Having covered both specific work and aerobic work during the competition period, I’ll now move on to probably the most controversial and perhaps confusing part of training for cross country. Depending on the coach you listen to or the program that you follow there could be a very heavy emphasis on speed work during the competition period or no emphasis at all. Before we continue, I’d like to break the faster work down into two categories.
The first is neuromuscular work. This refers to running that is max or near maximum speed. It is done almost purely for neural and mechanical benefits. Look at the summer base section for more information on neuromuscular work.
The second classification I use is “anaerobic” work. While technically not the correct scientific term, it’s what has stuck in my training. Also, it makes it easier to grasp the concept. If we break down the training based on the event distance, which in this case is a 5k, then classifying certain training intensities is relatively easy. If we train at slower than 5k pace, it is more aerobic. The further away from race pace you get, the less specific it gets. So, that’s why 10k to LT pace is considered direct aerobic support and marathon pace and slower is just general aerobic support. The same is true on the speed side. 2 mile to mile pace is seen as direct anaerobic support to the race pace, while 800 and down is general anaerobic support, or neuromuscular work. Now that we have the two different classifications for speed training, we can go into detail on how they are used during the competition period.
To start off with, let’s look at where we left off in the base period of training. At the end of the summer, various types of neuromuscular work were emphasized. Depending on the athlete, hill sprints or flat sprints with some longer but still fast segments added on were being done. A typical example of the neuromuscular work being done would be, 6x10sec hill sprints with 3x25sec hills after.
During the competition phase, I like to take the neuromuscular work in two directions. First, it is done at maintenance level, which means similar workouts that would be done during the base phase, just with less volume or done less frequently. The idea is to keep what we have already developed. So, doing a set of hill sprints (i.e. 8x10sec) every 7-14 days depending on the athlete and season would be an example. The good thing about hill sprints is that if the athletes have been doing them since the summer, they are basically an easy workout on the muscular system. They only really fatigue the CNS (Central Nervous System). That means that these can be placed the day before workouts without any consequences for the most part.
The second direction to take neuromuscular work is to combine it with specific work. By combining something like hill sprints to specific work, you can increase the strength endurance of the muscles. This means that you can work on extending the endurance of the fibers that you recruit while doing the hill sprints. In addition, doing hill sprints in a fatigued state will help to force recruitment of fibers. A good way to do this is to insert hill sprints in between sets of specific endurance intervals. For example, you might have an athlete scheduled for 3 sets of 3x600. After each set insert 4-6x 10sec hill sprints.
The other classification of speed work is anaerobic work. The degree and intensity of the anaerobic work needed for a 5k cross country race varies a lot based on what each individual needs. A slow twitch type athlete will need very little anaerobic work to reach his potential, and too much can easily upset the balance and temporarily degrade his aerobic system. On the other hand, a fast twitch type athlete needs more anaerobic work too bring him to peak race fitness. Even in simple terms, this makes sense when you think about what it will take to recruit the fiber the athlete has. A FT athlete needs more intensity to recruit and train those fibers. Because of these differences, I’ll split up the discussion on anaerobic work into what a ST versus what a FT athlete would do. Then bring it all together, showing how to progress anaerobic work.
Looking at where we left off in the summer, the athletes were doing some neuromuscular work and some easy 200s or speed variations at 3200 down to mile pace. Where we go from here depends on the athlete.
ST athlete-Types of anaerobic development:
A ST athlete will need less anaerobic work to bring him to peak 5k racing shape. Because of this, there will be a limited number of full anaerobic workouts. Instead, small amounts of faster work will be added on to the end of other workouts, and maintenance anaerobic sessions will be done. These combination workouts will serve as a transition into about two full anaerobic workouts that are done sometime during the last part of the season (last 6 weeks or so).
Making a combination workout out of a high end aerobic workout is as simple as adding on a couple reps of faster work at the end of the threshold segment. An example would be 20min at LT followed by 4x400m at 1 mile pace. Similarly, you can add faster segments at the end of a specific endurance workout, such as doing 5x800 with 4x 200 at mile pace at the end. Finally, adding some longer hills after a neuromuscular hill sprint workout is another way to accomplish the goal. Progressing these workouts into a full anaerobic workout is also relatively easy. Simply shift the ratio of the workout more onto the anaerobic side of it. An example would be going from 20min LT and 4x400 to 10min LT with 6x400m to a full session of 8x400.
