Start backwards. Work the extremes. Bring it together.
That pretty much sums up my training philosophy for HS kids. You aren’t trying to get every sap of talent and performance out of them. You want them to run well and be set up to continue running well in the future and become lifetime runners.
How do you do this? It’s very tricky. The first thing to realize is that the kids are still developing when in HS. What this means is that you have no idea what their potential is or how they are going to develop. You don’t know if one year they will all of the sudden be able to sprint, when the year before they were uncoordinated.
To set them up for racing fast and having a future in running, I think the extremes are the most important. These early years are best for building a base of support to work off of in the future. That means lots of aerobic development obviously, but that is not it. That’s all people think about when they hear the words “build a base,” but we are also looking at building a base for the other aspects of running. That means building a base of pure speed/neuromuscular development. It means developing good strength and a functional stride.
When I say work at the extremes that means lots of aerobic work, and some pure speed/mechanical work. Of course, some of the good old hard intervals in the middle are needed, but not nearly as many as you see in adult or elite training programs. They need smaller spices of this work and in shorter segments. That’s why it is good for a HS kid to go long periods of time (the summer for example) of doing nothing but mileage, strides, and maybe some hill sprints, while an elite almost always has some sort of workout mixed in the plan.
The same goes for how to periodize the season. Start at the extremes, and gradually introduce specificity. Having said that, I believe that at almost all times in the season, there should be a bit of every aspect of training. That means, in each period of training, there will be something working each aspect of training. Just how much of each is what varies.
Without writing a novel, I think giving examples of each part of the season and seeing how the training progresses are the best way to go about it.
Easy mileage and strides. While with older runners I rarely like a period of just mileage, for High School kids it’s a must. It serves to build a general fitness foundation and prepare the athletes for the actual training that is coming. Also, HS kids need the mental break of not doing anything structured. Plus, if you leave the pace up to them, you will naturally get some high end aerobic running in during the week. The difference is it will be spontaneous, when they are feeling good, and won’t feel like a workout.
In the middle of the summer, we add some structure into plan. Instead of just mileage, some high end aerobic running, hills, and strides are introduced. Below is the progression of the “workouts” over the summer.
Neuromuscular work (Hill sprints,etc.):
Start out with 4-6x 8sec hill sprints and progress up to 8-10x8sec hill sprints. Once that is reached, then we start adding in more of a speed endurance component in by adding in longer hills. Our longer hills take about 25sec to run up. So, in the very end of the summer, the hill workout might be 6x8sec hill sprints +3-4x long hills hard with walk down recovery. For older runners, who need some speed development, I might go in a different direction. Once they have reached 8-10xhill sprints, I might alternate that with flat sprints on the track (60m or so). We’d do 4-6x these and maybe progress up to 90-100m, depending on the goal.
High End Aerobic Work:
It initially starts out as spontaneous progression runs. High School kids running in a group, when they are rested and just doing mileage especially, tend to pick it up naturally on many of their runs. This happens especially in the last few miles of the run. This serves as a natural transition to high end aerobic work.
The first structured high end aerobic work is some easy progression running. Start out with 5-10min at the end of an easy run. Have them work down to a decent aerobic pace. Progress that up to about 15min and then it’s time to start real threshold work.
Threshold work with HS kids is hard. They tend to run much too fast or at least go out too hard. To combat this, you either have to have run with them and teach them how to get the right feeling when running or give them splits. I like to teach kids how to learn to run by feel. A lot of times, breathing rate is the best way to teach them how to run threshold work. If you give them a short sentence they should be able to say during the workout, it provides them with instant feedback during any threshold session.
I do things a bit differently with how my threshold work is run. As I previously said, I’m big on running by feel. So, summer LT sessions are done by feel too. I give the athletes a total amount of time that they have to spend at threshold, and let them split it up. They are told to keep running at threshold until they feel like they are going over the edge a bit or slowing, then to stop and jog around for a minute or two and then get going again. This works particularly well in Texas, because our weather sucks. Because of the weather, these sessions can sometimes be much harder than you want them to be, so by splitting it up, it is easier mentally, yet you still get the vast majority of the benefit of running at threshold for the entire time.
The progression usually goes from 10min in a single session to 15min, 20min (split up), then all the way up to 30min, split up, for advanced seniors. Most of the time, I stop it at 25min, split up.
At the very end of the summer, I add in one longer tempo effort. This is pretty controversial for HS kids, but I really like the results of it, so it sticks in the program. I got this from my old HS coach who used to do the same thing with us. At the end of summer, the kids run a 7.5mi tempo run that is on a course that has several hills on it. Why 7.5mi? Because it is a 5mile loop, but it comes near the starting point at both 2.5mi and 7.5mi. Since, it is Texas and it’s likely to be hot, the kids get a minute or so break at the end of 5mi for water that doesn’t count into their total time. This 7.5 miler serves as a great aerobic fitness check at the beginning of the year. It shows how well the summer base period went and gives you direction on what to work on.
Later in the season, they will do a full 10mile tempo run (with water break at 5mi). That is a very demanding workout, so give plenty of rest before and after. Once again, this serves as a good indicator. Based on this 10 mile tempo, I can give you a pretty good guess of what they are capable of in a 2mi/5k. If they are running slower 5ks than I expected, then it means aerobically they are strong, but don’t have the specific endurance yet. If the opposite is true and they are running faster 5ks then their 10miler indicates, then they are weak aerobically and need some work.
At the very end of the year, doing a 5 miler at the pace they did the 10 miles at is a very good aerobic refresh workout. Or doing a full 10 miler at a pace a couple minutes slower for advances athletes is another good aerobic refresh.
Over the summer, I introduce faster work with strides initially. After this we include small surges in the middle of easy runs. Something like 5x30sec at 5k pace every 3minutes in the middle of a 7mi run. These progress upwards to 8-10, and up to 45-60sec. Sometimes, I like to do these on the track in terms of 200s. A favorite of mine over the summer is 8-12x200 w/ 200 jog starting at 5k pace. Over the summer, for fast twitch athletes, I like to progress these down to 3200 and mile paces, and in the same facet use the 200s at 5k pace as a foundation of specific endurance. To do this, I increase the distance of the workout, eventually working towards traditional 5k type workouts like 6x800, but doing it in small steps so they adapt.
That is about it for the summer. Next post, we’ll delve into the in season training.
Part 3- Specific Endurance Development