Learn from the best! Some of the top runners in the USA share their top training, racing, and “attitude” tips for cross country runners below.
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Writer, Filmmaker, Actress, Poet, 10K Greece Olympic Team; 31:46 10K PR
originally posted in an article from The Rolling Stone:
RACING “TRICKS”. For the first three-quarters of the race, I’m just telling myself to “stay”. How do you “stay”? I give myself physical triggers. Rather than saying, “don’t feel sorry for yourself,” I say, “shake your arms out.” They’re called playable actions. Or, I force myself to smile during some of those painful parts of the race because I know that will relax me and release positive energy inside my body.
BE BRAVE. Something that I love about racing is that it’s on me. That’s pressure but it’s also a privilege. That when the hurt comes, it will be up to me to make a choice to push through it. It’s kind of in my control, and there’s something simple and wonderful about that. That’s something that I love about running— there’s something in my control about it, which is also scary. Like, you’ve just got to be brave.
Six time “Mountain Runner Of The Year”
TEAM SPIRIT. Make sure to embrace the team spirit. The HS XC team experience is unlike any other you will experience in your life
THANK YOUR COACH. It’s a tough job and you as an athlete should show appreciation to the coach that is putting time and energy into your team.
Dietitian & Mountain & Trail Running Badass
SPEAK UP. Don’t be afraid to tell your coach about any aches and pains you have. This is such a critical time in your growth and development that you don’t want to do any long term damage to your bones, tendons and/or muscles.
TIME MANAGEMENT. Sometimes it can be hard to balance school work and practice and meets. Keep a planner to help you stay organized and use your time wisely. Use any pockets of time during the school day to study or do homework; you’ll thank yourself when you are too tired after practice.
HYDRATE. Carry a water bottle around with you all day. Staying hydrated can be easily forgotten with everything else on your mind. Soon enough it will become a habit and you won’t be able to go anywhere without it!
World record holder for half marathon on a treadmill! 1:03.38
ENJOY THE JOURNEY. Have patience and enjoy the process of gradual improvement. Reaching your full potential in running can take 10+ years and if you don’t have a long-term outlook and you don’t love the daily grind, even when the results aren’t immediate, it can be very tough to stick with it. Never take short-cuts for immediate gain – focus on the long, slow game!
Made it to the Olympic Trials semi-final in 1500m despite hamstring injury; 4:29 mile PR
OVERCOMING NERVES. Pre-race jitters are completely normal and everyone, including Olympic athletes, feel those nerves. Those butterflies in your stomach are a good thing and mean you care about your performance. What you are actually feeling is your body preparing for battle with surges in adrenaline and endorphins. If you can view these feelings as being positive, you can harness that nervous energy and use it to your advantage to totally kick butt in your race.
THE BIG PAYOFF. Running is a great metaphor for life. You get out of it what you put in. This isn’t to say that you will not encounter bumps or obstacles, but if you stay determined and continue to work hard you find success in one form or another.
HAVE FUN. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Running first and foremost should be fun. While running fast and winning are great, forming friendships and unforgettable memories with teammates are even better.
Supremo blogger; 2014 USA Marathon Champ; 2:33 PR
CONSISTENCY. The most important thing I would advise is: Consistency in training – don’t take any huge breaks and don’t make any huge jumps in volume or intensity.
Social media and blogger favorite; 2016 USA Cross Country Champion
COLLEGE SELECTION. When you have the opportunity to take your visits to see a campus, to meet a team, and to be able to talk to a coach or the whole staff face to face, take it! Even if you feel like you already have your mind made up, if you still have available official visits to take then don’t skip out on them! I feel like I rushed my process when I was a senior in High School and missed out on the ability to see more of what was out there. I don’t think my choice would have changed but added confidence to your selection due to completely shopping around and really putting forth the effort to shake hands and have conversations about your future can only help in the long run.
HAVE FUN. Summer training is for mileage but it’s also meant to be fun. High School seasons are so long that the off day you took in July to go to the corner store and drink icee’s with your boys is not going to be present come time for the State Championship. If you do that everyday, then yes you probably won’t fair well but have fun! Get to know your teammates better. Play frisbee. You’re going to hate all of them by the time December rolls around anyways.
Teacher, Coach, Trail and Warrior Dash World Champion, Steeplechaser; PR 9:51
ATTITUDE. Practice should be one of the best parts of your day! Bring positive energy to practice and to your teammates…when you pour positive energy into others, it always comes back to you in the times and ways you need it most.
