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Cross country coaching notes

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Endurance training descending priorities

  1. Training volume: get in a lot of hours and miles
  2. Incorporate high intensity training
    • 8min/zone4 intervals seems like a sweet spot but all HIIT is beneficial
    • In a 5k you are still ~12% anaerobic; be sure to incorporate very short intervals and plyometric exercises as well, while allowing for longer recovery for intense anaerobic work
    • Training at each zone boundary gives your body practice with different forms of energy production and helps to raise each boundary
  3. Recovery far outweighs HIIT; 80/20 seems like a sweet spot, but there is benefit even in a 60/20/20 model. Students especially seem to doubt this and are tempted to overtrain. Your adaptation takes place during your recovery phase.
  4. Seek a balance of variety
    • This includes different kinds of long and short scale periodization; exercises and cross training; stretching, flexibility, and coordination; terrain; climate; elevation; running races; etc.
    • Over the course of a season there should be a graduated movement of focus from acceleration to speed and then to speed-endurance
    • Targeted stretches will vary widely from person to person. Focus broadly on dynamic stretching and emphasize this primarily as part of pre-workout warmup. Stabilization work (balance and range of motion) can be helpful for many younger runners.
  5. Tapering; toward end of season drop volume and increase intensity

Running form

  • High cadence (160+) solves many problems
    • Shorter, lighter impulses are more efficient
    • Arm and corresponding leg drive opposite one another
  • Do not overstride; land foot underneath or just in front of you. Overstriding increases braking, makes each stride more intense, and divides your effort between push and pull.
  • Foot strike relatively flat; do not worry about difference between heel vs. toe strike
  • Draw knee relatively high on return; this reduces effort of angular motion
  • Upright torso, even on hills
  • Run relaxed; monitor tension especially in your face and shoulders as this is a sign you are running tight
  • Belly breathing vs. chest breathing; side aches can indicate poor breathing

Nutrition, etc.

It’s possible to get very meticulous here, but most runners are best helped by simply being well rounded. Food journaling may be worthwhile for ambitious students.

  • Are you getting a reasonable balance of carbs, fats, proteins? Carbs should be significant.
  • Are you getting a reasonable balance of these not only each day but each meal as much as possible?
  • Are you getting much of your carbs from fruits and vegetables and not just grains?
  • Adequate sleep is important; 8-10h
  • Hydration is important, especially in hot weather

Kids may be tempted to mainly to undervalue fruits and vegetables. Adults today are likely to undervalue carbs.

Race day

  • Your meal should be at least 3-4 hours prior
    • Eat things easy for you to digest: primarily carbohydrates, some proteins, few fats
    • Spaghetti, rice, yogurt, chicken all good options
  • Adequate warm-up
    • 10min for youngest ranging to 30min for older students
    • “Go full speed before you go full speed” to recruit your muscles
  • Are shoes double knotted?
  • If there is an early turn in the course, start on the opposite side so that you aren’t boxed in
  • Don’t always follow the crowd: follow the course. Run the shortest distance possible.
  • Be cool and stay relaxed, while keeping your eyes wide and alert.
  • Don’t lead unless you know you are going to win. You become a target.
  • Run your race, not someone else’s.
  • Your arms are your engine. Keep them active but under control.
  • Remember your hill routine: eyes up, shoulders down, use your arms
  • Pace hills; don’t kill them. Run up a hill on your toes and downhill on your heels.
  • When you start to feel depleted, think of a recent workout that you conquered and how good it felt when you finished it
  • Run race in a pack, but don’t get stuck in middle of pack. Move up, then move between packs decisively.
  • Take setbacks in stride. Get up after a fall.
  • Instill attitude “no one on the team gets passed over the final 100 meters”
  • Rehearse courses beforehand if possible
  • Watch the finish line and not other runners
  • No need to overdo prerace speech
  • Adequate cool-down (10-15min)
  • Postrace talk important; be encouraging, give praise. Involve team captains in this.


  • Engagement includes both parents and students
  • Cross country is a team sport and a team should use this to their advantage
  • Variety is helpful physiologically but also for runner engagement
  • Encourage goal-setting and work on incremental improvements
  • Teach resiliency in the face of setbacks; coach yourself, watch your self-talk. “I can do this.”
  • Watch out for overtraining, make adequate time for recovery
  • Some especially important kinds of training and skills include hill workouts, starting, passing
  • Beginners should train 3 days / week, older and more advanced runners 5 or more days including cross training
  • If you’ve come from a track background, we are going to do some longer interval and recovery work to develop your cross country chops
  • Your balance between slow and fast twitch is largely fixed at birth; you are born for endurance or sprinting. But you can improve your performance at both!
  • Hot and humid weather is dangerous


Written by Scott Moonen

February 16, 2023 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Miscellany

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