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Cross Country Workouts

by Steve

The cross-country season is upon us, it’s predominantly a time where athletes are focusing on developing their aerobic conditioning. This time of year allows athletes to build up a big aerobic foundation, improve their endurance and become more mentally & physically robust before they may tackle some indoor and/or outdoor track races. To use another analogy, think of building an aerobic base similar to a bank account, we want to continually make deposits into our account and then when race day comes be able to make a big withdrawal. Every time you make a deposit into your account you are financially (aerobically) in a better place. The aim of this article is to provide some key examples of workouts you could use in training. These examples are just that, there are many ways to work it and you can also combine these workouts. Play around with things, use your imagination and keep plenty of variety in what you do.
When it comes to deciding on workouts the magic questions are always how many reps, what pace, what recovery, how many times a week etc. The answer is that there is no exact answer and it is very specific to the individual.

Key factors to look at when finding these answers are as follows:

1) Performance level: A fitter runner can absorb more volume of faster running without breaking down.

2) Training consistency: A runner who trains at a decent level for several weeks or months without having setbacks or time off due to injury or illness can handle more quality training per workout and per week.

3) Technical skill: Someone who “pounds the ground,” overstrides, is not structurally sound etc is more likely to have problems when doing high volume quality training.

4) Weekly aerobic volume: A runner who has been covering more miles per week, for several weeks, can handle more quality interval work than one who has been doing lower mileage over a shorter time-frame.

5) Life stress: If you work a lot, are studying hard and have family obligations, you can’t do as much quality interval training per workout or per week as someone who is “stress-free”.
6) Injury History: A runner with a history of injuries will not be able to run the same volume of quality work as someone who has been injury free.
7) Recoverability: A runner who doesn’t have the time to recover between training sessions or who doesn’t appreciate the importance of recovery fully, will always struggle doing more specific training.

*The bottom line is that you can only train as hard as you can recover, so ensure a big focus on this area!!!

Include the following different training types & workouts in your weekly cross country training routine:
Long Runs (60-120 minutes in duration starting on week one with for example 50 minutes and add 5-10 mins per week. Aim to first build up to target time on your feet and then add in variations listed below)
1) Long Run over rolling hills
2) Long Run with the last 2-6 miles @ roughly marathon pace progressing the last mile towards half marathon pace followed by 4*80m fast strides
3) Long Run with last 1-2 miles as 20 secs stride/40 secs easy jog
4) Long Run with tempo intervals included within it such as 5 min Tempo effort at each 15 min mark starting at 30-40 mins mark
5) Long Run with last 2-3 miles up a steady gradient
6) Long Run with 45-60 sec surges @ roughly 5km pace every 5 mins from the 45 min mark

Threshold Runs (approx 85-92% of HR Max or roughly 10 KM-Half Marathon pace zone depending on the person, better to test and find out for sure)
1) Short Tempo Intervals (800m reps): 5k pace plus 20 seconds per mile (Recovery 30 secs between reps)

Medium Tempo Intervals (1 mile reps): 5k pace plus 30 seconds per mile (Recovery 1 minute between reps)

Long Tempo Intervals (1.5 mile reps): 5k pace plus 40 seconds per mile (Recovery 1.5 minutes between reps)

2) CV (Critical Velocity) 1000m reps done at 5km pace per km plus 8-12 secs with a volume of 5-10 reps and 60-90 secs jog rec

3) Threshold Intervals 400m-2000m reps done @ roughly 10km-Half Marathon paces with short 30-90 secs recovery

4) Continuous Tempo 3-6 miles with no break @ roughly Marathon down to Half Marathon Pace

5) 6-10 Mile Progression Run (Start easy run pace and progress to slightly slower than 10km pace for last mile, dropping in increments of roughly 10-15 secs per mile)

American coach Tom Swartz worded it well when looking at the question of what type of Tempo/Threshold work you should do. He said “In my opinion, what you use for tempos depends upon (at least) four factors:

1) Your current fitness level. The slower you are or the less fit you are the more likely you should use lower intensities;

2) Your goal race-distance. The shorter the race distance the more important it would be to use harder (faster) tempos in training;

3) Your time-frame. If you are far away from your goal race, using lower intensity, longer duration tempos is a good idea (this is my opinion based on experience only). The closer you are to a race the more important it is to simulate the type of intensity you’ll be facing in a race. Thus, if you were close to a big 5k race then using fast tempos would be a good idea. If you are close to a marathon race, longer but slower tempos would probably work well and be the most helpful in terms of improving race-performance.

