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Secret #2, Goal-Setting Part 2: Racing Distance and Frequency; Bring Back the 2 Mile!

I use the Jack Daniels VDOT chart for goal setting because of its accuracy in prediction future times, its applicability to a wide range of ability levels, and its simplicity. But, whether or not you use the Daniels Chart, be sure to document your goals and display them for easy personal reference.

Racing Distance and Frequency: Bring Back the 2-Mile

In this installment, I will discuss why restricting the High School cross country racing distance exclusively to the 5K and "over-racing? are counterproductive to peak performance and often harmful to adolescent runners.

Disadvantages of Racing Exclusively 5K

In my VDOT-based Goal-Setting System, improvement at one distance on the Chart predicts improvements at the other competitive distances. However, in the United States, High School Cross Country runners compete exclusively at 5K, so seldom have the opportunity to race/train/accumulate information at shorter distances such as 400m, 800m, 1600/Mile or 3200m/2-Mile.

Given this situation, runners could either base their goal on recent spring track marks or incorporate short ?time trials? in their Cross Country training. Either way, current goals are based on the most recent performance/physiological data available, but accumulating current-season data is much preferable for training, racing, and goal-setting.

One of the problems with racing exclusively at the 5K distance over a 10-week cross country season is that the physiological systems (anaerobic and fast-twitch muscle development/recruitment) associated with racing at shorter distances (e.g. 400, 1600, and 3200m) are left under-trained, leaving performance potential at 5K untapped.

The Jack Daniels Chart illustrates the relationship of times across distances, but doesn't clearly state the ?cause-and-effect? relationship between improvement at shorter races and improvement at longer distances. Simply stated, the faster you can run a mile, the faster you will run a 5K. The trick is to be able incorporate short time-trials into your training.

Speed Translates Up?: Bring Back the Mile

Examining the training and racing behaviors of world-class runners may shed some light on the benefits associated with racing shorter distances.

World-Class 5000-meter runners routinely incorporate 1500 and 3000-meter races into their competitive seasons for the speed and anaerobic capacity benefits. In fact, you would very seldom not find a fast 1500m on a World-Class 5000-meter runner's competitive resume from year to year. Experienced coaches also understand this cause-and-effect dynamic between 1500 meters and 5000-meters as well as the potential competitive costs associated with foregoing shorter races.

For World-Class runners, these shorter races fall into the "essential preparation? category for their primary competitive distance. Even with this model available, very seldom have I seen or heard-of high school runners incorporate mile time trials into their training routines.

The Law of Diminishing Returns: Race Sparingly!

Closely related to the benefits of "racing short? discussed above is the "Law of Diminishing Returns? associated with racing too frequently, especially for high school runners.

Once again, World-Class runners provide a good model performance model. Competition schedules of world-class runners illustrate optimum racing frequency for peak performance. These runners generally race less than six 5000's over the course of an entire summer, understanding that only a few 5000-meter races are necessary for peak performance. Contrast this to U.S. High School Cross Country where varsity races are scheduled almost every week for10 consecutive weeks , not including now-available post-season competitions such as Footlocker or Nike NXN.

Bottom line, more than a few back-to-back 5K races will eventually spell "trouble? for most high school runners. In my opinion, adolescent cardiovascular, bio-mechanical, and endocrine systems are simply not mature enough for chronic racing and associated over-training. The most common health issues associated with over-racing over-training are chronic fatigue/exhaustion, over-use injuries, and eating disorders.

Bring Back the 2-Mile!

In my book, the 5K distance is too long for high school runners to be chronically raced. Mixing in official 2-mile races would not harm/help runners 5K progression and relieve pressure to race the already unnecessarily long 5K.

It may be interesting to note that the 5K has not always been the official high school cross-country distance. In the sixties, our courses in New Mexico ranged between 1.7 to 2.0 miles, usually through sandy arroyos, along desert roads, or through precarious canyon trails. These distances were, in my opinion, plenty far, and, being MUCH closer to the mile, required more speed while allowing 800-meter runners to be more competitive.

Interestingly, cross-country is the only high school sport where coaches have discretion over the location and the length of the course, unlike football, basketball, soccer, or lacrosse, all of which are contested on regulation fields or courts. Cross-country coaches could theoretically stage a 1-mile contest through a swamp or a ?point-to-point? race up the side of a mountain. My point here is that staging a periodic 3200m for a change would be a very simple matter as well as benefit young 5K-weary runners

With the above information in mind,here are my recommendations for healthier, happier, and faster runners:

  • Race no more than five-5K's per season

  • Race every-other-week/not back-to-back

  • Schedule short time-trials on off-weeks

  • Train 5-days/week, Run only 3-days/week

  • Schedule non-impact, resistance, range of motion, explosive power, therapy, 2x/week

Without documented goals, it is difficult to actually write a training program. Next week, I will proffer a training schedule incorporating short races and time trials.

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