Please read the overview on strides before you read this article. Thank you.
Strides should be an elemental part of all high school training programs. Why? First, you don’t know how fast a high school athlete is until you’ve asked their neuromuscular system to work. Doing 4 x 200m with 200m jog on the track two weeks before the regional cross country meet, when the athletes haven’t been doing fast strides up this point, isn’t going to tell you what the athletes are really capable of. Now, the hierarchy will probably be the same, but if your varsity is running 29.5s for these 200s at the end of an easy run, who is to say they couldn’t be running 27.9s as a group?
So what should be done in training?
Most cross country runners start training for cross two weeks after the state track meet. I firmly believe that in that first week of practice the coach and the athletes should agree that two to three times a week the athlete will run strides. Usually the strides are going to come at the end of an easy run. But as the summer goes on and workouts like fartleks are introduced, there is no reason an athlete can’t run the fartlek workout, jog easy for five minutes, then do some strides. An important point to make here is that strides need to be done even when the athlete is on vacation. No excuse for not running and no excuse for not doing strides.
So how fast, how far and how many? Let’s start with how many. Just four strides is enough in the early part of the summer. And running for just 20 seconds is enough (taking a 45-60 second easy recovery jog…which I prefer to standing around between strides). Starting at just 3,200m pace is enough at the beginning of the summer, though the strides should soon progress to 1,600m pace. This is a nice neuromuscular stimulus for high school athletes who will be running 5,000m. Then, once the athletes have worked up to 1,600m pace in their strides they can now bump up the distance and run 30 second strides. Let’s say we have a 5:00 miler, that means they run 1,600m in 300 seconds. So 30 seconds is 1/10th of 300, which means the stride they’re running is 160m. That’s about right for the cross country runner in the middle of the summer. I’ll leave it to the high school coaches to share their take on the number of strides that should be run. If I was coaching some kids who are more 400m/800m runners but are out for cross country because they love running, I’d back off on the mileage of their fartlek and get them up to ten 30 second strides.
Another way to assign strides is to “run diagonals” on a soccer field. You simply run from corner to corner of a soccer field, jogging the back line between the strides. So shorter strides and much shorter rest, but still the same principle. If we wanted to we could write a progression of walking barefoot, doing foot strengthening exercises barefoot, jogging barefoot and then doing some strides barefoot, but only if you have sport turn or a really well maintained field that is flat.
Once the cross country season starts the runner now has the ability to run 1,600m pace for 30 seconds five times at the end of all of the workouts. And the coach and athlete can start to work on improving mechanics and a kick by doing this work at the end of a threshold workout or fartlek workout. The athlete can simply run each 30 stride a bit faster than the last one, and they’ll know they ran faster because they went further down the cross country course, park or track. So the strides are starting at 1,600m pace but now they’re getting faster, perhaps even at 800m pace at the end (though it doesn’t have to be that fast). It’s important that the coach and the athlete be mindful of the fact that some days the athlete will be really fatigued and just getting in the strides at one pace is fine, while on other days they should be able to run at 95% for that last stride – which is controlled, but now it’s faster.
Bottom line is that high school coaches and athletes need to agree that strides should be done the first week of summer practice. That’s not only the foundation to running with strong, sound biomechanics in the final 1,600m, 800m and 400m of a cross country race, but come track season these strides, started in the summer, are the foundation for the speed that will be needed to finish fast in the 3,200m, 1,600m, 800m in track (as well as set the foundation for the faster, more athletic runner to earn a spot on the 4x400m relay).
I look forward to answering your questions below.