Optimal Pre-Season Training for Distance Runners

In the build up to the upcoming season, you might be unsure of the best way to get your runners back in shape and into the routine after a period of rest. Summer training deserves it’s own separate post, which I’ll be writing in the coming weeks.

However, since many programs are finishing up their indoor/winter track season, and preparing for spring track, I figured this was as good a time as any to write about that awkward period of anywhere between 2-4 weeks that athletes have between these two seasons (this also goes for the cross country to indoor track season as well).

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is very important to give your athletes some time off to decompress from the pressures of the previous competitive season. The question is, after your athletes have their 1-2 week break, how do you get them back into the rigors of training for the next season. This is particularly tricky with spring track, since in many parts of the country, this is an especially accelerated season.

Bridging the Seasons of Competition

The best way I’ve seen to bridge these seasons is to try to carry over as much fitness as possible from the previous training period. 1 week off will have little impact on the runner’s fitness level, yet it gives their body some time to recoup, and most important, their often overactive teenage minds to rest.

In the ensuing weeks, it’s important to more or less maintain their fitness, you should not be attempting to advance their aerobic or anaerobic capacities at this stage. Instead, just keep the athletes at an even, easy effort, whatever you determine that to be for your individual athletes, somewhere between 60-70% of max effort, it’s ok for the faster runners to slow to even 50% to be able to train with the larger group during this period.

Incorporating strides into 2-3 runs per week will help to activate the fast twitch muscles, and keep your runners sharp during this easier period of training. You should start at a 30-40% reduction in miles from their biggest training week in the previous season, so if they were doing 60 miles at their peak in cross country, cut them back to 35-45 miles during these weeks of downtime.

You can increase mileage 10% every week, so they’re back up to full training volume after 3 weeks or so. You can then safely maintain this volume as you re-introduce more strenuous training such as tempo runs and intervals.

The right way to do strides

Strides should be done in the middle or at the end of each run. Perform them on a predictable, flat surface (such as a track), and do not allow these to be at sprinting speed, but instead, about 200 to 300 meters at mile pace.

If you do not have a track, then measure out the distance on a level section of road. You can have your athletes do 4-8 depending on the runner. This is not intended to be a full out sprint, as that just invites injury, rather these strides are meant to keep the legs used to the faster pace, and give them something a little uptempo to prepare them for the upcoming harder efforts.

Have your runners focus less on their pace and more on their stride rate and form during these. Also, allow 100% full recovery in between, these are not intended to exhaust your runners.

A note on weight lifting

I also make the recommendation in my previous post about using these weeks of lower mileage to start to incorporate a strength training regimen into your routine. Again, I suggest any weightlifting be reserved for juniors and seniors, possibly a strong sophomore, but not necessary for freshmen.

For those not hitting the weights, have them do core work and pushups, as this will offer most of the advantages of a more formal weightlifting routine.

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