Look, there are a million ways to skin a cat, as my dad says, and the same is true with coaching runners…but I honestly believe that with younger runners, the simpler, the better.
What I am advising in this four-part build up is pretty simple, but as Thelonious Monk once said, “Simple ain’t easy.” I am asking you to give your athletes an opportunity to build a foundation that will support them once you start running race-specific workouts. This will be beneficial to them, not only during this current season, but for their career development as well; and I believe that there is enough variation in the training with fartlek, speed development, strides, hills, progression runs, tempo efforts, etc. within the build up that they will stay motivated, invigorated, and consistent.
So, to sum it all up…
December — easy base phase. Just building back the mileage, can include some light fartlek to prep them for the harder running that will be coming. Make sure to use this period of running to start building from a lower volume of running per week to a higher volume of running per week.
January / February — intense base. Alternate weeks with hill repetitions and tempo work on Wednesday and hilly runs and progressive runs on Monday. Continue to build the mileage base and make sure that you are consistent with their long runs and with speed maintenance work throughout.
March — specific phase #1 // Competition prep. This phase is a focus on 3200 meter paced work. We’ll use the 3200 meter paced work to be aerobic support for our 1600 meter races and to also be specific training for the 3200 meters. You are still alternating with tempo work and the tempo work should have some 1600 meter paced reps afterwards as we start transitioning into specific sessions. Try to stay consistent with the medium long run and longer run…but can be reduced as you get closer to the Championship meets.
April — specific phase #2 // Championship prep. We’ll start prepping for our goal races which should be the Championship season meets, such as District, Area, Regional, State, etc. Here we’ll start moving toward more 1600 meter paced work, but still reinforcing the 3200 meter paced work and tempo work. The long run and medium long run will reduce as we get closer and closer to the Championship meets.
A few notes as you move through these phases of training…
- When in doubt, do less. Especially with younger runners and especially with race specific training. Always leave something in the tank…my rule is to be sure you can always do at least one more rep and in most cases…two more.
- Build up…not break down. I didn’t put in ‘down’ weeks in this write-up, but most younger athletes will need down weeks interspersed throughout the training cycle. I would consider going on a 2-1 or 3-1 cycle (2 weeks up – 1 week down or 3 weeks up – 1 week down). For younger runners you’ll want to stick to a 2-1 cycle; while older runners might get by on a 3-1 cycle. This should allow them to build up throughout the season / year without breaking down.
- Don’t get impatient. You’ll see there is not a lot of race-specific sessions until March…it’s designed that way. Don’t rush building their aerobic and muscular foundation by giving them work that they are not ready for. Most of your runners need more aerobic work to run faster than they do speed work. And, realize that there is enough ‘fast’ work throughout the training cycle, from December thru February to keep them fast…but what they are typically lacking is strength (aerobically and muscularly)…and we try to address those deficiencies in December, January, and February.
- Keep it simple. One of the cues that I keep with me in my own season is keep it simple. Every time that I try to get really creative or ‘sexy’ with the training we fall short. There is no ‘one’ workout that will win you a State Championship…it’s day after day of good, consistent, repeatable training that builds championship runners. If you find something that works, stick to it.
- Keep it FUN. I think this is really the most important advice that I can give. If they aren’t enjoying it, then we are failing them. Make it fun…however that works for you, in your environment…KEEP IT FUN.
I will post some sample schedules following this post for each classification of high school athlete (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior OR translated as 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year and 4th year)…My only note is that for female high school runners I would not jump to the senior year schedule when they are seniors…I would just have them repeat the junior year schedule.
I hope that you’ve found this helpful. I do believe that you can train high school runners hard, but I also believe that there should be a smart balance between what they should do and what they can do….I hope that this has been more about what they should do in training and I hope that you can find it helpful for you as you prep for your own high school seasons!!!