Cross Country Training: How to develop a training plan:
Part 1-Individualization
Part 2- Base/Summer Training
Part 3- Developing Specific Endurance
Part 4- High End Aerobic Training
Part 5- Neuromuscular/Speed Training

CC training:

A couple of people have asked about High School Cross Country training. At the end of their season, I’ll post the entire training plan. For right now, I’ll give a couple of quick pointers on my general philosophy.

The biggest difference in HS running is that you have a very wide range of abilities and a large number of athletes. Because of this, individualization is very hard to do. That prevents a major problem with my coaching style, because a major part of my philosophy is training each person as an individual. Because of this conundrum, you have to make a choice on what approach you can take. I’ll explain what I would ideally do if I was watching every workout, and then what I have to do in just writing a training plan and getting feedback.

When it comes to individualizing big groups, you have to figure out how to divide the runners based on broad physiologic characteristics. The first division is easy. You divide the runners based on what race distance they are training for. In Cross Country, this doesn’t do you much good because everyone practically trains for the same distance. The next step is to split the group into a couple categories based on their individual physiologic characteristics.

To simplify things, my division is based on whether they are a fast-twitch or a slow twitch runner. It is a simple division that drastically effects how the runner should train for that particular event. Each group of runner will need slightly different workouts to improve the particular training aspect that you are working on. A quick example is improvement in aerobic abilities. A FT runner will need a different stimulus than a ST runner. Why? If we think of it in exaggerated terms, a runner with 90% ST fibers will recruit a very large portion of his fibers, and thus train them, at highly aerobic paces. So, your typical threshold run for 20min will do the job. A FT runner will need a different paced workout though because his recruitment pattern will be different, if for say he has 60% ST fiber. Well, at the same relative speed as the ST runner, he’ll need to bring in more FT fibers to do the work. So, some slower tempo running combined with extensive intervals at 5k-10k paces will do the job of increasing that threshold.

I’ll write more on this division later, but for more resources check out the Cabral-Hadd thread on letsrun, Jan Olbrecht’s book Science of Winning, Canova’s thread on letsrun, and Hudson’s book Run Faster.
For now, here’s an excerpt from my training notes that I use for some of the differences in training methods for FT vs. ST runners. This is for 1,500m runners (sorry if this doesn’t come out formatted right):

  • · FT oriented:
    • Endurance work:
    • Minimal LT, more Aer
      • TKeep LT sessions low volume (short)
      • Progressive runs used more instead of straight LT workouts
      • Work just above LT will increase aerobic capabilities of FT-a muscles
      • Extensive interval training done to improve LT
        • i.e. 200-600s at 1500-10k paces w/ short jog rests
      • Long runs done easy, shorter, no LT mixes at the end, only addition to long run could be strides, variations
      • Speed Variations used more during easy runs
      • 3k-5k work done for endurance purposes (traditional VO2max)
    • Anaerobic work:
      • Anaerobic work(specific) work emphasized, done more and longer
      • Maintenance levels year round (functions as endurance transition w/ rest modulated)
      • Hills used to delay staleness/peak of doing too much for too long
    • Sprint work:
    • More pure sprint work
    • Sprint Extensive Tempo used
    • Some sprint Speed Endurance (fast 150s-600s)
  • · ST oriented:
    • Endurance work:
      • Larger volume of LT work
      • Some AerT work as maintenance after CC season or towards peaking period
      • More Alternation work done
      • 3k-5k work done as transition to faster work
      • Wider range of paces on VO2
      • Long runs can include different additions, longer in volume
    • Anaerobic work:
      • Anaerobic work less emphasized if quick responder and too much breaks down aerobic cap.
      • Options include: doing maintenance anaerobic work year round instead of a period of large volumes of anaerobic work. (preferred method)
      • Short cycles of intense anaerobic work followed by lots of aerobic work to balance it out
      • No anaerobic work for long periods, then 3-6wk period to bring it to right level
      • Combo work used- finish endurance session off with shorter set of anaerobic work.
        • i.e. LT run followed by 5x400m at 1500 pace
    • Sprint work:
      • Sprint work used as pure speed development, want CNS adaptations. Don’t want many muscular adaptations (large shift to FT characteristics for example might impede endurance too much)
      • CNS adaptation- increase recruitment

How do you figure out a FT vs. a ST runner? Well there are complex and easy ways to do it. For hard cases you can go run an all out 400m and take lactate samples. The higher the lactate sample after, the better the anaerobic capacity, and thus the more FT fibers presumably. Of course, we all don’t have lactate analyzers so you can stick to simpler methods. Compare their PR’s at all distances and see whether they trend at being better at longer or shorter distance. Look at what types of workouts they excel at compared to others on the team. And finally, look at their stride mechanics (how reactive it is).Once you’ve established who goes in what group, then what I’d ideally do is come up with a schedule based on what I want to accomplish during each period of training. Since you are still working with a large group, instead of defining what each workout is each day, you define what you want to accomplish each day. For example, you may define a day as improving

Once you’ve established who goes in what group, then what I’d ideally do is come up with a schedule based on what I want to accomplish during each period of training. Since you are still working with a large group, instead of defining what each workout is each day, you define what you want to accomplish each day. For example, you may define a day as improving high end aerobic abilities (or lactate threshold). Another day might be geared towards specific endurance or anaerobic support. Define what the day’s goal is. Then you plug in a workout that will accomplish this goal for EACH different group. This allows for a bit of individualization because to reach that goal adaptation for the day, each different fiber type group will need a different workout. I’ve already used the different ways to raise LT example, so another example would be for anaerobic support. For the FT runner, some reps at mile pace might be needed, while for a ST runner, a slower level of anaerobic support might be needed, so 3k reps would work. By setting up the training this way, it allows for you to get a good deal of individualization while not having to make 20 different schedules or have runners doing 10 different workouts on the same day.

If you cannot individualize like this because it’s impossible to set up two different workouts sometimes, then you can make more subtle individualizations. Have athletes do essentially the same workout with something different added on at the end. For example, a FT runner might cut the threshold workout 5min short and do 4x200m uphill at 1,500m pace. Little variations like this will go a long way to insure that you aren’t giving two different runners detrimental workouts.


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    1. Anonymous on October 13, 2008 at 12:19 am

      Do you have any original thoughts, or are you continually going to borrow from Canova?

    2. Anonymous on October 16, 2008 at 6:03 am

      shut up.That was really good post Steve!

    3. Anonymous on September 27, 2010 at 5:51 am

      I agree with anonymous #2. Shut up anonymous #1 I learned a lot by this.

      It is more clear than Canova (mainly because english is your first language)
      It is more easily aimed at the amateur than what I've read from Canova
      A lot of what's recommended to read by Canova (A Scientific Approach to the Marathon) is very hard to find.

      So even if this is heavily influenced by Canova, I don't mind.

    4. Anonymous on June 2, 2011 at 9:41 pm

      What variations of a long run, if any, do you think a FT runner should do?

    5. Anonymous on September 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm

      what does AerT stand for?

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