This is a repost from 2/14/2014 but since Katie was in the news again as part of the World Junior XC Team that went to China we brought it out again. For the highschoolers Coach Rainsberger is the mom of Katie Rainsberger.


Lisa's Website | Facebook

To many in the sport of running, Lisa Rainsberger (formerly Weldenbach) is better known for what she has not done rather than for what she has accomplished.

Let me explain: In 1980 Lisa qualified for the US Olympic Swimming Trials, however the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics and Lisa was unable to compete. In 1984, 1988, & 1992 Lisa finished 4th in the US Olympic Marathon Trials making her the Olympic Team Alternate. (The top three in the Olympic Trials qualify for the Olympic Team).


In 1988 Lisa ran in the US Olympic Track and Field Trials and finished 5th in the 10,000 meters running a PR of 32.12. In 1996 Lisa finished an uncharacteristic 19th in the US Olympic Marathon Trials.

Finally, heading into the 2000 Olympics Lisa was on her way as a Professional Triathlete. After Lisa finished 4th American at the US Triathlon National Championships she and her husband, Ellis, discovering their first child. Afteer the birth of her daughter in 1998 Lisa officially retired from National competition and launched her coaching career. 


Lisa, Thank you for this opportunity. 


Mick   What is your philosophy for developing young athletes? 

Lisa    Young athletes seem to develop themselves.  Kids who want to run seem to have a way of progressing and it is up to me as their coach to guide them safely and steadily.  Kids have to want to run.  You cannot force it and if you do there will come a point they will stop trying.  Kids who want to be on a running team or club tend to progress well.  The layering of one healthy season after another combined with a program that emphasizes speed development and leg turnover versus “distance” lends itself to long term improvement.


Mick   What are the best things youth coaches can do to help their athletes improve long term and enjoy the experience? 

Lisa    The absolute best thing for youth runners is to always remember that they are NOT adults and they should be coached and trained based on a philosophy that “less is more and faster is better”.  Many coaches are runners themselves and they tend to coach youth runner like they coach themselves or adults.  Kids need a lot less distance and do well with programs based on consistency in training and leg turnover.  High mileage training programs for youth tend to diminish the potential of young runners.  If you practice a lot of long slow distance running you will produce long and slow distance runners.


Mick   Do you encourage kids to try a variety of sports? 

Lisa    Absolutely!  I encourage kids to participate in a variety of sports for several reasons.  I think it is important for kids to understand how to be on a “team”. Therefore team sports like soccer, swimming, basketball, volleyball etc. allow kids to enjoy the social aspects of being on a team.  Multi-sport athletes also tend to develop a sturdy and balanced skeletal and muscular system.  Some sports also help to improve flexibility such as swimming.  Both of my kids participate in a variety of sports.  Several years ago my daughter took Irish Dancing lessons and competed in dance competitions!  Providing athletes the opportunity to participate in a variety of sports helps to maintain physical and emotional balance.


Mick   What kind of training volume do you recommend for youth and high school runners? 

Lisa    Volume is really based on ability and the physical maturity of each runner that I work with.  Just because you are in HS does not mean you push the miles because your runner may be new to the sport and may not yet developed the tolerance to the work load.  I use my own daughter as an example of how to slowly ramp up miles.  She was supposed to enter her local HS this past year as a 9th grader but the program has a legacy of pushing 50-70 mile training weeks.  My daughter was only running 20-24 miles a week and in 8th grade broke her local HS 1600m record that stood for over 30 years on a training base of 20-24 miles a week.  So, my worries and concerns were based on how the coach would take her from 20-24 miles a week to over 50 without losing her speed, her desire and staying injury free.  Ultimately we opted to send her to another HS across town that has a history of nurturing runners and has a very low injury rate.  She has increased her weekly mileage to 25-30 miles and continues to set records and her speed has not only been preserved but continues to develop.  Total mileage is a byproduct of the workload a youth runner can tolerate and it varies by individual.


Mick   Understanding that volume is different for each individual, is there any general mileage path you try to use to have kids progress successfully from youth to high school to college? 

Lisa    I train kids by “daily volume” versus weekly volume.  Too many runners are wrapped up in weekly volume and they start to lose sight of their training purpose.  Thanks to GPS watches many runners chase overall mileage instead of chasing training performance.  With the younger runners or those new to the sport, I suggest a daily mileage of no more than 3 miles broken up into a warm up, main set of the workout and a cool down.  Some runners will need to even build into that.  Middle School and High School runners will build off a consistent training program that will include 3-5 mile daily runs, intervals, Fartlek, Hills, Tempo runs and a 7-9 mile endurance day with one to two days of no running depending on the runner and his or her ability.  These numbers are GENERAL and above all, each runner is an individual and coached accordingly.


