Summer running for what it’s worth

 

Steve-Prefontaine-Oregon-782562

Coach Bill Bowerman mapped out individualized programs for each of his Oregon distances runners. These varied in mileage and intensity depending on their abililty to tolerate mileage

These days high school running programs encourage kids to train together during the summer months. This is valuable in terms of team confidence and building an aerobic base. Cross country coaches have long recognized the value of summer running programs.

 

Our coach at tiny Kaneland High School where I started running offered rewards for summer training. It was impossible to get the team together because the communities that fed the school were miles apart in different directions from the school campus. So Coach Rich Born created incentives instead. Earning a 500 mile or a 1000 mile summer running t-shirt was a true badge of honor. Coach always said, “If you can train through July, that’s the toughest month.” And he was right.

I never made it near that mark of 500 miles. Not even close. For one thing, the country roads near my house were patrolled by packs of angry farm dogs. There were no leash laws and the packs of barking hounds would emerge from farms with jaws snapping and howls yapping. I wanted nothing to do with that. Plus I was lazy.

Honestly, the shoes we had to train in were pathetically thin. Somehow several of my teammates would train all those miles in shoes fit for ballet, and little else. They would get their coveted tee shirts come fall. Yet I beat all of them in the season. The fact of the matter is that training is highly specific. Long slow running doesn’t always translate into racing success.

Summer fun

During the summer I’d train once a week if I was feeling good. But trucking around in that summer heat felt insane. Instead I played baseball, and kept in some sort of shape with that. And basketball too. I rode my bike everywhere I went in Elburn, and did a paper route at 5:30 in the morning that required about six miles of cycling, all told. So I got plenty of aerobic exercise. That might even be a better approach for many runners. Certainly the sport of triathlon has illustrated that cross training has some beneficial effects.

It also helped our cause in the “good old days” taht we walked a lot. Mostly to the houses where the cute girls lived. Infatuation is the best training motivator ever.

Time to run

In fall I’d show up and suffer through the first two weeks of practice. Coming into my freshman year, I had no idea what the training would be like. I had not “trained” a step all that summer between eighth grade and high school cross country. In fact, I was determined to go out for football because that previous fall I’d won the local Punt, Pass and Kick competition and moved on to regionals. I thought that was what football was all about. And of course, I was wrong. My father knew that I was a tough kid, but not cut out for football. I weighed 128 lbs., for one thing. Even when I graduated I weighed only 138.

Yet the real reason he did not want me going out for football was his distaste for the sport and its capacity for injury. He also disliked wrestling for its grunting methodology. None of my brothers either wrestled or played football as a result.

The flow sports

We played soccer, basketball and baseball instead. My older brothers excelled in those sports back East in Pennsylvania. But then we moved to Illinois for my father’s work, and there were no soccer or baseball teams at Kaneland High School. So my brother Gary ran cross country the fall of his senior year, and played basketball and ran track that spring. He had no choice. He’d been yanked up by the roots when he might have starred back in Lancaster, but out in Illinois he had to put down new roots.

I’ve always admired him for that. But it didn’t really register with me that he’d done cross country the year before. I was too busy with a new school to care. And he certainly did not do any summer training that year, in 1970. So he gutted it out and did a damn fine job.

Running instincts

My father knew that I was likely more the runner type. So he shoved me in the locker room with a stern warning; “You’re going out for cross country, and if you come back out of that locker room, I’ll break your neck.” And that was my introduction to the sport of cross country.

And you know what? I loved it. So thanks, dad. Because it produced a lifelong activity that I hope to continue for many more years.

But I didn’t love it quite enough to suffer much in summer between those years in high school. In college, I was much better. By the time my senior year rolled around, I was putting in weeks of 40-50 miles during the summer. Yet my roommate that year put in more than 1000 miles, and for the first five weeks of the season he was one of the top-ranked cross country runners in Division III. He won our major invitational and a few others as well, recording times in the high-19:00 range for four miles and below 25:00 for five on some tough courses.

By mid-season, however, he was feeling the effects of all that mileage. It got tough for him to train without injury. That went for all of us, to a degree. Yet we all managed to pull it together for nationals that year, and placed second in the nation, but not a week too soon.

Retrospective

It’s made me look back and question how much running is the right amount for scholastic and college runners during the summer months. The famous York High School distance running program created by Joe Newton has won numerous state titles over the years. Yet few of those athletes, who put in between 5000-1500 miles over the summer, has gone on to do much after high school. Perhaps they’d simply had enough of all that running stuff by the time they graduated?

My teammates at Luther College often commented that the Illinois runners who came to school there were often burned out. That might have been due more to the competitive schedules of Illinois high schools at the time. We had 18 meets during the fall season. Some weeks we’d race Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. In college we even had a competitive season of 13 meets. That’s a lot of racing actually.

Our training in high school typically reached 55-65 miles per week. In college that ratcheted up to 75-100 throughout the fall. That would sometimes be carried over through winter, and then honed to sharpness with winter and spring track. So training hard through the summer months was frankly insane. You simply can’t train that much all year round. The body needs a break.

Changing times

These days, competitive schedules are somewhat reduced. The generation of athletes that came through those competitively intense programs perhaps realized it was hurting kids in some ways. Yet it’s difficult to say. The times posted in state meets were often better in terms of overall quality in the first 25 runners.

Few athletes have approached the three-mile cross country mark set in Illinois by Craig Virgin back in 1972. So the record still stands.

Most high school cross country teams now have formalized summer programs in which entire teams train together. Perhaps with the increased mobility and access to cars, that is possible even at schools like Kaneland, one of the largest geographic school boundaries in the state of Illinois. The local kids here in Batavia are running six days a week all summer. That will certainly build a base for those kids come fall. It is symptomatic of all sports to conduct year-round training programs.

