Summer training is essential to cross country success. If you show up in the fall without a base of endurance and strength, you’ll either spend most of the season getting to square one, or you’ll quickly get hurt as you attempt workouts you’re not ready for. But summer running need not—and should not—be difficult and stressful. This is a time for gradually building your body. Week by week you’ll feel running get easier and you’ll be going longer and faster with less effort.
Below you’ll find three plans focused on progressing athletes throughout the summer season in preparation for the fall cross country season. One is for brand new runners (Beginner), one for runners who have had one to two years of distance running under their belts (Intermediate or “Novice”) and one for upper-classmen who have trained and advanced every year (Advanced).
These plans are designed to line athletes up for the rest of the season they have in front of them—which will consistent of multiple races in a short amount of time. Speed work and highly dense workouts aren’t in these plans, because you need to be lined up and trained to manage the biggest work over the next 2–3 months as you prepare for the championship season in October and November.
If you’ve been running some since track ended, jump forward to a week that roughy mirrors how much you’ve done regularly. Be honest, and if in doubt, start with an easier week and progress. If you’re just starting your summer running, start at the beginning. Don’t worry about “finishing” the weeks before cross country practice starts—the point is development to advance your starting fitness. The worst result would be that you are worn out or injured before the season starts.
As you look at the plans, keep these principles in mind:
A Focus on Base
Keep your Aerobic Runs at a conversational pace, finishing these runs with plenty of energy for the following days workout or run. Aerobic Efforts run too hard defeat the purpose of the whole plan and undermine your season come October and November. Slower, easy runs are designed to build capacity and demand that you run slowly so you can build your overall volume.
Progression Long Runs
Once you have built a great base, you will want to build your ability to change gears and run fast when you’re tired. Being able to get your legs turning over as you are finishing a long run will help you run fast in that final mile of a 5K. Progressions to Threshold means pushing the pace of the last few miles of a long run to an effort that feels like 7–8 on a scale of 10. Don’t try to push down to 5K pace—that’s too hard at this point in the season—you will build to that.
You will see a lot of hills. They are designed to build power and provide a great platform before you enter into a bigger focus on speed and 5K goal pace workouts. Hit these hills hard, focusing on running uphill with perfect form and pushing yourself. Early workouts require a walk down recovery, later workouts you can jog back down.
Intervals for 3:00, 5:00, 7:00 are designed to be run at your 5K pace or slightly faster than your race pace (up to 15 second/mile faster). These workouts can be intense and require you to give considerable focus on recovery in the days following. Approach these workouts with an idea of progressing each effort so that you run faster and faster with each repetition vs. trying to go out hard and just ‘hang on.’