Mick   How many races per season do you recommend for youth athletes? 

Lisa    Races should have a purpose.   The number of races depends on how long the season is, whether there is recovery between races, what the competition is like, whether you can “train through” a race, what the weather is like, what the course is like etc.  There are so many factors involved so I feel it is important to look at each of the races and develop a plan as to why that race should fit into the schedule.  Once you have established a “season goal” for each of the runners you then can plug in races and specific race distances into their schedule.  I strongly encourage runners to run races that are outside their comfort zone.  If your goals are to run the 1600m then mix up your races with 400’s, 800’s and the occasional 3200m.  Avoid always running the same race distance. 


Mick   Regarding the number of races per season, would you recommend 5, 10, 15?  For many, youth and high school running is 3 seasons, so 15 per season x 3 = 45 races per school year, not counting doubles, etc.  Also, for some kids, it might mean 15 x 5k and 30 x 3200m in the year.  I agree mixing up the distances is important. 

Lisa    Whoa!  I only advocate two seasons for HS or youth runners - Spring Outdoor Track for HS, Summer track for youth and Fall Cross Country for all age groups!  An indoor race, summer track race or local road race now and then to enhance the two primary seasons can be considered.


The number of races in each of these two seasons will vary based on the length of the season. For example, my USATF JO XC team will run 5 races in a season that extends 12 weeks.   The HS runners will race approximately 6-8 races in 14 weeks.  Track season will typically include one race a week with runners varying what distance they race each week.  HS runners could see 8 track races throughout their season with youth running 6-8 depending on how far they advance.


Less is more and faster is better!


Mick   Do you think it is more important to develop speed first or strength? 

Lisa    Yes!  Speed first then work the engine.  It really boils down to developing both at the same time with a stronger emphasis on speed development.  Endurance can be added but once you have lost your speed due to over distance it is really hard to get it back.  I personally learned this once I started racing the marathon distance.  I went from 4:36 mile leg speed to the long slow efficiencies of marathoning.  I was never able to regain the speed I once had.


Mick   If you are trying to develop speed, do you have kids run short events first, like 400/800, then progress to longer events?  What method of selecting events do you recommend to develop good kids for mile/2 mile? 

Lisa    Honestly… during track season I really dislike the 2 mile event.  Why?  Because the kids I work with all have a very solid aerobic base and they CAN run the two mile.  Coaches seem desperate or eager for kids with a strong base to fill this event and they just assume that because the runner CAN run the 2 mile that he/she wants to.  In my opinion the 2 mile is a distraction for what youth runners should focus on and that is speed preservation and development.   I start out the track season by placing kids in shorter events than their goal event.  If you are wanting to focus on the 1600 then open 400’s, 4 x 400’s, open 800’s and 4 x 800’s are great ways to develop turnover, speed and confidence in running fast.    Once you combine speed with the aerobic base from their pre-season training is when you will see kids improve upon their 1600. 


Mick   How do you set up schedules to peak at the right time? 

Lisa    I set up schedules based on the end goal race.  I work from that point backwards.  Once you have the end goal you go back and add the development races, the critical training and the timeline you have to work with.   I physically lay out the calendar by plugging in races, critical training (Steady State, Tempo, Hills, Intervals) Foundation, Recovery and Off Days.  It is like a puzzle.  When you lay it all out you can look for missing elements.  You can see if there isn’t enough of any of the elements – like rest days, or long runs or hill or track intervals.  Laying it all out to visually see helps me ensure all the pieces of the puzzle fit.   Peaking at the right time is not an exact science and for each athlete it will vary.  Some runners need more taper time and others fall flat if they taper too much.  It requires a bit of trial and error before you discover just how your athletes respond to a taper.   The number one failure among coaches and athletes is that they don’t “trust their taper”.  Meaning they tend to train too much leading into their goal race and they toe the starting line with less than snappy legs.


Mick   How do you train kids to run race pace? 

