Country Coaches Panel
The 1st annual Maine Coach and Athlete Cross Country Clinic was August 16th, 2007 at Falmouth High School. This is the second of two articles summarizing the clinic. The first article mentioned each person on the panel, and summarized the first hour plus of speakers. You can read part 1 here.

This second article continues with the second half of the panel:

“Intervals imitate racing by increasing pace and causing pain”

George TowleLeading out the second half of the evening was George Towle and his discussion on intervals. Interval work at the wrong time can hurt you more than they can help you, so you need to make sure that there is an honest communication between coach and athlete. If the athlete does not have the base for interval work, then the coach needs to delay their introduction.

He told a story about a high school runner who was coming back from running, and who immediately jumped into a 3x1000m workout at 3:05 pace. He stressed how this was not a natural progression and that it is lucky that the athlete did not immediately re-injure himself, although he did delay his full rehabilitation.

He spoke about the four different intensity levels that you can train at:

  1. Easy / Conversational pace
  2. Threshold running, a faster pace but one that can be maintained for a long period of time
  3. Repetitions, which are focused on the work bouts between your rest
  4. Intervals, which are focused on the (lack of) rest between the work bouts

He also discussed the pieces that make up an interval workout:

  1. The pace at which you run
  2. The volume that you run
  3. The recovery you allow yourself (a 1:1 ratio or less)
  4. The length of each work bout

The length of each work bout is important, because it takes 2 minutes to reach your VO2 Max. Running at that level will best cause your body to overcompensate from the stress and rebuild your muscles to make you faster. He recommends running your intervals on grass or on dirt trails, because that will best simulate cross country racing conditions and help you prevent injuries by reducing the pounding. It will also make the workout tougher because you will not get as much returned energy from the ground on each foot strike, which will help to make you stronger.

Towle recommended that you keep each work bout between 3 and 5 minutes with an equal amount of rest or less. He also reminded the audience that it takes 2 minutes to reach VO2 Max, and you should try to maximize the amount that you spend at that level. He gave the following examples of what seem like equivalent workouts but really aren’t:

  1. 4 x 5 minutes (13 minutes total at VO2)
  2. 7 x 3 minutes (7 minutes total at VO2)
  3. 20 x 1 minute (0 minutes at VO2)

The great thing about intervals is that they imitate race conditions by increasing the pace and causing your body pain. Due to the short recovery periods, you get to train at a point where your body is as fatigued as it will be at the end of a race. It is important to learn not to go out too fast and fatigue yourself too early, because the whole idea is that you need to reach your VO2 Max and keep your training at that level for as long as you can (or as long as is written into the workout, at least.)

“Strain, Recover, Improve”

David WeatherbieCape Elizabeth coach David Weatherbie spoke next, addressing his thoughts on recovery. He kept his presentation short to get the panel back on schedule. He spoke about going to dinner with Joan Samuelson and Kenny Moore before this year’s Beach to Beacon. Kenny Moore’s statement about how to become a good runner really hit home with him. “Strain, Recover, Improve,” shows a natural progression that many runners fail to notice.

Any single workout only provides a mild stimulus. It is the sum of all of your workouts and the amount of time that you give yourself to recover that determines how much you are going to improve throughout the course of a season or a career. How fast you recover depends upon two things, your genetics and your lifestyle. You can not change how your body works, but diet, sleep, and daily activities can make a difference on how quickly your body can heal itself.

In general, recovery takes between 24 and 96 hours. “If you do a hard workout today, then you are not going to be a better runner tomorrow,” Weatherbie said. Finding a way to manage your recovery is very important. He does not recommend back to back hard workouts.

Weatherbie usually schedules between 48 and 72 hours recovery for his teams. He also schedules recovery weeks (cut-back weeks) every 3 to 4 weeks, which give his runners a bit of a chance to “catch up” and rest a little.

Who, what, why, when, how?

Jorma KurryNext up to speak was Jorma Kurry, who approaches mental preparation by asking yourself (and answering) questions.

  • Why? Why do you run? Why do you train? To get better as a runner, or is there another reason?
  • Who? Who is going to help you reach your goals? Your team’s goals?
  • What? What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish? What are your thoughts on your pacing, your training, and your position on your team?
  • When? When will you accomplish your goals? What are your short term (today, this week), medium term (this month), and long term (this season, this year, your entire career) goals?
  • How? How are you going to reach your goals? How is your team going to reach your goals? How are you going to help your team reach those goals?

Kurry told a story from when he was younger about a friend who had posters of all of his favorite runners on the walls of his bedroom. The posters were very inspirational. On the ceiling over the bed, though, his friend had chalked a smiley face. Every day when his friend woke up, the first thing that he would see was that smiley face. His friend put it there to remind himself every day how much he enjoyed running.

