My Road Up The Mountain: A Coach's Note Before The State Series
As the cross country state series events get heated up, I thought I would write a little on my idea of how to get the best out of your athletes at the most important part of the season. There are many different roads to success so this is by no means the best. This is simply the route I took as a runner in my glory days, and the route I have used the past 19 years for my high school runners.
But before we can begin to talk about the peaking part of the season, we need to go back to where it all begins. As the saying goes, champions are made in the off season. For the past 19 years I have been meeting with my kids six days a week all summer long. From the day after school is out in May, we meet every morning for a run. I believe as a high school coach, you cannot expect your 14-18 year-old kids to be any more committed than you are. If you’re not willing to make the sacrifice to be there every morning, don’t expect your athletes to be. We have a 13-week summer program in which some kids will hit 1000 miles and some will hit 200. In order to get a summer miles’ shirt, they must hit at least 200.
Aside from summer miles building a nice solid base for the season, running with your teammates every morning builds team cohesion. The bigger and better the team cohesion, the more success your team will find. The more successful they become, the greater the team cohesion will be. This is known as the Circular effect. So don’t just focus on those miles, plan some team activities outside of the running. Bowling, beach, water park, picnic, etc. …
Communicating is a big key to me and I don’t think as a coach you can communicate too much. I send dozens of emails to the kids and parents on my group list each week. Many of my alumni and a few other coaches are on the list as well. If they don’t like it, it’s easy to hit delete. But, you never know who you might inspire with one email that may not seem like much to you, but it just made some 16 year olds whole day. Youtube is full of great inspirational stories that I love to share with the kids and their parents. ‘Remind’ is a great app on your phone you can use to text all of the team and their parents in a matter of seconds. You can reach everyone instantly and be anywhere when something pops in your head.
Lead by example is another key factor that I think has helped my teams find success. I never ask the team to do anything I’m not going to try and do myself. Every workout they do, I have done and still try to do. Summer tempo runs or mile repeats, I try and run as well. As we get late into the season I like to monitor workouts instead, so I try and run those workouts at night after the kids have run them in the morning. I know it’s not for everyone, and many great coaches don’t run anymore, but it is a way I think the kids have been able to relate to me.
Now we are in November and the season is into the peaking phase. Our speed work pace has picked up and our recovery between repeats is longer. We now take full rest between repeats and they run the 200, 400, 600, or 800s at a little faster tempo. We keep our weekly miles the same through our conference and district meets, and then after district drop our miles back a little bit. The boys that run twice a day, three days a week, are not doubling anymore the week of region and state. Our long run dropped from 12 to 10 miles, and now will drop to 8 miles. We took a day off the week of region which we had not done in the past three weeks.
I try not to taper a great deal as it is only a 5k race and not a marathon. The times I did taper too much the kids were flat at state. Summer is key, the higher the base the higher the peak. If they put in few miles in the summer, their peak won’t be as high as the kid who had a high mile summer. Just my road up the mountain, best of luck to all in the state series.