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The hill, which has both a paved and a grass section, is wonderful for all sorts of training. Lake Zurich has the least-advantageous setup, being located right in the middle of suburbia. But they have a lot of field space on their campus as well, plus plenty of delightful neighborhoods in the surrounding area suitable for running in. Unfortunately, all three programs have to deal with constant dual meets on their schedule. Most high school athletic programs follow a somewhat similar schedule to what the college programs in their sport follow.


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For example, high school and college football teams play one game a week. High school and college basketball teams play two and occasionally three games a week. But in cross country, when most college programs are running one race every other week, these high school athletes are expected to race twice a week. Though these weekday dual meets can have some advantages, ultimately, most coaches who are subjected to them feel they are a chore.

Lake Zurich belongs in the North Suburban Conference, which is where Lakes was until the conference split up in the summer of The conference used to have two different seven-team divisions, and the dual meets would determine the division champions. Now there are eight teams in the conference, and no divisions. The dual meets, to the dismay of basically every single coach, count for 25 percent of the conference championship. In theory, your team could win the North Suburban Conference meet and not be crowned conference champions.

Lake Zurich has a game winning streak in dual meets. They run their athletes hard when they have to in order to win, and at other times run the meets they figure they can win more easily as a tempo workout. Grayslake Central operates basically the same way. They only run hard if they have to, especially since they only run two workouts per week, and a hard meet counts as a workout.

Lakes generally takes the same approach, and will sometimes even rest their varsity from an invitational. Being part of a team is, of course, more than just workouts and exercise. That is a training group, not a team. A high school team, especially, needs ways to keep the athletes interested. All three programs I covered have active Twitter accounts, which has become essential in our internet age. Lake Zurich runs a little bit more serious of a program, and does not do apparel days. They do, however, have the freshman boys face off against the freshman girls in a dance-off the Monday after the conference meet.

The freshman boys, Coach Hanson noted, have dominated the previous battles. There are dozens of other little nuances here and there that make each of these programs unique, from spaghetti dinners to fundraisers to team outings, to a multitude of other memorable activities most athletes are certain to remember more than their average mile pace.

All three programs I visited were very comparable in certain ways and very unique in others. All the coaches are constantly tweaking their programs to try to get the best and most enjoyable experience for their athletes. Just following them around for one practice was extremely entertaining for me, and I thank them all tremendously for agreeing to be a part of it. Hopefully, all of you reading this article can take something from one of these programs to help make your own team better.

In the first year of the Northern Lake County Conference, the Grayslake Central boys scored a dominating victory with just 25 points. Lakes finished second with 52 points, led by Jeremy Wallace in fifth place. Nine of the top twelve places in the eight-team conference went to athletes from Grayslake Central and Lakes. Lakes freshman Olivia Schmitt finished third, followed in fourth by Megan Girmscheid of Grayslake Central.

Grayslake Central was not the only team I covered that dominated their conference meet with a finish. The goal for all of the programs I covered was to qualify for the IHSA State Championships, which is only possible by finishing among the top five teams at the Sectional Championships. All the teams I covered first made the Sectional by qualifying out of the Regional Championships.

11 Tips From Cross-Country Coaches That You Can Still Use | Runner's World

For the boys, four of the top seven and nine of the top 24 ranked teams in the state would compete at Belvidere. Grayslake Central came in seeded fourth in the state, but second in the Sectional behind Crystal Lake Central. Lakes came in ranked 11th in the state and fifth in the Sectional. Lakes was ranked sixth in the state and fifth in the Sectional, while Grayslake Central was ranked 14th in the State and seventh in the Sectional. Only 25 teams total would qualify for the State Championships, and the Belvidere Sectional for both boys and girls had nine of the top 25 ranked teams in the state.

Just five from each would qualify. The Bears were ranked fourth overall in the State, just ahead of the fifth- and sixth-ranked teams from Hersey and Prospect, respectively. Overall, the Waukegan Sectional was not as deep in its division as the Belvidere Sectional though, with only five teams ranked in the top The girls were up first on Saturday, October 29, at the Belvidere Sectional.