You can not always control the conditions, or the competition that you are racing against. You need to set multiple goals. Time goals are good to have, but are not necessarily the most important.

He alluded to the disappointment that Sheri McCarthy-Piers felt after running the Beach to Beacon a few weeks ago and failing to reach the time that she wanted. She had a great performance; she took home money for 3rd place. The newspaper article that spoke about her focused on how disappointed she was, and Kurry didn’t feel that there was any need for her to beat herself up over what remained a good race.

Know who is going to help you reach your goals, and keep an open line of communication with those people. You need to know what you are going to do to support your goals, and what you need to do to get the support that you need from your coach, your team, your peers, and your school or other governing organization.

Cross Country is a great team sport

Danny PaulThe last speaker of the evening was Danny Paul, who was very excited to share his view on how important teams and teamwork are. Cross country as a sport is one of the most important things in his life, and he considers it one of the best team sports.

He stressed the importance of creating an atmosphere where everyone wants to be there. If you can do that, then the kids will band together and do something special. That atmosphere needs to be encouraged, because it provides an environment where the kids can take leadership roles. They can help to coach their less experienced peers.

The secret to getting that sort of atmosphere depends upon three things, after which he “stopped preaching:”

  1. Everyone who shows up is important
  2. Consistency
  3. Make sure that the kids respect the sport and love it

Questions about recovery and nutrition

John RogersAfter each panel speaker had had a chance to speak, John Rogers spoke for a few minutes and then took questions.

He pointed out that there were some keywords that kept coming out throughout the entire clinic, and that these concepts were very important to keep in mind.

  • Progression
  • Passion
  • Joy
  • Consistency

Most of the individual questions had to do with recovery, especially as regards specific methodologies in use by each of the coaches.

George Towle always plans on having 2 easy days before every race, although he will schedule tempo runs on the day following interval workouts. By letting his runners know that there is going to be a tempo workout the next day, he slows his runners down to the pace that he wants them working out at.

Mark Lech always thinks that you should err on the side of caution and undertrain your runners rather than overtrain them. You always need to think about getting to the starting line, and you can not get there if you are injured.

Bob Bramen schedules one good training session per week, one good race, and some light speed work (repetitions). His races are on Saturdays, so he schedules his interval work on Tuesdays to provide enough rest between a race, the intervals, and the next race.

David Weatherbie also suggests that you use caution, because he would rather see the progression and avoid sending his runners over the edge.

Jorma Kurry pointed out that common sense has not really improved since he was a kid. Danny Paul can prove that, because he has his training logs going back to the late 1960s and he will often look back in them to learn what not to do and to reminisce over the stupid things that he has done.

John Rogers recently went to a seminar hosted by Asics, and something that they really stressed was to remember that high school kids are still growing. You need to be very careful to avoid overuse injuries in your runners.

This led naturally into a short discussion on nutrition, which was conspicuous in its absence. Everybody agreed that nutrition was very important, and suggested that a local nutritionist be brought in to speak with the kids. The reason that it was left off of the panel was because there just was not enough time to fit it in.

Danny Paul pointed out that nobody on the panel was a trained nutritionist, and that it could be very dangerous to take responsibility for the kids diets. Any concerns should go straight to the parents and to the school nurses, because no matter what you tell the kids they are going to hear what they want and ignore the rest and you might do more harm than good.

Looking forward to next year…

I am glad that the clinic was held, although I think that a 2 hour format (plus 30 minutes) is not quite long enough. The speakers all had (on average) 15 minutes to speak, which really was not enough. Most of the speakers could easily have spoken for 45 minutes or an hour quite easily, and in some cases could have gone on longer. Perhaps next year the event can be extended to a full day on a weekend, giving each speaker more time to flesh out what they have to say.

Bob Bramen, who had basically flown up for a day trip, spoke afterwards about the depth of knowledge on the panel. He may even try to get some of them to fly down to Florida to speak with his teams before classes begin. The speakers hung around after the panel ended and answered some individual questions or told some stories, and had no problem lining up for a picture. (The lighting was not very good to get pictures without a flash, and I did not want to distract people by constantly snapping photos.)

There were about 75 people in the audience, with a few late stragglers coming in throughout the evening to replace those who had to leave early. There were a good number of high school runners there, with an equal number of coaches. Competitive runners who are out of school were few and far between, however. John Rogers had some cross country shoes on display, and Jorma Kurry provided a few cases of water for attendees.

Anyone who was there and has something to add that I missed, please feel free to comment below or to email me. I only had a small 5″x3″ notebook with me, which is less than ideal for anything other than a quick note. I filled 16 pages of it with my notes from the evening.

Anyone who has anything to add to any of the topics that were covered should also leave a comment below or email me; I would love to hear your view.