XC Training System

How the 1600m is Different from XC - Kelly Christensen Weighs In

Transcript - 5 min read time

This excerpt is from the Mental Skills for High School Runners course.

Jay: Your girls just finished second at the 2022 Nike Cross Nationals. What are some of the things you're doing all year long? 

Kelly: All year long to make sure that those same girls now...when we go into the track season, can run a really good 1600m. I think so much of the mile is rhythm and cadence and learning how to run a pace efficiently while minimizing your effort. So, in week one, we're doing stuff in the summer. After they're done with their track season, regardless of when they start up with us again, we're going to touch on it some way. Whether it's a shorter stride or in one of the workouts they do.  

Typically, in our second week in the summer, we're doing some form of Kenyan diagonals. It breaks up the training, it gets us on the grass. It gets all the kids together, and even if they're only doing five minutes of running. It touches the pace of the mile. Eventually, maybe they start out at 3k pace and they only hit one diagonal at their mile pace, but 10 days into training, they hit something of a longer stride at mile pace.  

And that just kind of evolves and becomes more minutes of running. Then it just evolves into the training when cross country hits.  

And then other things we do is we'll do longer strides on Fridays that touch on mile or 800m pace, year round, unless they have a race.  

This Friday (early February) - and this is pretty normal for us - after they do a short, easy day run, they'll do one or two 200m at their dream mile in high school pace. So even a freshman boy that wants to run 4:00 in the mile on Friday this week will run one 200m at like 29-30 seconds.  

And it obviously evolves we're progressing from there, but it's just something year-round that we try to hit. They just have to get comfortable running that pace. And over the course of several years of doing that, there's so many ways to do it. And there's so many opportunities and training if you get creative and put that in. 

The biggest thing for us that I learned reading Centrowitz talk about how important it is for when he's training... those 200s year round. Even if it's not much, it's just at that goal pace.  

Your body becomes acclimated to the demand of the speed of that race. And we've just found a way to, beyond other things that we're doing, I think that like one small thing that you can do regardless of the season, that makes sense - you can do a mile pace stride of some sort.  

Jay: Yeah. I'm going to hop in here...everybody's tuned in to listen to you more than me, but I'm going to highlight why I don't like the term speed, because I feel like a 400 at 1600m pace isn't speed.  

To me, speed is a flying 30s or a 200m that's really fast. And for that freshman who is a four 4:40 kid now, the 29 second 200m is speed. It's something much faster than their race pace.  

Can you quickly go over what...when you're using speed in this conversation, what you're thinking of. 

Kelly: Yeah, I'll go to the speed development piece. That's really just getting kids more athletic.  

And we talked in that video before (for athletes) about the shorter full burst sprinting. And even if you feel like your athletes are hypersensitive to that type of 30m burst, six second hill sprints, whatever, it may be in terms of developing athletically and getting them to be able to run a faster 200m or 400m.  

That could also be preloaded in the weight room. There's plyometrics. You can even just bring boxes out to the track and do box jumps. Lunges. There are other ways to activate those explosive muscles.  

But I really think that one thing too, in addition to just the speed maintenance that we hit with mile pace, is year-round we're putting power into the ground. We're learning to be sprinters and we're taking lots of rests in between. Small doses of speed development and power and athleticism really. 

Jay: Awesome. What are some things you're doing in workouts so that athletes can really change pace in a race? This could be a race where kids slam on the brakes 200m into the race and it's a championship race and you don't really want your athlete going into the front. Or it could be something that's, let's say you're out of state - you're at the Arcadia Meet in California - and it's going to be a pretty evenly paced race, but in the last 500m, 300m, 100m, you want kids being able to change gears.  

What are some things you do in terms of a workout to get them ready to do those things?  

Kelly: Some smaller things that we do consistently - and try to plug this in too – for the gear changing, would be speed zones.  

This is when I was working with Coach Trahan, who is five foot nothing but could long jump 20 - almost 26 feet. He was an amazing sprints coach, and I always asked him, “When you felt like when you were training as a long jumper/200m runner in college, when were you actually getting this burst? And you felt yourself becoming a better sprinter who could change gears?” 

He said speed zone workouts, where he would set 120s - 120m of running, but you're changing gears in between.  

So maybe it's a 10m float, 20m sprint. Or 20m float, 30m sprint, 20m float, 10m sprint. So just activating on repeat and short bursts. We’re hitting three or four of those. Sometimes we'll do just do those to teach kids how to change gears, and match a rhythm of a race when the energy changes. 

It makes it easier for them to just hit that overdrive and match that. Or even if they're the ones that need to make the move, I feel like they feel more comfortable with that and their top end speeds are better, which also allows them that first crazy part of the race - any race that you get in - where it goes out way too hot, their muscles are used to that demand of sprinting.  

This excerpt is from the Mental Skills for High School Runners course. Make sure to get my weekly emails for High School coaches - just share your email below.