With so many top-ranked teams, there was little room for error. Certainly, this was a race the Lakes girls would like to have back. Needing to finish in the top five to advance, they finished eighth, just 14 points away from their State dreams. Adding to the sting was the fact that their top runner, Olivia Schmitt, missed qualifying as an individual by one place. She ran to place 15th overall, and finished so close to the final individual qualifier—Sophia Oury of Hampshire—that she could have almost reached out and touched her.

Grayslake Central. They narrowly edged out Boylan Central Catholic , Woodstock , and Lakes for that coveted fifth spot. Jack and Matt once again smoked the competition for a finish. Their teammates did their jobs as well, and Grayslake Central came away with their second Sectional team title in a row. Just like their female counterparts, the Lakes boys came in seeded fifth in the Sectional and left with an eighth place finish. Brian Griffith edged out teammate Matt Pereira, this time to Kyle Griffith finished sixth in , and the Bears easily took home their second Sectional title in a row with a score of Despite the outcome from the most difficult Sectional in the state, it would be hard to argue against both programs experiencing their most successful year ever.

True, the Lakes girls made the State Championships as a team in , but was that collection of girls better than the current crop? At Sectionals on the same course back in , the top five Lakes girls ran , , , , and average time The team finished third, even though there were only four Sectionals back then. The team finished eighth, with the teams in AA spread out over five Sectionals instead of four.

Ryan Prais of Lakes, who qualified for State individually in , , and , got faster on the State meet course every year, but got a worse place every year, too! He ran for 16th in , for 35th in , and for 40th in With coaches learning from each other, sharing and copying ideas, and helping nourish what has become an incredible running community , I hope this great sport will continue to flourish, and the times will continue to drop.

Their senior-laden teams have a chance to earn a trophy by finishing in the top three.

11 Tips From Cross-Country Coaches That You Can Still Use

Many of the athletes profiled in this article will have a chance to earn All-State honors by finishing in the top 25 in their division. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics.

Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. By John Brumund-Smith Practice is fascinating to me. Image 1: Brothers Matt and Jack Aho definitely pass the eye test. They look to once again lead the defending State Champions from Grayslake Central onto the team podium in Image 2: Senior Jeremy Wallace blue sweatshirt leads the Lakes Eagles on their pre-meet jog around the campus athletic fields.

You determine which fork to take. Each senior has at least one day of their own to present to the team. The soccer team is setting up for their game as well. Coaches All three schools have a different setup for their coaching staffs. Pre-Run and Post-Run Thankfully, most distance coaches have seen the value of strength and coordination in their athletes, and have adapted their practice routines accordingly.

Facilities Grayslake Central is located right next to a park and a middle school, which both provide lots of grass and paved trails. Image 5: Many programs would love the crushed-gravel trail winding around Lakes Community High School. The cross country team also benefits from a hill next to the school that has about a 5-percent incline, and both paved and grass sections.

Dual Meets Unfortunately, all three programs have to deal with constant dual meets on their schedule.

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Extras Being part of a team is, of course, more than just workouts and exercise. Sectionals The goal for all of the programs I covered was to qualify for the IHSA State Championships, which is only possible by finishing among the top five teams at the Sectional Championships. John Brumund-Smith has a B.

The first day of practice includes runners of greatly varying experience, talent, and commitment. Hopefully you were able to implement a voluntary summer schedule in which both newcomers and returning veterans were able to put in some base mileage and get to know, or get reacquainted with, their teammates.

There is still time to put in the strength work needed, there is just less potential for how much improvement athletes can have. The wider the bottom of the pyramid, the taller you can build. This is done primarily with attention to running volume. This will obviously be a lot different for young inexperienced runners, compared to their older, more experienced teammates. In the next quarter of the season, runners should continue to run at this top end of their mileage, allowing for an occasional drop every weeks to better adapt to the training.