Since High school runners race often, a good session to do a few days before races is a maintenance session of anaerobic work. They are really only medium workouts but do a great job of providing a small anaerobic stimulus and getting the athletes ready to race by increasing muscle tension. An example of one of these workouts would be 8-12x200 with 200 jog at 2 mile down to mile pace. Essentially these are just fast aerobic intervals.
FT athlete-Types of anaerobic development:
Due to his greater anaerobic capacity, a FT athlete will use his anaerobic system to a higher degree than a ST athlete. In addition, he will have more FT muscles which means that he needs more higher intensity work to recruit and train those muscles. We will use two different kinds of faster paced workouts, fast aerobic intervals and anaerobic repeats.
Fast aerobic intervals are designed to enhance the aerobic abilities of the FT fibers. As long as you manipulate the workout, they will essentially give the same benefits of typical aerobic workouts like threshold runs. These are included throughout the training cycle, as can be seen in the inclusion of speed variations, easy fartlek, and pace 200’s earlier in the cycle. These workouts are essentially the same as maintenance anaerobic workouts for a ST athlete, except the volume is larger. Instead of doing 8-12x200, the workout might be 16-20x200. The recovery period might also be shorter to keep things aerobic.
Full Anaerobic workouts for a ST and FT athlete are similar. The traditional 10x400 at mile pace is a good example of one. Generally, during CC season I like to use a mix of mile and 2 mile pace work, trending towards 2 mile as we get closer to peaking. This is because 2 mile pace serves as specific anaerobic support to the 5k. Using hill repeats is a good way to get anaerobic work done in cross country without worrying too much about the debilitating effects of doing too much anaerobic work. In addition, doing the work on hills will further develop strength endurance, so you are killing two birds with one stone.
Next, i'll add a little more on speed work and kind of tie everything together with a post on peaking.
Last week I hit about 90 for the week. One real good workout and one workout where I had to bail due to the hamstring. I also got in a good long run for the first time in a while.
bailed workout: Was supposed to be 1.5mi, 1mi, 800. Progressively getting faster every 400m. But I had to bail after the 1mi because I got too excited and forced the pace down too quickly. The 1.5mi was in 7:03(,76,74,71,69,67,65). The mile was 4:32(71,69,68,64).
The 2nd workout was 1mi, 2mi,2x1mi with 3min rest between each. The plan was to go 10k pace the first 1mi, cruise the 2mi, then crank it down on the last 2x1mi. The first mile was run on the flat ground, while the rest was run going up the gravel hill and down the greenmonster, so the 2nd mile of the 2mi and the last mile of the workout had a nice downhill in it. I ended up hitting 4:45, 9:41, 4:44, 4:17. It felt pretty rough at the beginning because I didn't warm up as thoroughly as I should have. That's because it was pouring out, so I wanted to get going. As I got going, it felt a lot better, and by the end I was feeling really good.
I'm finishing up the a post on the speed/anaerobic work/neuromuscular work during the season for HS cross country. It should be done relatively soon, and then I'll post it up.
At the end of the summer we left off with some longer LT runs and a 7.5miler at about marathon pace. Having a developed aerobic system is the name of the game for cross country so we do not want to neglect high end aerobic running the season. Doing that is a recipe for peaking early or having your performance decline. Early in the competition period we still want to develop your threshold. Also, we want to start transitioning that into slightly faster paces. Later in the season it serves as support for race pace. Meaning, it serves as a way to balance out the faster work that you are doing.
The first thing that is done is to add on some slightly faster running at the end of the LT workouts. First, slightly cut back the length of the LT portion of the workout. For instance, if you have been doing 25 minutes at LT, cut back to 15-20min total. Then add on a mile, or 5 minutes, at a slightly faster pace (about 10k pace). I normally do this twice, so that they go from 25min at LT down to 10min LT, then 2x mile at 10k pace with short rest.
As a transition to faster work, or to increase strength endurance, I also combine a LT run with some hard hill work or faster paced work. An example would be to do 15min at LT followed by 4x400m uphill hard or followed by 4x400m at mile pace. This serves as a transition to harder “anaerobic” work or as a way to give a little stimulus to both particular training aspects.
