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Winter Training and Competition: "To Race or not to Race?"

RISE "PR" Destination Events

Team Rojas at the 2017 Simplot Games at Idaho State University in Pocatello, ID

For any high school runner interested in running PR’s, Boulder RISE will support the following events in addition to the local USATF meets at the US Air Force Academy.

  • The University of Washington High School Invitational, 2/2-2/3/2018, Dempsey Indoor Arena, Seattle

  • New Balance Nationals, 3/9-11/2018, New York Armory

  • Simplot Games, 2/15-17/2018, Holt Arena


  • The University of Washington Invitational is basically an open event, but the meet directors reserve the right to choose whomever they deem qualified for entry. However, we should be able to enter most of our competitive athletes.

  • Simplot is open to all high school athletes and is our RISE team “Destination Event”. This is a great place to PR and an unforgettable personal and team experience!

  • New Balance has several tiers including Freshman, Emerging Elite, and Championship. Please see the Entry Guidelines. We should have several qualifiers for this event, and, if you qualify, we encourage you to compete!

For High School Athletes, these are “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences and, our approach is simply, “If you qualify, compete!” (IYQC). For middle distance events, the probability that you run “PR’s”, (Personal Bests or Personal Records) at distances 800m and up, increases dramatically at these events/venues, relative to PR-probabilities in Colorado.

Ric’s Pre-Conditions for Middle-Distance PR’s

For Middle Distance Runners, here are my 6-PR pre-conditions (6-PRPC’s) that will dramatically improve the probability that you PR at 800, 1600/Mile, and 3200m:

  1. Good (but not necessarily “Peak”) Fitness/Rested

  2. Fast Track

  3. Fast Field

  4. Favorable Weather

  5. Sea-level venue

  6. Even-pace race strategy (running near-equivalent lap splits) *

*For 800m, the standard deviation for 400 splits should be =/< 2 seconds, for 1600m =/< 3 seconds, and for 3200m =/< 4 seconds. Also, if you see big deviations between first and second halves of any race, you either “went out” too fast or too slow, and likely sacrificed final time seconds to inefficient/uneven pacing. Unfortunately, many coaches will either give you no pacing/race plan guidance or encourage you to go out too fast, thus ensuring a slower time. The better you can orchestrate an even-pace plan based on sound exercise physiology, the more likely you are to succeed.

Of course, the fitter you are, the better your chances of running a PR, but historically, our athletes have run winter or early-spring-season PR’s and continued to improve throughout their spring season. The events above occur later in the indoor season, so your fitness will be good to excellent, and we will encounter conditions 2 through 5 at Washington and Simplot**. So, if you are interested in running PR’s, put Washington and Simplot on your calendar!

**I put Simplot in the “sea-level” category, even though the track is about 4,000 ft. This is because the banked plywood track is so fast and historically, virtually everyone PR’s there.

Condition “6”, Even Pace Strategy (EPS), can be somewhat problematic since these sea-level venues may tempt you to start or “go out” faster than your “PR Target-Pace” (PRTP). The closer to even-pace you run, the more likely you are to PR and the higher your placed finish will be. We spend a lot of time focusing on even-pace running and our athletes are usually able to execute effective PR Race Plans (PRRP’s).

Why our RISE System DOES NOT Produce Burn-Out

Many inexperienced coaches will try to discourage you from indoor/winter competition, arguing that you will “burn-out” with too much indoor training and/or too many races. If this were true, then there would be very few highly competitive collegiate athletes, since a great majority of them compete at national-class levels in fall cross country, indoor track, high school spring track, AND in the summer over the course of their high school careers.

Based on the historical data, this “burn-out” argument simply holds zero validity and, if followed, essentially cheats athletes out of opportunities to run progressively better PR’s throughout the year and throughout their high school careers. It is important to note that relatively few competitive data points are required to run substantial PR’s. We have historically competed in only two or three indoor meets prior to Simplot, Washington, or New Balance, and have still enjoyed late-season PR’s with virtually no downside burn-out.

For some reason, high school coaches often chose to “over-compete” in both meet frequency and race frequency per meet, with no real competitive objectives. I argue that this random “scatter-racing” approach is counterproductive in terms of yielding individual peak performance at championship events when quality marks/place finish really count.

I have addressed over-racing in high school cross country in my blog and my philosophy applies equally to track and field. As a valid parametric, you would virtually never see a professional middle-distance runner “double” or “triple” in a single track meet unless it is a championship event where multiple races are required over a series of days.

Yet, coaches often ask adolescent runners to compete in too many high-intensity physical efforts by requiring them to double, triple, or quadruple in middle distance events (800, 1600, and/or 3200, including relays) in multiple meets on consecutive weekends, with no short or long-term goal-oriented context. In my opinion, compressing too many high intensity efforts into a one-day single meet time-frame is more likely to yield injury, burn-out, and disappointment associated with diminishing returns, as opposed to distributing high-intensity competitive efforts in a progressive manner over an entire season. Most of the time, “less is better than more,” especially for young runners whose physiological systems are still developing!

In sum, the key to avoiding burn-out is distributing training/high-intensity racing efforts progressively over multiple competitive seasons, rather than compressing them into multiple single-day events in a single season.

Quality Data Points Yield Results for Sprinters

For sprinters, the first four points in the list above apply. But, PR’s will primarily be a function of “Quality Data Points” (QDP’s) under good conditions. An appropriate number of competitive data points allows sprinters to make adjustments in training and racing strategy. Unfortunately, springtime in Colorado does not afford many good-weather opportunities, so I recommend increasing your PR probability with “Quality Indoor Data Point Opportunities” (QIDPO’s) at these meets.

Sea-Level Data Points Level the Playing Field for NCAA-bound Middle Distance Runners

For anyone aspiring to compete at any NCAA level, competitive marks are the most important criteria for consideration by any coach - all other selection criteria – academics, extracurriculars, leadership, etc. – being equal.

History proves that times are better at sea-level – sometimes ridiculously faster as in the case of Air Academy’s Katie Rainsberger*** - and a stronger resume can significantly change the course of your academic and athletic career. Whereas middle distance runners across the country enjoy the advantage of sea-level racing and accessibility to big meets, runners in Colorado are at a disadvantage due to altitude and lack of proximity to sea-level events. The only way to “level the playing field” is to compete in sea-level meets.

*** In 2014, Katie ran 18:50 (5K) at the Colorado State XC Championships vs. 16:41 at the Casa Grande Twilight, a 2:09 difference within the same month; in 2015, she ran 17:39 at the Colo State Championships vs. 16:23 at the Casa Grande Twilight Meet, a 1:16 difference within the same month. She also won the Nike NXR Individual Championship in 16:58 in 2015.

Over the years, Ric has organized trips to Simplot, Arcadia/South Pasadena, Washington and other sea-level meets. Ric’s athletes have consistently run significantly faster, yielding competitive marks worthy of NCAA D-1 and D-2 scholarship consideration, and/or upgrades/scholarships to “highly selective” schools such as Stanford, Harvard, and Rice.

Unlike “team sports,” performance criteria for track and field are completely objective, and coaches can easily evaluate and rank athletes by simply reviewing website performance lists. A few seconds improvement can move an athlete up from “under the radar” onto a college coaches “watch,” “consider,” or “contact” list and often to acceptance/scholarships to multiple attractive schools. Hence, faster times can completely transform an athlete’s future by enhancing their status in the performance universe.

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