But, always remember that injury free is the place to be, so modulate the mileage goals for your runners so they always stay injury free. The other major factor is training intensity. During this part of the season, the intensity of every run, but especially hard days should be relatively low to what they will reach later in the season. The body has enough of a challenge handling the increase in volume, it can be overworked if it is also asked to handle too great of training intensity.

Good workouts at this time of year include steady states, fartleks, and long runs. See the McMillan Running Calculator to learn more about these workouts. A great way to check that runners are staying in the desired range of intensity is to check their heart-rate during and immediately after workouts. You can find optimal heart rate training zones for each running pace in the McMillan Running Calculator. This early portion of the season is also when the most attention can be given to ensure that being a part of the cross country team will be a fun, well-rounded experience.

Using your mental capacities is like training your body. It takes time and persistence, and your runners improve in increments.


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  • The coach has introduced mental training techniques during the full body recovery. On the grass field, the group has had at least six workouts of using short intervals in sets, and now we will add a few new mental awareness applications to the workouts. The technique used in mental training on the grass field is called active visualization , and it uses the methods of soft eyes and the principles of push and pull imagery to attain the desired results.

    Next, have the team open their eyes slightly, so they can see out and at the same time keep the image of the bird in their mind. When the team applies this to an interval run,remember this technique should only be done in a safe environment and never on a street where there are cars present or you can trip over a curb.

    One the one-mile grass loop or the undulating trail the following two techniques can add camaraderie and structure to the workouts. The manner of speed play, going at various tempos at your own discretion, is an excellent way to reach diverse physiological goals. The following are two-speed play drills. They are called energy transfer and the step formula. The first utilizes the concept of natural body heat or energy into a partner games, and the second has a duo or individual increase the heart beat into higher aspects of the exercise heart range.

    If one were to move through a complete sequence, there would be eight changes of pace within strides.

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    The 24 steps refer to the cadence when the 24 Step formulas come into play. Count from one to twelve on each strike of the left or right foot. At twelve, announce the cycle such as light, moderate, or brisk to yourself. There may be a few steps of adjustment when going from a brisk back to a light cycle.

    You can have your team utilize the 24 step formula method as a speed play workout or with a partner. It can be the second part of a continuous workout or as a speed play through the wooded trails. Your team will have run probably two or three tune-up races, and you may have a person or two hurt or at least somewhat injured at this juncture in the season. There are many forms of therapy from chiropractic care, massage, physical therapy, orthotics, and acupuncture. All and any can be helpful to your hurt or injured athlete.

    However, the best advise for the coach trying to keep his cross country team in tact without a big gap in the score is to separate out your injured and put them on their own program.

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    It may sound simplistic, but the best advise to give a coach being driven mad with injury is to have your runner do the same workout every day while injured and at a location where he can stop whenever the pain is getting worse rather than better. Whether it is jogging on the one mile grass or doing fresh swing tempos back and forth, the runner knows how the injury is progressing in its healing process if his body knows exactly what to do each day and can gauge to go further or less.

    When the runner is improving, slowly integrate him or her back into the group but not too quickly or in a competitive situation. During the racing season you can continue to meet on the grass field once a week for the short interval in sets workouts using all the gaits, tempos, and other techniques at your disposal. You can add two new workouts. In the championship part of the season, you can return to the grass field and go back into a training pattern resembling the pre-season.

    Over the last 10 days, we will introduce a mental training for the event. Ask them to write down the flowing or challenging parts of the course or have the coach write down the responses. Have the coach strategize how to break the course down into three parts- the start, mid, and finish of the race.

    Write down a script that covers all the aspects of the race. It is best to do it the last time before you go to the course. If you go to stay over night before the big race, that is the perfect time for the last event rehearsal. In my fifteen years of coaching, I have found various approaches and methods that insure success, both from a personal as well as professional perspective.