COMPLETE FITNESS. Don’t just be a runner, be an athlete. Well-rounded athletes are less likely to get injured and are way more intimidating on the start line!
PRE-RACE JITTERS. Remember that getting nervous is a good thing. It means you care and is your body’s way of preparing you to do something hard.
Qualified for Olympic Trials in 1500, 5K & Steeple
CELEBRATE LITTLE VICTORIES. We all know running is an extremely challenging thing and as a competitive athlete, it’s easy to note the big triumphs and remember the everyday struggles, forgetting about all the little wins you get along the way.
TEAMMATES. Take advantage of having teammates. As you grow in the sport, it’s harder to find consistent teammates to train, travel, and race with. In high school, you have the unique position to be all on the same team, striving for team title while going through similar times in your lives. It’s fine to be competitive and remember that running is ultimately an individual sport, but now more than ever, take time to cheer for your teammates, gather as a group for dinners and pre-race rituals, and go for runs together. These are the friends you’ll go back to your whole life!
RECOVERY. Remember to take rest days. Always strive to be your very best, but don’t forget that recovery is crucial to feeling your best on the starting line! Sleep enough. Drink more water than you think you should. Stretch and roll out consistently. And, yes– run slow sometimes!!
Star Wars fanatic; 1:04 Half Marathon PR
HAVE FAITH. Believe in yourself, and the training your coach has for you
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. You know it better than anyone
ENJOY YOURSELF. The more fun you have with it, the better you’ll run
Coach; Animal Advocate; Most watched running video; “Queen Of The Road Mile”; Mile PR 4:27
RACING TACTIC. I ran my best races when I just decided to pick a teammate that was just a little faster than me, and be a “Sticker”. Meaning, I’d stick on them no matter what, never let them out of my sight. If I was too focused on pacing, I drove myself crazy and thought about how much the race hurt, but if I just had to be a committed teammate, I could handle it. Plus, by the end of the race, I’d always be surprised at how good I’d feel! When it was time to kick, I could take over the lead and help out the teammate that had been dragging me through the first half of the course, and help us both finish stronger for the team. IF you don’t have a teammate like that to push you, find someone from another team who usually finishes just ahead of you, and pretend like they’re your teammate. 🙂
5th grade teacher; 20th in Olympic Trials marathon; 2:35 Marathon PR
THE ‘LITTLE THINGS” ARE IMPORTANT. Eating well and sleeping enough can make a huge difference.
COLLEGE SEARCH. If you think you might want to run in college, see if some of the schools you are interested in have running camps in the summer. Spending a week on campus and getting to know the coach and the team culture allows you to decide if you can “see” yourself at that school. Also, make sure that the school is a good fit for you outside of running. Will you be happy/pursuing other goals when you aren’t at practice?
CONNECT WITH YOUR COACH. Set goals with your coach. Buy in to your coach’s program. Be honest with your coach and let them know if something doesn’t feel right. It’s much better to spend a few days cross training than to spend a few months cross training because you wanted to be tough.
Overcame a rare auto-immune disease (Vasculitis) to become a sub-4 minute miler
RACE TACTIC: HILLS. Always run over the hill. You get a break on the flat or the downhill so keep your rhythm up and over the hill. You will be surprised how many people you pass doing this.
RACE TACTIC: PACK RUNNING. Cross country is about a low team score. Keeping the pack tight and together is the key to success. Workout together, race together. The comfort of teammates makes the grind and pain of cross country bearable. So lean on each other and you will be stunned how far you can go as a group!
RACE TACTIC: KNOW THE COURSE. Know where sharp turns, mud pits, Hills, downhills, uneven footing, etc. Use the course to your advantage.
Missed making the 2016 Olympic 1500m team by 3 hundredths of a second!
SET GOALS. Write down your goals and tell them to someone. This will help keep you accountable and focused throughout the season.
DAILY OPPORTUNITY. Approach each day as an opportunity to get the best out of yourself, whether it’s nailing a hard workout or running easy when your body needs rest; on race day you can look back and know you did everything you could to prepare!
ENJOY EVERY MOMENT. The friendships you build with your teammates are some of the best you will ever have and are a huge part of what makes this sport so special.
Coaches and runs steeplechase; PR 9:40
MAKE EVERYDAY COUNT. Always accomplish the goal of the day at practice. (i.e. if it’s an easy run, run easy and if it’s a hard workout, run hard.). Doing that will help to achieve the goals you set for the season.