Better perhaps

Perhaps I’d have been a better runner with more summer mileage back then. It would have helped to train with a team, that’s for sure. Yet somehow each fall I’d rally to race against the best runners I faced, many who put in the summer miles, and managed to keep up. My times in high school cross country reached 14:49 for three miles in cross country. In college I ran a 14:40 three mile time on the track and a 9:19 steeplechase. My best 8000-meter time in cross country was 25:12. Not national class, but not bad either.

When it comes to summer running and fall competition, I always think of two runners from St. Olaf college in Minnesota. Their names were Matt Haugen and Mike Palmquist. If our team raced against them in early September, we’d wipe the course with them. But come November, they were both typically individual All Americans. They knew that the season was a crescendo, not a march. Perhaps they ran some over the summer, but not all that much.

Of course, they both had natural ability. And those who do not possess so much might have to rely on the big mileage summer months to help them compete. So there’s always the question: How good does summer running really make you, versus runners who are simply talented and will do their best once you get them running in the fall.

 

 

 

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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2 Responses to Summer running for what it’s worth

  1. Craig Virgin says:

    Chris:

    Am departing Karen’s house today for Lebanon. We both went out to the Olympic Trials in Eugene and enjoyed all 10 days of it. Very expensive but the best damn track meet in America… and only held every 4 years! We got home Monday and it has taken me a few days to recover from both the insanely busy schedule… as well as the hard travel.

    In reading your post today…. first, I want to say that I asked several “older” former Oregon runners as to who really trained Prefontaine? To a man, they all said that Bill Dellinger was responsible as the coach who wrote and executed the training…. week after week… month after month and is largely unheralded. It seems that Bill Bowerman was like the President of Oregon T & F…. and responsible for the long term vision/direction as well as mentoring the athletes that needed it… and being the public face of the program. Dellinger was more like the CEO and responsible for the day to day/week to week training design and execution…. for cross country and all the mid to long distance track runners once he became asst. coach after his 1965 5,000 Bronze Medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He worked with Prefontaine in the daily training/racing trenches but just doesn’t get credit for it… either in the books, articles, or movies. And, certainly not in the Nike advertising/history books. You have continued that myth…..

    Second…. between my frosh and soph years…. I ran 5 miles every other day during the summer. (and thought that was a helluva commitment back then!) Between my soph and junior years… I ran 5 miles every day during the summer. We typically started our official team workouts on August 1st and had no “official practices” before that. Between my Jr. and Sr. year… I made my first U.S. Junior T & F Team…. and raced the Soviets at Sacramento, CA in late July…. took a week off driving back with my family on vacation…..and then started regular team training on August 1st. Either of my last two prep years…I did not do 2 a days… until Oct. 1st… but would then would keep doing morning runs thru the winter…and all the way until my summer season would end. At the end of my senior year.. I qualified for the U.S. Junior Team again and we went to Europe where I officially ended my H.S. career by running 13:58 for 5,000 against the Soviets and beating their top ranked athlete at the end of July. I then got home just 2 weeks before I reported to U. of Illinois for college…. with a raging urological tract infection because I had not drank enough fluids over there… due to the fear/warnings of “bad water” in Warsaw and Odessa. I didn’t know enough about bottled water then…..and had to drink a lot of Pepsi!

    So that was my summers….basically summer training for me was only June and July my first two years….as my racing my last two years lasted much longer into the summer…and then, my official team training would start as of August 1 for H.S. and August 15 for college. I feel that most kids would benefit from even 5 miles every other or every day in June and July but really need to start doing some fartlek or hill repeats after mid-July or about now…. we also took in 2-3 road races each summer just to give us something to train for… and the 5K-10K distances were good prep for college days and distances.

    And, yes, we did probably race too much back then. Both my junior and senior years in H.S…. I had a total of 24 races each season of X-C… and that was without the benefit of NXC or Foot Locker national champs series! I lost no X-C races that last 2 years but most importantly, set a new course record in all but 2 races out of 48…. and most of those records were very difficult because they were my own from the year before or earlier that season! Including my two state meet titles. Yes, we regularly had 2 races per week…and occasionally 3! That was way too much… but I am not sure that the kids today don’t do too little! Sometimes the pendulum can swing too far the other way! And, my state meet record is the oldest state meet record in the USA according to http://www.xcnation.com who did the research. Of course, many states changed to 5K some time in the 80’s or 90’s which may have eliminated a few really good records that were at 3 mile.

    Let me know if any new developments have happened regarding that X-C course development/management/commitment in Kane County. I still have an interest in working on that project. Finally, watched a little of the ESPY’s on TV this past week…. and saw Craig Sager of WTBS basketball coverage fame….win the courage award for his battle against Leukemia. I was aware of him because he helped broadcast 2 of my Peachtree victories back in 80 and 81. Never knew he came from Batavia until that bio segment during the show that introduced him. So many dramatic stories that night on that program. Most were real tear jerkers….

    Craig Virgin

    On Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 10:57 AM, We Run and Ride wrote:

    > Christopher Cudworth posted: ” These days high school running programs > encourage kids to train together during the summer months. This is valuable > in terms of team confidence and building an aerobic base. Cross country > coaches have long recognized the value of summer running ” >

  2. Craig: Thanks so much for these observations. Would you mind if I shared them in the blog so more people will see them? Quite fascinating. And illuminating. I know you’ve done some consulting and inspiration work with high school athletes. Also, Tom Burridge is up here racing his bike in Glen Ellyn this weekend. Plan to go watch and possibly race as well. I’ll tell him you say hello….Chris

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