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Striders Week Two

This week at Striders, we are discussing endurance training. It's one of my favorite topics, but for many of our runners, it's their least favorite. Some of them are really interested in understanding the reasons behind our training methods, while others are like I was at their age – just following the coach's instructions without questioning why. Back then, my mind was preoccupied with more pressing matters, like finding out who could devour a Subway footlong sandwich the quickest, locating a place to play some pick-up basketball, or figuring out how to afford a new pair of sweet action Reebok Pumps. You know, important stuff.

As I've gained more experience as a coach, I believe it's important for our athletes to have a basic understanding of our training. When I first started coaching, I enjoyed surprising the runners with the workout at the start of practice, thinking it would make them mentally tough. However, it actually led to anxiety and complaining during practice because the runners weren't mentally prepared. Now, we take a different approach by involving the athletes in the planning and implementation of their training. I want them to know what to expect, be prepared, and tackle the workout head-on. While we still include some surprises in small doses, the focus is on preparation and involvement. 

Another point of discussion is the distinction between endurance training and what we affectionately call hobby jogging. There are lots of jogging clubs out there where people get together and have a great time jogging around town. There are usually some fanny packs involved and maybe a light-up vest, but we are training.  Every workout we do is purposeful towards racing fast. If I can't explain to an athlete why we are doing a specific workout and what its purpose is, then perhaps we shouldn't be doing it. In the past, some parents have expressed that they want their kids to run to stay in shape but are not interested in their athletes participating in races. It's important to note that Striders is a running club with the goal of introducing the sport of Track and Cross Country to new runners. We want to demonstrate that running can be enjoyable but Striders also serves as a platform to help prepare athletes for the upcoming fall Cross Country season. When our runners first begin, we absolutely focus on jogging and taking it easy. Fanny packs are optional.  However, over time our runners should progress beyond the running club stage and begin working towards the common goal of competing in championship meets for their school. At Owasso, Cross Country is still an incredibly fun and rewarding experience for our athletes, but it's crucial they understand we are training to race!

So, after introducing running as a sport to a new athlete, what is the best way to train them to compete in a big race?  The answer is…who knows?!?!?  I certainly don’t.  My first competitive running experience was the summer after my 1st grade year in Ada, Oklahoma.  I ran some summer track meets then and haven’t stopped now for nearly 40 years.  I ran in Junior High, High School, and College.  I’ve coached at the Junior High, High School, and College levels.  I've been fortunate to compete for and work with some of the best coaches in the nation at all levels. Now, in my 25th year of coaching, after attending numerous clinics, reading countless books on training, and listening to hundreds of Podcasts and recordings from athletes and coaches, I can confidently say that there are literally a thousand ways to train a runner. Some coaches focus on extra long-distance running, some coaches prioritize speed, some specialize in one specific kind of training, while others incorporate various training methods all year round. Some start their kids with one mile a day during their freshmen year, and some have their freshmen running ten miles non-stop before they begin their first High School cross-country season. Those are totally opposite ends of the spectrum, and yet both those gentlemen have coached multiple teams to Nike Cross Nationals. It all depends on the coaches' philosophy, experience, and the inherent advantages and disadvantages of where they coach.

I've heard coaches recruit athletes by claiming they have everything figured out. They insist they know the secret to turning a kid into a champion distance runner. Perhaps they do, but I hope I never say that to an athlete.  Once I think I have everything figured out, it means I've stopped learning and trying to improve our program. I know much more about training than I did ten or twenty years ago, and I am sure that in another twenty years, I will look back on what we're doing right now and wonder what the heck I was thinking. Training is a constantly evolving science, so we have to adapt each year to keep up.

The key to effective training ultimately comes down to one thing: trust. If an athlete believes their coach has their best interests in mind, possesses a strong understanding of the sport, and is confident that the daily practices are the best way forward, then the training will be successful. It may not be perfect, but it will be effective. Running is not complicated; it is the most basic and simple sport. However, runners themselves are complex. They can be emotional, social, fast, slow, experienced, new, confident, scared, and entirely unique. None more so than teenagers! Although our runners have similar training plans, each individual may interpret the training in their own way compared to their teammates.  We aim to build a sense of confidence and trust in our athletes, assuring them that we will do our best for them so they can perform at their peak when it matters the most. Running is straightforward. Trust the training plan, maintain consistent training, sleep, and nutrition, and take care of all the little details necessary for success. Consistency is the key that distinguishes outstanding athletes from average ones. When runners embrace the routine, they will thrive. It's not complicated; it's simple, but simple ain’t easy.

Lastly, with endurance training, athletes must understand that risk and reward go hand in hand. Even if our runners put in all the hard work and preparation we ask of them, there are no guarantees when it comes to race day. Training is about creating the opportunity to perform at their best, but success is never assured. Despite the uncertainty, the consistent dedication and effort put in by athletes is what we value the most at Owasso. While the most prepared athletes usually succeed, there's always a level of unpredictability that makes cross country so special. XC brings together individual athletes to work towards a common goal, creating a sense of achievement that wouldn't be possible alone. You can’t compete without a minimum of five runners.  Unlike other sports, where one player can make all the difference, in XC, you must have at least five runners working together, or your points don’t even count.  An XC race is the culmination of training and hard work coming together at the right moment creating a shared experience for our team. When it goes well it makes it all worthwhile. Throughout the season, we train with the hope that our athletes will achieve PR’s, make the Varsity team, or complete their first 5k. We want to celebrate their success! That's the transformative power of running! It involves consistently giving your best individual effort over time, combining it with your teammates, and being far better than you would have been alone. In Striders and ORXC, we adhere to one basic principle: MAKE EACH OTHER BETTER!

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