Meet entries for tonight's meet can be found on Instagram @Whisper_Running. Best wishes to all the participants!
Recently I was told a story of a young girl participating in the high jump during the 2017 track season. As the young girl approached the high jump bar, she would stop, turn around, and approach it again, only to repeat this action until time was up, leading to a scratch. Three scratches later and she had a "no height" beside her name. She left the event, walked to the infield, sat down, and began crying.
Fast forward to last week where a runner from Whisper inquired about performance nerves, wondering how to remain focused under pressure. A multisport athlete, her confidence wanes as intimidation grows as events and games near. Admittedly, this runner “got a little mental” thus inhibiting full potential in performance.
Stories and events such as these quickly remind me that our kids are kids, and as talented as they are, they are also human, filled with feelings, thoughts, emotions, and passion. These factors can easily be overlooked by focusing only on the physical aspect of training, meanwhile ignoring the human element within training and performance.
There are several ways we can work though these sorts of performance anxieies. Over the last couple of weeks at practice, we have talked about focus, concentration, and goals, which can help provide a centered-focus during practice interval work, and ultimately, racing. Last Saturday, we did a brief meditation session, focusing on breathing and Progressive Relaxation Training exercises. Another strategy regularly discussed at practice is the use of “flushing the toilet,” which is an idea cultivated by Ken Ravizza, a Sport Psychologist at Cal State Fullerton. Ravizza’s flush enables one to flush out negative thinking, only to then bring in fresh, concentrated thinking for the present task, i.e., the present interval. It’s a concentration/focus strategy that encourages rational, goal-centered thinking in the present moment.
Like most things in life, these strategies are actual skills one can acquire and practice over time, being sure to take a baby-step approach toward skill confidence. The first step is creating a goal, and as previously stated, we have worked heavily on the skill of Goal Setting. If your child has not yet set a goal for the 2018 track season, be sure to check out the Winter Training Sport Psych Implementation blog, which provides a summary of the first six weeks of training, as well as a brief discussion and example of what Goal Setting looks like through the lens of Coach Dave. Every runner has their own lens, so the example on the blog can be modified to fit ones goals and personality.
Over the past few weeks of practice we have been talking a lot about setting goals for the 2018 track season ahead. To get to the goal setting process, however, there was a lot of work to be done in the prefacing weeks. Here is the basic timeline of events that has happened over the first six weeks of training:
- Week 1: I’d love to say the energy was palpable, but it’s been this way every week. The kids started with a bang and haven’t slowed down. We did a solid workout at McKenzie this week, performing eight 300m + 100m intervals with calculated rest intervals. Little did they know, we’d perform this same workout in during week six to assess and discuss the progress made to this point.
- Week 2: This was the first week we began connecting the body with the mind. On Tuesday night we used a metronome set at 180 beats per minute to emphasize stride frequency, meanwhile highlighting the importance of how the foot should strike the ground upon landing. The 180 beats per minute is a standard cadence for strides per minute during fast interval work. Combining foot strike with the metronome cadence was pretty advanced, but I think the kids got it.
- Week 3: Thursday night the kids ran fifteen 200m repeats while being video recorded from the side to assess gate. Gate includes foot strike, hip placement upon foot strike, torso posture, and arm swing. Analysis starts at the feet and goes upward through the body, so providing cues about foot placement and hip placement tends to trickle upward through the spine. A few tinkerings down below (the feet) can fix a lot of things at the top (shoulders, head, etc.). The following practice, on Saturday, we spent the first 30-minutes reviewing the video so all of the kids could see themselves on film. This video is also posted on the blog.
- Week 4: Tuesday was a pretty good track workout, followed by a 600m time-trial. I had talked with Pacer Hillary earlier in the week to discuss the idea of running the time-trial, but I didn’t want to waste a practice only running a single interval. Also, it’s important that the kids learn how to run on tired legs, much like what they’ll experience around lap 3 of the mile, which is why we did the workout prior to the 600m. I’m pretty confident in saying that every runner ran at, or 1-4 seconds faster, than their pace of their fastest 800m from the 2017 season. Reflecting upon that now and it just seems crazy, but it also tells you of the untapped potential in these kids – what they’re missing out on (being pushed) and learning to work harder at running than they ever thought they could. Super cool stuff!
- Week 5: With faster racing times comes faster intervals and on Thursday night we ran a 200m, 600m, 400m, 600m, 200m. My thinking behind this workout was to mimic the speed of what I think is their current goal mile pace might be. They struggled, but I think they learned a lot when we discussed this workout the following practice when we brought up the sport psych topics of Focus and Concentration.
- Week 6: Thursday night we repeated the week one McKenzie workout, 300m + 100m, which the kids destroyed! Across the board, the groups ran faster, while some kids moved from Team Awesome (Hillary’s group) to the middle pack with Pacers Alex and/or Paige. We also had a few runners from Alex and Paige’s group join Pacer Micah/Braeden’s group, which was pretty darn special! On Saturday (2/24) we began practice with a discussion around the topics of Goal Setting, Focus, and Concentration during practice, and what that means in competition.
