So the summer months got away from you and you've found yourself on the cusp of cross country season in less-than-perfect shape. You may not be setting any new personal records out of the gate, but if you've at least maintained a modest fitness base in the off-season, you'll probably be able to accomplish a lot during three weeks of dedicated training.
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Get to Crackin' on that Base
If you haven't been running, it's time to start. Most cross country training seasons begin with a weekly tally of about 30 miles and progressively increase as races approach. If you haven't already established a running base and can comfortably run 3 to 4 miles at a time, that should be your first goal. Most people can safely increase their total mileage by about 10 percent each week. For example, if you have maintained a base and run 25 miles your first week back, a 10 percent increase would put you at 27.5 the following week, allowing yourself to build up to 30 miles within three weeks.
Cross country races are only 4 to 10 kilometers in length, depending on the sex and age of the participants, so speed workouts play a vital role in conditioning. If you've maintained a base in your off-season, tempo runs and fartleks should make their way into your preseason training program. Running guru Hal Higdon recommends dedicating a day to each of these workouts during your training. Your training emphasis should remain on building your mileage base, but performing 30- to 35-minute fartlek and tempo runs during these three weeks will help you ease into some speed work.
Running in July and August can be especially hot and dangerous. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after workouts to maintain adequate hydration. If you feel yourself overheating, stop and rest in the shade until your body cools down. If possible, run in the early morning hours when the air temperature is the coolest. Although you're in a rush to get in shape, remember that an overtraining injury can set you back much further than getting a late start on conditioning will. Ask your coach if you need help determining your weekly workouts so that you don't over-train during these three weeks.
Fuel and Rest
Training for cross country is demanding, especially for teens. If you're a high school athlete, get adequate sleep each night, since your body is under the additional stress of growing and developing. Teenagers should aim for 9 to 9 1/2 hours per night, and athletes may need slightly more. Fuel your body with nutritious meals that provide adequate calories to fuel your runs. Avoid processed and fast food items, opting for whole, nutritious food sources such as lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grain carbohydrates instead.