Lisa    Race pace is constantly changing based on fitness, age, coming off a layoff, so I train kids based on “race effort”.  Race effort is something I always talk about with the kids.  I talk to them about learning to “suffer” and what that is supposed to feel and sound like.  Racing well is about being able to tolerate suffering and to tune out the mental chatter. Racing is hard and the way to get kids to understand this is through their training.  We have workouts that are short and fast such as 30 sec. hill intervals and it is during these workouts that the kids discover the “dark place” or place of “suffering”.  If a kid can learn how to push themselves in training we can then teach them how it is going to “feel” in a race.   Race effort is the place where the kids feel they are doing their very best.  Racing by pace has too many variables and is hard to teach anyone let alone kids.  But, teaching runners how to feel “race effort” can be done by the way they feel in training.  You have to help identify and point this out when you see runners reach this place in training.  Observe and comment.  The kids then put it all together. 


Mick   Do you work on core strength and running form? How much time per practice do you spend on these? What do you do? 

Lisa    Ever watch the end of race where it comes down to a sprint?  Who usually wins?  The runners with the greater arm and core strength.  You’ve never seen sprinters like Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson or Usain Bolt without a six pack and strong arms right?  We do a core/arm routine 2 x week and concentrate on doing three sets of push-ups (military style), partner sit ups, and tricep dips.  The number of reps in the set will increase over time.  We also do 3 sets of walking lunges and 3 x 1-2 min. planks.  Toward the end of the season we will have a plank competition to see who can hold the plank the longest.  Keep it fun and keep it consistent.  We have to make time after two workouts a week to do these drills.


Mick   Would you like to talk about specific workouts?

Lisa    When I was competing I would read about other people doing certain workouts and it would mess with my head and detract from what I was capable of training at that period in time.  So rather than have coaches or athletes second guess themselves I would rather not give sample workouts.  


Mick   How many days per week do your youth athletes practice? 

Lisa    Kids 7-10year olds run 3 days a week and 11-14year olds 4 days a week.  Many of the kids are already involved in other sports so we may drop a training day with the kids who are doing other sports.


Mick I’d like to ask you about burnout; what do you feel is the effect of each of the following, or combinations, to burnout? Kind of a complicated question, but which is a bigger contributor to burnout?

  • quantity of aerobic mileage
  • quantity of races
  • quantity of anaerobic workouts

Lisa    Burnout comes from a runner’s sense of “imbalance”.  It can happen from any of the following:  too much workload, lack of recovery, feeling that sacrifice overtakes reward, constant soreness or injury.  Every runner is different and so to single out one of these imbalances as the major contributor to burnout is difficult.    Burnout is subjective so as a coach I want to listen, to look and to react to my runners.  Body language tells a coach a lot, listening to what they are communicating or not communicating is very important.  “One size fits all” does not apply to coaching kids. 


Mick   Can you give a rough idea of % aerobic vs. anaerobic training days (or miles) as you progress through a season.  I know this would vary by individual and by event.

Lisa    The progression really starts “before” the actual season.  Let’s use XC for example.  The base phase of training starts out with kids running very little and over a period of several weeks over the summer they ramp up their volume approximately 10% per week.   I find that a 10% increase per week seems to be a safe.  Once they reach the actual XC season their volume should already be established and at this point they are training with a consistent amount of volume.  Ramping up in volume should be established before the increase in the number of intensity workouts begins.  It is at this point, when the season starts, that the intensity begins to increase and like volume a steady 10% increase of intensity is what I find to be safe and effective.


Mick   I’d like to ask a couple questions about your daughter, Katie.  She was top 13 at NXN and the top freshman in 2013, plus sub 2:09 and sub 4:50 as a freshman.  What will her training be like this year, compare with last year.  

Lisa    Katie has added slightly more training volume, (25-30 miles per week) she has cut back on the amount of time playing competitive soccer (1-2 practices and a game each week), and she has increased her hard day intensity by training with the boys on her HS team who push her more than she would on her own.  Not much different but there are subtle and strategic changes.  It is tempting to throw her to the wolves and race her in National level competitions but the goal is to progress her slowly so that she develops a physical balance, a mental toughness and to maintain her desire to achieve some pretty lofty long term goals.

Mick   Will she do NXN or Footlocker this year? 

Lisa    NXN… it is all about the GEAR!  I knew I was in trouble when as a little girl she would rather have a new pair of running shorts or shoes than a toy for her birthday!



Check out Coach Mick and Coach Molvar’s book!

The Youth and Teen Running Encyclopedia A Complete Guide for Middle and Long Distance Runners Ages 6 to 18