This leads us into week seven. The team meetings are the most opportune time to get us all on the same page when it comes to implementing the sport psych stuff – Goal Setting, Focus, Concentration & Meditation. Though we spent 35-minutes on these topics, the meeting could have easily gone another hour.
This past week the kids were provided flashcards and asked to create three goals for the track season ahead. For events over 400m, they were asked to include paces (per 100m, 200m, or every lap) so they can begin connecting the dots between practice goal paces and race goal paces. It can feel as though I’m speaking Greek in these meetings, so I’m posting an example of what these goals can look like on the flashcards.
Keeping these goal cards in a place where the kids will look frequently – on a mirror, in a wallet, on a wall – can help with ones in-race focus, which is the primary objective.
As a finishing note, it’s important to ask your kids about their goals. Doing so reinforces their commitment to running, as well as your commitment to their success. Also, it’s important to help them through adversity. Not every runner will accomplish their goals (remember, it took Shalane Flanagan 17 years to finally win the New York Marathon), so helping them revise their goals early in the season can help with any frustration. Knowing their goals will also give you something to calculate when you're cheering them on from the sideline, providing some sense of what they might be thinking and experiencing during their race(s). If you find yourself in-over-your-head around the discussion of their practices, their performances, their goals, etc., never forget that I am their coach and their goals are also my goals. I want to encourage you to reach out to me at any point in the season if your child is struggling with anything related with their sport/event. On the flip-side, I also want to hear about their successes, so I can help reinforce the connection between their hard work and their earned results.
Sorry about the background noise. This practice provided an excellent opportunity to record some of the runners during Winter Training. The workout was 15x200m with 60-second rest intervals. We spent the next practice in a classroom so the kids could see themsevels on the big screen to better internalize how they run and how they can improve. From there, we went straight to practice and tried to practice some strategies aiming to improve gate.
“I put too much pressure on her!”
“She looks stressed!”
“Why is she smiling?”
“I over-trained them!”
“I under-trained them!”
The incessant stream of thoughts floods my mind as the racers go flying by.
“Where are the Whispers? They should be here by now!”
Underestimating the field and under-appreciating the fluid form of the front 50 runners and how they make their pace look so easy, I can’t help but think my runners should be here by now!
“Where is our front-runner? Who is our front-runner of the day? Kira? Abby? Katelyn? One of those three should be here by – ABBY!”
Abby runs distances like a sprinter – aggressive. Her form needs some tinkering, but the girl can fly! On this day, she looks fast! Her place in the pack – the top 100 – was unusual, but her feet spent little time on the ground, something I noticed during the warm-up. When she races, you’d be shocked to know she is only five feet tall.
I was standing at around the 1200m spot, where I was expecting to see Kira, then Abby. After seeing Abby, Kira flies by seconds later. In the midst of this chaos, those moments seem to take minutes. All I can do is continue to encourage, but Kira looked stressed at that time.
One of my key factors in training is to always remember that these are kids I’m training, not adults. They’re kids! With one exception, this team is a group of middle school runners – kids. Asking one runner, a middle schooler, to take on the responsibility of leading the group through the first two kilometers was a tall order, one we spent the previous four weeks rehearsing. Abby, Kira, and Katelyn were to run shoulder to shoulder, with Kira bring our barometer - the pace-setter in the middle. She was to govern the pace for the first two kilometers, or for as long as possible.
Soon after Katelyn, Callie and Ashley raced by, quickly followed by Emily, Kiley, and Candi. Kiley looked less than pleased. The race was fast and I could only wonder how she was feeling. Encouraging her was all I could do.
Along with coaches and spectators, I raced to the other side of the double-looped course in the opposite direction of the runners. It was during this moment, where I was seeking a good position to see the girls, that I began to question myself as a coach. Reflecting on workouts and miles run over the last six months. Reflecting on pre-race pep talks from this race, and others. Were the workouts too much? Was the mileage too little? Were their psyches too worked up or were they asleep at the wheel?
At around 2.5k into the 4k race I found myself at the top of the slick, 40-meter stretch of claylike mud. In my angst, counting by fives was all I could do. It wasn’t until around 80 that our first Whisper girl came by. Doing my best to gauge my runners merely by the look in their eyes, most of the Whispers looked spent. The downward spiral of doubting myself as a coach continued, myself as a person soon after. It wasn’t until Emily came by, as I now reflect, that I should have known to live by the Bob Marley song of Three Little Birds, which I reiterate to my runners at practice when necessary, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”
Sprinting my way back to the other side of the spectator path, nearing the 3200m mark, I took a peak at my watch as Abby raced by, “12:15-ish.” This can’t be right. She’s running sub-16 pace, with her previous 4k at 16:40. Kira right behind her, and Katelyn not far behind, I began jogging toward the oncoming runners. Callie, Ashley, Emily, and Kiley zoom by, and like all the other coaches, it was then a mad-dash to the finish line.