4) Your natural capacities. Simply put, one runner may thrive on faster but shorter tempos while another may thrive on longer and slower tempos. It’s a personal thing.

Race Specific Intervals (As a general rule of thumb use a volume of reps that’s equal to the race distance so for example if racing 6km then 6000m worth of reps. Each workout progresses every 7-10 days with an increase in duration at race pace. Volume of reps etc is very dependent on the individual. Use these workouts sparingly; most runners only need a handful of these to be ready to race well)
1) 4000m XC Workout s (14 x 60 secs with 45 secs jog rec, 9 x 90 secs with 60 secs jog rec, 7 x 2 mins with 75 secs jog rec, 6 x 2.5 mins with 90 secs jog rec, 5 x 3 mins with 2 mins jog rec, 4 x 3.5 mins with 2.5 mins jog rec)
2) 6000m XC Workout s (20 x 60 secs with 60 secs jog rec, 14 x 90 secs with 90 secs jog rec, 10 x 2 mins with 2 mins jog rec, 8 x 2.5 mins with 2.5 mins jog rec, 7 x 3 mins with 3 mins jog rec, 5 x 4 mins mins with 4 mins jog rec, 4 x 5 mins with 5 mins jog rec) 3) 10000m XC Workout s (15 x 2 mins with 1 min jog rec, 10 x 3 mins with 90 secs jog rec, 8 x 4 mins with 2 mins jog rec, 6 x 5 mins with 2.5 mins jog rec, 5 x 6 mins with 3 mins jog rec)

Aerobic Fartlek (Use a high volume of time/distance on these and rotate paces that ranges from 5km pace at fastest to roughly half marathon pace with time durations of 1-3 minutes. These are ideally done over rolling terrain on grass/trail).
1) 1-4 sets of 30/45/60/75/90/75/60/45/30 seconds with EQUAL easy walk/jog recovery after each repetition and 3 mins easy walk/jog recovery between sets
2) 2-6 sets of (3/2/1 minutes) with HALF the rep easy walk/jog recovery between repetitions and 3 minutes easy walk/jog between sets
3) 2-4 sets of (30 secs/4 mins/30 secs/3 mins/ 30 secs/2 min/30 secs/1 min) with EQUAL jog recovery on the 30 sec reps & HALF the rep jog recovery on longer reps
4) 1-4 sets of (1/2/3/2/1 minutes) with HALF the rep easy walk/jog recovery between repetitions and 3 minutes easy walk/jog between sets
5) 15-40 minutes of 60 secs @ 5km-10km pace with 60 secs easy jog recovery

Hill Running (All hill reps ran in a controlled manner uphill with an easy/steady jog back recovery)
1) 6-10 x 30-60 secs with jog back down easy recovery 2) 4-8 x 90 secs with jog back down recovery
3) 3-62 mins with jog back down recovery 4) 3-6 x 3 mins with jog back down recovery 5) 1-3 sets of (15/30/45/60/45/30/15 secs) with 3 mins walk recovery between sets and jog back down recovery between reps 6) 2-4 sets of (2 mins/90 secs/60 secs/30 secs) with 3 mins walk recovery between sets and jog back down recovery between reps 7) 2-4 sets of (30 secs/60 secs/90 secs/2 mins) with 3 mins walk recovery between sets and jog back down recovery between reps 8) 2-4 sets of (30 secs/90 secs/2.5 mins/90 secs/30 secs) with 3 mins walk recovery between sets and jog back down recovery between reps 9) Mixed Hills – 2-4 sets of {2 x 60 secs Aerobic Hills (Jog back down recovery) into 2*20 secs Short Power Hills (walk back recovery)} and 5 mins walk/jog between sets

To summarise there are many different types of workouts you can use during the XC season and many different ways to work things. There is no one way, the best way is always the way that most suits the individual athlete and the race distance they are training for. Vary things up, use different surfaces and enjoy your running.

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