High School Runners - Take a break between Track and XC
Almost every serious distance runner will end the track season saying, “I know I could have run faster.” Even if the season ended with multiple PRs and great races in the final two weeks, serious runners always want to make the next jump in performance, which is why summer training has always been so important for distance runners.
But before athletes start training for cross country, they need to fully recover from the track season. Obviously, they need time off if they had a minor injury or a “niggle.” More often, athletes simply need to give their bodies time to recover and regenerate. Coaches have always (rightly) insisted on some amount of time off after the season for the simple reason that it sets up athletes for higher levels of subsequent training – you’re not going to have a great summer of training if you’re fatigued when you start.
What's often less appreciated by athletes, coaches, and parents is the need for a mental break from running. Track was a stressor, but so were the end of the year exams and all the social activities.
Simply put, athletes shouldn’t start summer training until they’re a bit bored. Said another way, they need to be “chomping at the bit” to train before they begin again.
Here are my suggestions for how much time off athletes should take after cross country before they resume training.
To be clear- if a high school runner has an excellent coach, they simply need to follow their plan.
But so many athletes have coaches who are just as fatigued as their runners at the end of the season and can’t provide a convincing rationale for time off. In that case, or in the case of a runner with no instruction, the following will be helpful.
“How much time should athletes take off?”
First, let’s agree that if a high school athlete trains with intent and is consistent 48 weeks a year, they’ll race fast and run PRs. This means that following the track season and again this fall, following cross country, they can take two weeks where they are not training seriously.
Second, I’ve seen two schools of thought work well in national-caliber programs.
One school of thought is to take just 2-3 days off after the final meet since the chance for injury goes up (slightly) the longer you take off.
Another view holds that athletes need two full weeks off. Typically, this is a week of no running and then a week of active rest where they play ball sports, ride bikes, hike, etc. But no running.
My recommendation lies in the middle of these two views.
I fully understand, and have carefully considered, the argument that complete days of rest slightly increase the chance of injury when athletes resume training. This minor risk is outweighed by the benefit of a mental and physical break.
“So What’s The Plan?”
Assuming the last meet was on a Saturday.
- Saturday – Race.
- Sunday – Easy 20-minute run then 10-15 minutes of mobility work and soft tissue work (self-massage). Athletes should identify any “niggles” and make a note of what those are. If there is pain and not soreness, this is the time to see a physical therapist, chiropractor, or, if possible, a massage therapist that works with runners.
- Monday – No running but 10-15 minutes of mobility and soft tissue work. Again, they should report back to you if they have any niggles.
- Tuesday through Friday – Four days of nothing. No running and no other activity.
- Saturday – Bike ride, brisk walk, or hike. They should get outside. These can be longer than a normal easy run – a 90- to 120-minute hike is fine, as is a 60-minute bike ride.
- Sunday – Off is best, but athletes can do the same thing they did Saturday, too.
If the athlete is not bored and not excited to resume training at this point, repeat the previous week.
But they will likely be chomping at the bit to train, so now they get to run...
For this second week consider assigning three runs where they do the following:
- An adjusted version of Jeff Boelé’s warm-up (they’ll do the full version when their first full week back).
- Just 20-30 minutes of easy running with 3-5 x 15-second strides at 5k pace as part of the run.
- They’ll finish with 10-15 minutes of the level of the Strength and Mobility (SAM) they started with prior to the start of the official outdoor track season (or their strength and mobility work their coach assigned in the last winter).
All told, this is under an hour of work.
They could do this Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. Sunday is completely off in both scenarios. On the other days, they can swim for 20-30 minutes, play some ball sports, or take the day completely off.
Then they’ll resume full training on Monday.
The Mistake Motivated Athletes Often Make
Most athletes don't take enough time off after the track season before resuming training.
The veteran coach (and athlete) knows that there are fewer weeks between the end of track and the first day of official practice in cross country. Too often athletes don’t take the two weeks off. They have a great 4-6 weeks of training in June and into July, yet their motivation starts to fade at the end of July. Obviously, this is a problem – late July is the time of year when they can dial in their volume and up the intensity of workouts, then be ready to be at full volume (ie. full mileage) when official practice starts in August.
The reason the plan above works is that it gives athletes a better chance to stay motivated to train all summer, rather than find their motivation waning in July.
In summary, athletes need two weeks at the end of the track where they are not training seriously so they can train with focus during the summer. Coaches and athletes have known for decades that a solid summer of training leads to great racing in the fall.
Summer Coaching – A Customized Training Plan with Access to Me
Ideally, athletes have a coach who writes a daily training plan that includes pre- and post-run work so they can stay injury-free. While it’s not necessary that coaches meet athletes six days a week in the summer, high school athletes thrive on training with their teammates several times a week. Yet many athletes lack both – comprehensive training and other runners to train with. I can’t help an athlete with the second one, but I can help athletes have the best summer of training with a customized training plan.
- I’ll create custom training plans for athletes based on their fitness and training age.
- Athletes will share the dates of all vacations and running camps, which I’ll account for in the training.
- The plans include daily post-run work that athletes need to stay injury-free.
- Athletes have access to me throughout the summer to ask questions, via email.
- I’ll adjust the training as needed to make sure the athlete is getting the most out of their effort.
- Athletes have access to a members-only video library that will explain each aspect of the training.
- Athletes get to ask questions in webinars throughout the summer (and if they can’t join live they can watch the recording).
I work with high school athletes who are lacking either a comprehensive training plan – that includes all the post-run work needed to stay injury-free - or who will be training on their own this summer. Check out my two summer coaching options and the High School Athletes page on this site.