Missing Abby’s finish and knowing my watch was a few seconds off, I asked Fiona, Kira’s mom, “What did you have for Abby?” “I didn’t catch Abby’s time, but Kira was around 15:35,” she replied.
Wait, what? Are you kidding me? Did I miss the entire race? This whole time, I had been questioning every decision I have made since last April, and now we might have three girls running huge personal best times?
Far off, up the hill, Callie is seen controllably-uncontrollably sprinting down the hill, bobbing and weaving through the foot traffic. Soon after, the rest of the Whisper crew scream by. Six personal best times of the eight runners in one day. On the right day, at the right time.
It appears I should have remembered our mantra: On this day, everything went alright.
This degree of self-doubt, I'd imagine, is what most passionate and involved coaches must feel, no matter if the race is at the start of the season or the end. It's healthy, so long as there is balance, self-awareness in program design, and a willingness to continue learning - this includes learning from the good races, as well as the not-so-good. The kids put in some grueling workouts between November 18 and December 9, each workout aiming toward one common goal - Nationals. We all knew the kids were talented and could run fast. It merely came down to knowing how to run, and run well at the right time. Putting small bits of controllable energies into play, and doing what we've trained the bodies to do, which was to run fast, implementing a plan, and staying awake at the wheel.
Not two hours after the race, one parent asked about the team plan for 2018. Although I said that I am trying to enjoy the present moment of earning 13th place at Nationals, my mind had already begun thinking of the kids lined up for next season, and it'll be just as eventful.
To all the coaches and runners: Here's to a healthy amount of self-doubt and the beautiful reward reaped through patience, perseverance, and believing in yourself!
For more pictures from the Association, Regional, and Nationals meets, check us out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/whisperrunning/.
This past fall I had the honor of guiding this group of talented young ladies into the USATF XC Junior Olympic series of three races. This being my first year on the circuit, I really had no idea what to expect. What transpired over the past two months has been nothing short of amazing! Qualifying for and running at Nationals was an experience these kids, their families, and I will remember for a very long time. We were blessed to have a videographer join us on the trip (Lindsay, a sister of one of the) who put this video together, highlighting the races, including the final race of the year in Tallahassee, Florida. These girls worked so hard over the last 7-18 months, it's truly inspiring. Enjoy the video!
Click here to see the results of the 2017 USATF National Junior Olympic Cross-Country Championships. Whisper Running participated in the 13-14 year old division.
Whether you missed the Runner/Parent Information session on Tuesday, November 7th, or you need a refresher, there is still plenty of time to help get you caught up. Below are a few FAQ’s from the Info Session that were addressed:
Which online training option is right for me? Whisper offers a few different options. With the Winter Training session beginning January 16, High School runners should register for the six-week package since their season begins in late February. Likewise, Middle School runners should register for the nine-week session since their session begins in late March.
What if my child can only make it to one or two days a week of training? That’s totally okay! The RUNCARD/Punchcard works for Winter Training. This option allows runners who are involved with other activities to remain involved and conditioned in preparation for the 2018 track season. The RUNCARD option also accommodates families who live in the outer regions (south Portland, Woodland, etc.). RUNCARDS are good for any day of group training throughout the year. Though the Winter Training six or nine week pass does offer a better price for the package, RUNCARDS do offer more flexibility. The choice is yours! Be mindful that the RUNCARD expires after three months from the first day of use.
When and how do I register my child to run? Registration is a simple process. First, be sure to complete the Contact or Prospective Athlete link to introduce yourself to Coach Caldwell. Next, you may pay by check or online. Once your payment has been processed and your waiver (see below) is submitted, you’re set! Be sure to register before December 31, as prices will go up on January 1. Payment by checks is preferred. If you plan to pay by check, please make arrangements with Coach Dave if, for any reason, you cannot pay before January 1.
Is there a waiver for participation? YES! The waiver is sent out periodically. If you have not yet received a waiver, please be sure to inquire by contacting Coach Dave via email. The waiver process requires a current physical on file.
How are practices structured? During the six- or nine-week group training sessions (January through February/March and June through August), there will be one to three coaches at every practice. Additionally, Whisper aims to have a Pacer for each group of runners. A Coach designs the workouts and Pacers administer the workouts. A Pacer may not be every practice, and that is okay, as it allows runners to experience a greater sense of autonomy within their running. Practices typically consist of interval-based workouts to develop speed-endurance, or at least, the mentality to train at higher than normal levels.
Do I need to have Whisper Running gear to participate? No, but runners do look pretty slick in their Whisper apparel. There are many runners who train year-round with Whisper, and they have likely accumulated hoodies or shirts along the way. The Whisper online apparel store opens a few times each year and should be open before the holiday rush. Stay tuned for a link to the Bashor Team Apparel online store coming soon!
If these FAQ’s below do not answer your questions, please email Coach Dave directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.