Throughout the competition period, they will also do normal LT runs like in the summer. Since we are no longer trying to build the threshold but simply maintain it, they are thought of as medium workouts and cut back slightly. A typical workout would be 20min at threshold. These are thought of as aerobic maintenance workouts. Another aerobic maintenance workout that is done periodically throughout the competition period is a fartlek that progresses from steady work down to 5-10k pace. One I often use is 10min at a steady pace, 7.5min at LT, 5min at 10k, and 2:30 at 5k pace. That workout, and similar ones, are great as an aerobic refresh.
Lastly, during the early to middle part of the season, I like to have the athletes do a 10 miler hard. This serves as a good indicator of the aerobic fitness of the athlete. Also, it gives one last big boost to the aerobic system. Be careful though, this is a very taxing workout for a HS kid, so give plenty of recovery before and after. Later in the competition period a good aerobic maintenance workout is to do a 5 mile run at the pace that they did their 10 miler at. For advanced athletes doing a full 10 miler but in a time that is a couple minutes slower, is another great aerobic refresh workout. An example would be for someone who ran 57 minutes when they ran it hard, to try and run 60 minutes.
As I have said a couple times now, the aerobic training during the competition period serves as a way to prop up the specific and faster work. It is used to keep the athletes general aerobic fitness at a high level. It is best to use a variety of paces, from one pace up from race pace to just slower than marathon pace.
It is difficult to give a simple progression of aerobic work like I have with the specific endurance work. This is because during the competition season, the aerobic training tends to blend with the other types of training. It’s done as a way of maintenance or as a prelude to other work. Below is just a sampling of some of the aerobic work that is done throughout the competition period.
When doing threshold work, it depends on what the goal of the workout is and in what direction you are trying to take it. Below are three examples of how to progress threshold work.
LT Maintenance: Simply a shorter version of full LT work. If you did 30min during the early competition period, you might do 20-25min here. Another way to make it slightly easier is to do the same amount of total time, but split it up into more segments. The goal of such sessions is to get a strong aerobic stimulus, but it not be a full bore workout that tears you down.
LT to strength endurance- Shorten the LT session, to 15-20min, and add in some longer hills at the end, such as 4x400m uphill with jog down rest. This can serve as a transition into full length, longer hills (such as 800m uphill repeats) if the athlete lacks a necessary amount of strength endurance. Or you can transition into shorter and faster hill repeats (such as 300s or 400s) that will increase strength endurance too, but is more of an anaerobic* workout that helps develop the ability to recruit fibers under high acidic/intensity conditions. Longer repeats are essentially more specific to 5k racing and better at extending the endurance, at race paces, of fibers.
LT to anaerobic/speed- Shorten the LT session and add in some speed at the end. An example would be 15-20min at threshold with a long break and then 4x400 at mile pace w/ 60sec rest. This serves as a transition into full bore faster speed sessions or in CC season, as a way to develop some anaerobic endurance without risking the effects of too much of that kind of work tearing down the aerobic fitness. Generally after this combo session, for Fast Twitch athletes, you move to some anaerobic work because even with racing a 5k, they need to develop their anaerobic system a bit more to race up to their potential over 5k. For Slow Twitch athletes, these little spices of “anaerobic” work might be enough to develop that system, and there is no need to go into full anaerobic workouts.
*Note: I know anaerobic isn’t used in the correct technical way when I refer to anaerobic workouts. It’s just a way to classify workouts that are faster than race pace.
Aerobic Refresh periods: A mix of paces from steady down to 5k pace. Provides a wide range of stimulus to the aerobic system. Really, you are just touching on each system briefly, but it is a great way to balance out the faster, more intense, work. An example would be 10min steady, 7.5min at LT, 5min at 10k, and 2.5min at 5k pace.
General Aerobic Refresh: Easy progression runs and steady longer tempos are a great way to maintain general aerobic fitness. One of my favorites is to have athletes run 5 miles at the pace that they did their full 10 miles at earlier in the year. Or, have the athlete run 10 miles at slightly slower than they did earlier in the year. For instance, if an athlete runs 54min, then he might run it in 57 minutes.
Part 5- Neuromuscular Training