Coach’s blog: fall training August 25-31

It is fall! My favourite time of year for many reasons, not least of which is that it is cross country season. Probably because of the amazing foundational experience I had at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, where we were 5x conference xc champions and perennial OFSAA team medalists and overall champions, I view the fall and cross country season as a time of success, renewal and fun. Even though we were quite serious, and the coaches used to warn us to leave our frisbees and footballs at home when we went to a meet (“It’s not TDCAA Play-Day!”), there was no shortage of fun in a mob of teenaged boys flying through trails and parks, intervals at Churchill, and BTW workouts (that doesn’t stand for “by the way”) in Moore Park Ravine. So, yeah, I like cross country season.

What I’d like to do for the next series of blogs is lay out the training we are doing now at the McGill Olympic Club. With a few exceptions (a hardy dozen who are going to run marathons in Montreal, Chicago and Toronto), everyone in the club is in xc mode. That means 800m runners and 10k runners all working together, doing the same kind of base work to create the foundation for next summer’s track and road seasons. This is where it all starts, so whatever your goals for 2015, a strong fall in 2014 will go a long way to helping you achieve them.

The format will be as follows: I will lay out the training plan for the week and explain the workouts, why we are doing them, and also, because I will be writing this at the end of the week, what worked and what didn’t.

For the first week back to training, we had three group sessions. Monday we did a circuit with some longer tempo intervals, Wednesday we did another circuit and some shorter intervals (while some did a fartlek) and Saturday morning, we went for a group long run. Pretty standard fare.

Monday: Circuit training and 2k tempo on the cross country course. Our cross country course is on Mont Royal. The loop starts and finishes at the Gazebo on the grassy hill facing ave du Parc. WE runa long the bottom to the statue, up and around the statue, and along du Parc to ave Mont Royal at the bottom. Then we turn around and go back the same way until just before the statue. At that point, there is a right turn and we head up a long grassy hill. About mid-way up this hill is 1k or mid-way through the loop. Then the course gets faster and flatter. The top part is mostly on crushed gravel and winds its way back towards the Gazebo, finishing with a swooping downhill and then a final flat, grass straightaway.

For warm up, the group jogged one loop of course, with a 2nd loop with 2x2min tempo for vets. This means they threw in 2min of tempo (half-marathon pace) with 2min break on the warm up jog. Then, for warm up drills we did Jay Johnson’s Lunge matrix. Actually we do a little modification based on Vern Gambetta’s ideas, but that video should give you an idea. Then we do leg swings front and back, side to side, and over and back a hurdle (it’s a pretend hurdle so you don’t have to worry if you don’t have one). Then we do some hops: 10 hops on both feet, 10 on one, 10 on the other, then we cycle through 3×10 alternating high knees and butt kicks. These hops help to prime the muscles for the coming work. Finally, the warm up ends with strides, gradual, fast accelerations to help get the body ready for fast running. Strides go as 4×30-30-40-50 steps, and I asked the runners to look at where they started and where they finished the 30th step, and when that 30th step stabilizes (because usually after a couple it gets about a step or a half step further away) then you are ready to go.

The circuit itself alternates between exercises and a 50m sprint, as follows:
10x jumping jacks
10x running As
10x squat
10x hip twist
10x single leg high knee
10x squat jump
1min rest

Then the group ran 1 lap XC of the xc course at tempo (half-marathon pace). After that, we regrouped and did it again. Most of the group did 2 sets, but Ryan, Liz and Nassim did three. I chalk it up to experience for the first two, and youthful exuberance for the last. Ryan and Liz run a lot of miles, so they had the strength to go for another set. Some of the newer runners in the group only did one set. Everyone works out according to his or her abilities.

After they were done, they did a little jog (another loop of the course) and then we settled in for some post warm-down core: 10 reps or 30sec (depending on the exercise)to start this week: These exercises are also based on Jay Johnson’s various routines.

Front Plank
Back Plank
Right Side Plank
Left Side Plank
Tricep Dips
One Arm/One Leg Superman
Fire Hydrant
Donkey Kick
Donkey Whips

That’s it for day 1! Now that I’ve explained the warm-up and core, it won’t always be as long.

Wednesday: we did another circuit for some, and a fartlek for others. The warm-up procedure was the same: 2 loops and 2x2min for the vets, 1 easy loop for the new runners. Then lunge matrix then leg swings, then hops, then strides.

Those who ran the circuit did the following, with 400m on dirt at between 5k and 10k pace in between each exercise:
10x burpees
10x hip thrust
10x lunge
10x push-ups
10x lunge jump
1min rest
4x10sec hill sprint
1min rest

Most did 2 sets, so that’s 10x400m of running, and 8x10sec of all-out hill sprinting. There was a third set for the more experienced. The cool down and core was the same as Monday.

The purpose of this workout (and the Monday circuit) was to work on some general strength, some range of movement (obviously unless you fall down in a race, burpees aren’t particularly specific to running!) and do a little running. The running intervals are almost sneaky: if the workout had been straight up: 2-3x2k at tempo on the xc course or 10-15×400 at 5k-10k pace, many would balk and/or go too hard. Adding the circuits in kind of tempers the expectations in terms of pace (and it’s all on xc surface so you can’t worry about pace anyway), and in a way distracts the runners from the running stuff. Both of these are modified forms of what we called, back in my Waterloo days, “The Brazilian Circuit.” Only over New Years this year did I understand what that meant, as I met Joaquim Cruz who is now coaching at the USOTC in Chula Vista. This is a staple workout he used to do. So if it is good enough for an Olympic medalist, we can certainly make it fit our needs!

Another group did a fartlek. This group mostly consisted of marathoners (who are in the midst of training for, variously, Montreal, Chicago and Toronto) and a couple experienced 10k runners who will be doing some early racing. The fartlek was 10x2min at 10k pace, with 2min recovery at marathon pace. The trick with this workout is that the marathon pace as recovery is not slow. So by the time you get to the last few sets of 10k pace, it actually feels like the end of a 10k! Ryan managed to complete this one nicely, getting the pace under 3min/k for the 10k pace work and not slower than 3:50/k for the marathon pace work near the end. This was a nice breakthrough for him as he has struggled with this workout in the past. Starting out with Steve at a more controlled pace probably helped.

Saturday: we did a group long run, with a few going 2h and others going near 90min. The marathoners did their specific work for the week, with 2x45min at marathon pace in a 2h-2h30min run. The purpose of this for the main group was just to extend the run a bit from what folks were used to in the summer, and to ease off the quality for new runners. This way, they had from Wednesday to Monday to recover from the circuits (always hear comments about sore butts the next day!) and get a chance to build some volume.

Of course on 2-3 of Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, the group did easy running and strides. Without all the easy running, the workouts won’t help much.

Next week the plan is: Monday progressive tempo (another stolen workout) and Wednesday Foxy Frog (also stolen). Saturday is another easy long run for new runners and the experienced group will do a fartlek. As you will see, most of the workouts we run have a history of some kind. I rarely make them up myself. I will tell the story of each of these workouts next week.