Recently, my wife asked where the school year went, and upon consideration, it really is difficult to believe how quickly the last nine months have gone by. And if the previous nine have gone by in the blink of an eye, then it’s easy to imagine how quickly the summer months will disappear. In the midst of a run, it can seem like time slows to a crawl, but rest assure, June, July, and August, will come and go, and the mere question for middle school and high school cross country runners will be, “How did your summer training go?”
Whether you’re goal is to run 100 miles, 300 miles, or 500 miles this summer, the hope for all cross country coaches is that their athletes are at least running. In a 12-week summer training program, that’s 8 to 42 miles each week. Clearly, for middle school or beginning cross country runners at any level, even 10 miles per week can seem daunting, but regardless of your starting point, the point is to at least start. Consistent running during the summer months is the most important variable to the results in the fall, otherwise you spend the entire regular season running to get into the shape of those in front of you, living the season in what-could-have-been mode. Not only are you wondering what could have been, your coach is in wonder as well.
So where and how do you begin?
Shoes: Prepare by getting fitted with a good pair of running shoes from a running shoe store. Fit Right or Portland Running Company are good places to start because they typically have seasoned runners who know their stuff. However, if they offer orthotics, then as a chiropractor once told me, “you need different shoes.” I completely agree.
Water: Make it a point to start and end your day with a glass of water. Any water you get in between is a bonus. Avoid any form of soda or energy drinks and make it a goal to have only water with your meals. Hydrated runners sweat more, which helps regulate your internal cooling system while you run. One place you don’t want to experience dehydration is in the midst of a long run. Stay cool. Drink water.
Sleep: With summer ahead, it can be exciting to think about staying up late playing the latest video game, watching movies, or hanging out with friends. But if there are two variables which cultivate discipline and confidence within runners that isn’t running, it’s healthy nutrition patterns and prioritizing sleep. Eight to ten hours of sleep each night, while going to bed at a consistent time, 9-11pm at the latest, ensures recovery and alertness for the next day’s run.
Nutrition: Sugar, salt, and fat taste delicious, but teaching and encouraging healthy alternatives to energy drinks and candy is pivotal to not only running, but general health. With summer upon us, there are plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables to choose from. If you have children, empower them by allowing them to choose their fruit and vegetable preferences while at the store. If you are a coach, encourage your athletes to take part in the grocery shopping, specifically for healthy options. Doing so, giving them control of their food options, will lead to them actually eating those options. Also, try to connect food with mood and energy levels. If they are in a good mood or had a good run, ask them what lead to the enhanced mood or successful run. Were their foods involved with this process? Just like running, healthy eating begins somewhere. Let it begin at the grocery store and in the kitchen.
Goals: Setting a goal is simply not enough, you must put that goal into action. Setting goals and not following through with them can lead to a decrease in confidence beyond running. However, following through with your running goals cultivates an enhanced self-efficacy and a general improvement of self-confidence as a whole – pretty cool stuff! For beginners, begin with tangible runs of 2-3 miles a few times a week, and progress from there. Starting minimally can decrease the overall anxiety of running, teach the body how to deal with CO2 buildup, regulate breathing during running, and provide a positive sense of ability within running. From there, steadily progress to five to six days a week, with a longer run once per week of five to seven miles by summers end. Doing so will provide a base to start with, when cross country begins in late August.
Good luck this off season!