Entrepreneur; Top USA finisher in Boston Marathon in debut!; 2:35 PR
SET GOALS. It sounds simple, but without them it is easy to get side tracked. My HS career began because I set a goal to qualify for the Footlocker XC National Championships. I thought about it every day, every run, and I put in the work that made it possible!
FOCUS ON INCREMENTAL PROGRESS. Don’t expect to see results over night. Distance running is a long process of development of consistency over time. Enjoy the journey and be patient and persistent.
STILL BE A KID! Don’t try to be a pro athlete while in HS. There are a lot of developmental life experiences that are essential as a teenager. Enjoy friends, prom, other extracurricular activities that you like to do. There will be a time to hone your focus, but don’t miss out on the fun of growing up.
Ran a sub 4 minute mile AND a debut 2:13 marathon in the same year
A RACE IS THE “PARTY”. Learn to relax before races. In the end, it is just a race. Also you are running because you enjoy it, the race is the “party” at the end of the training cycle.
TEAM SPIRIT. Remember that your teammates are there for you, but that means you need to be there for them. Give it your all on race day.
RUNNING IS A LIFELONG SPORT. You can continue after high school, even if you are not the best on your team. Maybe the university you attend has a club team, or you can find a local running group to join.
Social media favorite; Organizes the Long Island Road Mile event and 3:34 1500m PR
PACE YOURSELF. November is a long ways away from the summer. Get the mileage in and do your workouts, but leave your best efforts for the season. And remember that you go to cross-country camp to get better and learn…not to race the counselors (you will lose anyway).
Ivy League grad in Biochemical Engineering; 1:14 Half Marathon PR
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. The runner you are as a high schooler does not necessarily indicate the runner you will be in the future. It’s very difficult to know your true potential at the age of eighteen. So, relax, have fun, and enjoy the journey of running.
Finished law school & passed bar exam while also ranking in top 5 USA steeplechasers
ONE STEP AT A TIME. Once you feel like you are ready to “do more” – choose one thing! Commit to core, or some more mileage, or weights. Loading on a million new things makes it impossible to slowly perfect your training.
SET GOALS WITH YOUR TEAM. Running may be individual, but it takes a village. I would not still be running today if not for my teammates and coaches, communicate with them and create a culture together where you can succeed.
PASTA PARTIES! It may not be a scientifically proven fact, but I am 99.9% sure I owe all my high school prs to one teammate’s mom’s pasta sauce and another’s brownie recipe.
Popular blogger; Health/wellness career; Pursuing masters degree at Brown University; 10K PR of 32:10
DON’T STRESS ABOUT SPLITS. When I was in high school, I used to be married to my watch, obsessively checking my splits on aerobic runs and in workouts and comparing my times to previous runs. If I was a few seconds slower than the week before, I’d feel defeated. Now with the advent of GPS watches, it’s even easier to compare pace and splits. Don’t get me wrong, watches are a great training tool, but don’t let them dictate how you feel about your runs. Don’t get over-stressed by splits – instead, focus on learning to run by feel and listening to your body. As a pro, that’s one lesson I’ve learned the hard way and hope that high school runners can avoid this mistake.
CHERISH YOUR TEAMMATES. Running with your friends and being part of a team is a truly special experience. The bond I shared with my high school and college teammates was so deep and helped forge lifetime friendships. You won’t always have a chance to be part of a team (many pro runners train solo and compete without a team), so while you have the chance, cherish it! Support your teammates, lean on them in times of need, work together, push each other, and celebrate each other’s successes – you’ll be a better athlete and person for it!
BE PATIENT. You’re just at the beginning of your running career, which I hope is a long and successful one! Remember that you’re just starting out on this long road, and having a successful high school/college/pro career means it’s important to pace yourself. I’ve seen far too many high school phenoms falter in college, or college stars fail to go on to a pro career because of burnout. Pace yourself in terms of mileage and intensity, don’t overdo it, and listen to your coaches. The key to a long career is consistency, so take the slow approach with long-term goals in mind to avoid injury and burnout.
2015 USA Marathon Champion, 2016 Olympian, Statistics professor at BYU
CONSISTENCY IS KEY. You need weeks, months, and years of consistent training to continue to improve.
CREATE TRADITIONS. Making things fun will help you have the motivation to be consistent. Start making some traditions. Fun run Fridays, or Costume Tuesdays. Meet up with teammates after a long weekend run and make breakfast. Things like this will make things fun, and motivate you to be consistent.