What could we possibly learn from a tiny rodent about cross country training? Well, branching out from programmed linear, inside the box thinking would be a step towards a new PR. Most cross country coaches across the country would agree that running continuous long slow distance (LSD) workouts helps maintain aerobic fitness for the months before speed training, but what happens when two runners with comparable training were to race head-to-head? It would take more than just running in circles to be victorious.
Before you even start your workout, make sure that you are warmed up properly. Start with static stretching on the ground, and then move on to dynamic stretching. Stretching should start out easy, but adding in core exercises to latter stages of your stretching routine helps improve flexibility and general strength simultaneously. Here are some examples of such exercises as the Myrtle Routine and the Lunge Matrix.
So, anyone up for a "power run?" This workout involves aerobic, continuous running for a long period of time (typically over an hour), with sets of general strength exercises mixed into the run. The workout will increase in difficulty (similar to the stretching routines) and also works on several muscle groups that runners neglect. Combining core strength with aerobic fitness will not only help you become a more efficient runner, but also a more agile athlete. Another useful, non-LSD workout for your summer training could be a fartlek workout. From Swedish, the term "speed play" connotes fooling your body into running quickly. Fartlek workouts typically consist of alternating time intervals of 5K race pace and easy pace. For example, one might run 1:00 at 5K race pace and then 1:00 of easy recovery running. Then, continue this pattern for several miles while making sure the workout is continuous. Runners can choose to make this workout more challenging by making the faster reps longer or into a ladder, or even increasing the distance of the run. Although, remember that summer training is still plenty of miles away from your respective State Finals races.
Starting interval workouts or hammering easy runs is not the key here. Select runs (i.e. one or two fartlek runs per week) over the summer can be considered as moderate efforts, but cross training is where you can crank up the intensity. For example, aqua-jogging and swim workouts are helpful for faster turnover, without the worries of excessive pounding. In other words, kicking the water faster has virtually no harm, as opposed to running too fast too early.
Here is a sample swim workout:
1 x 150 Warm-up = 150
stretch -- shoulders and ankles
1 x 50 easy = 50
1 x 50 easy = 50
Total Yards for Workout = 4000
Miles and miles and miles...beneficial for just a runner, but only part of the equation for the true athlete. Think outside the box; don't stay in your cage. Increase your knowledge by either traveling to running camps around the country or simply reading top-tier cross country teams' workouts. Run new types of workouts and see what works or doesn't work; you have to experiment to see what is best for YOU.