PEAK PERFORMANCE ƒ CONSISTENCY X CONTINUITY X COMPETITION. Removing or compromising any of these three will impair your training and racing progression. Although this formula is especially applicable to NCAA-bound athletes, it is universally applicable to any athlete wishing to improve their competitive marks. Sprinters need multiple year-round practice and competitive reps to program and reinforce explosive power, technique, and speed. Middle distance runners need fewer high-intensity competitive data points to develop pure foot-speed, learn strategy, and program speed endurance.
Although many high schools offer loosely structured winter condition programs featuring “conditioning runs” for middle distance runners, unstructured interval training for sprinters, and encourage unsupervised weight-room strength training for both event categories, these programs lack the essential program structure including goal-setting/competition, planned training progression, and supervised track and strength training sessions essential for ongoing improvement.
Without the consistent structured pace/speed work, supervised strength/explosive power training, and carefully orchestrated competition, these off-seasons programs are of less value in improving both short and long-term performance and leave aspiring NCAA-bound athletes as a distinct disadvantage in comparison to their peers who compete in the off-season.
Middle distance runners have the advantage of the training and competitive benefits offered by the fall cross-country season, but if they do not compete during the winter and/or summer, will miss essential competitive opportunities which could significantly improve their times/change the course of their running careers. I have personally coached numerous high school athletes who have improved significantly as a result of participation in my off-season programs.
For sprinters, competitive reps occurring on a three-season basis has long been the most expeditious path to a collegiate sprinting career. Sprinters, in particular, benefit from winter and summer competitive programs since there are no scholastic-sponsored “off-season” seasons/competition. Without the winter and summer seasons, they are left with very limited competitive reps in spring.
But, no matter what the event, the name of the game is improvement as measured by progressively faster FAT (Fully Automatic Timed) competitive marks available only at USATF-sanctioned track meets.
Boulder High School graduate/former Colorado State Champion, Kerry Dugan, is a good example of an athlete who insisted on participating in my off-season competitive programs in spite of her high school coach’s conviction that she would “burn-out”. Even as a high school junior, she intuitively understood the value of training continuity and year-round racing progression in her quest for better times/a college scholarship.
Dugan consistently improved over the course summer and winter track seasons and in the summer before her senior year crushed her 3,000m personal best by over 30-seconds at the US National Junior Championships, finishing 3rd and earning a national ranking. The fact that she ran so well at the Junior Nationals certainly did not hurt her status in the eyes of the coaches at Stanford, who later offered her a track scholarship. She accepted their offer, enjoyed a very good collegiate running career, and still enjoys competitive running twenty years later.
Dugan’s is one of numerous success stories that would not have happened without off season competition. The often heard argument that “burn-out” will occur as a result of an off-season competitive program is simply a myth perpetrated by individuals who have little or no off-season coaching experience.
If the “burn-out-associated-with-off-season-competition” myth were true, literally thousands of highly competitive NCAA track athletes would not have careers, including National Junior Mile Record-holder Mary Cain, current US Marathon leader Luke Puskedra, a nationally ranked winter and summer high school competitor, and World-Champion, Mary Decker, who cut her competitive teeth on the Indoor Track. All of these athletes competed and improved significantly as a result of their participation in winter and summer competitive programs.
My program has played an essential part in the training development and competitive progression of numerous past and current Boulder-based NCAA division I athletes including recent Fairview graduates Calvin Munson (Brown), Heather Harrower (North Dakota), and Alex Weinheimer (Rice).
Sean McClanahan (Texas Christian), a 2014 Eire High School Graduate and the 2014 Colorado Gatorade Athlete of the Year/State 4A 400m Record Holder, emerged as a world-class Junior 400m runner, having started with my competitive program in the summer before his Senior Year and steadily improved throughout the fall, winter, and spring.
McClanahan improvement was remarkable, but was a direct result of competing with my Club Program. He ran a 54-second 400m time-trial in my fall conditioning program, improved to 50.4 at the MLK Games in January, won the Simplot Games 400m in a 48.3 in February, finished third with a 48.0 PR at the Arcadia (CA) Invitational in April, and scored a triple victory at the Colorado State Championship in May, winning the 100m (10.67), 200m (21.33), and 400m (46.78 - Colorado 4A State Record).
The keys to McClanahan’s success were a high school coach who encouraged and recommended off-season training and competition, adding the 400m distance to his competitive repertoire, finding the best sprint coaching available, and never missing a practice.
Division II All-Americans Maura O’Brien (Evergreen High School), Jackson Salyer (Evergreen High School), Chandler Reid (Centaurus High School), and Kelly Robinson (Nederland High School) all used my off-season competitive platform to launch their College Careers. All three became NCAA D-II All-Americans in their freshman years and have continued their Collegiate success ever since.
Although high school athletic success can garner attention from college track coaches, academic success is essential for admission consideration. Athletes must first achieve good grades in high school – the higher, the better – to be considered by competitive athletic and/or academic institutions. And, a strong record of extracurricular and work activities will always enhance a good academic resume. But, all other variables being equal, athletes with better competitive marks will have a significant competitive advantage when applying for admission to competitive schools. And, the most effective path to better marks is off-season competition. With all other variables being equal between two candidates – academics, extracurriculars, and work activities – the faster runner as measured by official FAT times will always have the competitive edge.