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Learning From The Young

I was poking around online the other day, just one of those random acts of surfing that begin so innocently and end up becoming a two-hour abuse of time, when I came upon a Runner’s World forum on the pros and cons of ice baths. I’m a big fan of them, and make my runners take one after every hard workout.

I understand the basics of why they’re effective, (reducing inflammation, speeding recovery, etc.) but my preference for them is more gut-level. They work. I’ve seen so many athletes finish a workout beaten down and sore, then bounce right back for more hard work the following day – with no ill effects. During our pre-season training camp, the entire team finishes each run with a 10-minute immersion (over the hips) in a mountain stream. In fact, pretty much every high school or collegiate cross-country team does the same thing. It’s de rigueur in high school distance running to make the ice bath a training constant. 

Actually, I thought everyone felt this way. So I was a little taken aback to see some readers mocking ice baths. Readers would write about their many years of running, announce that they’ve never taken an ice bath, and then deride them as a placebo or something of the sort. 

Which is dumb, you know? 

This got me thinking about how young runners are like a sponge when it comes to absorbing information on nutrition, stretching, and recovery. Veteran athletes tend to fall into this or that particular program. They know what works for them, and they don’t want to deviate. In fact, there’s a whole lot we can all learn from young runners about how to enjoy endurance sports. So let me pass along some things I have learned since becoming a high school cross country coach. 

1) Stretching isn’t just about stretching: It’s the transition from the workday into the workout, and then the transition back to real life. The pre-run stretch is just a general loosening of the muscles and mind, focusing us on the task before us the way songs of worship focus a church service. The post-run stretch is a time of reflection and self-congratulation on a job well done. It’s a time to be enjoyed, not endured. 

2) Hard days are a good thing: The world is full of long, slow distance. This creates long, slow runners. There’s no harm in picking up the pace and letting fly. 

3) Easy days should be easy: Young runners listen to their bodies, and tend to have a less achievement-oriented approach to running. When it comes time for an easy day, they head off for chatty adventure runs and embrace the prospect of recovering rather than just scolding themselves for feeling weak and tired. 

4) Distance runners need to run distance: There’s a myth out there that a championship runner, or an individual hoping for a PR, can get by on 20 or 30 miles a week. And it’s just that: a myth. Runners need to run. 

5) Run tall: Shoulders back, hips forward, head up, arms moving straight back and forth. Imagine there’s a string on the top of your head, pulling your body slightly upward. You’ll run faster. 

6) Run tempo: A long steady-state run at just below anaerobic threshold pace will make you feel more alive and more in tune with your running potential than just slogging through any old distance run. 

7) Run sprints: On the track, flat-out, 300-200-100. Enjoy your recovery. No matter how fit you are, a sprint session will make you faster – and leave you sore for a couple days. Those muscles don’t come into play quite the same during a casual five miler. 

8) Cool down: This seems to be the most optional part of a workout for most runners, but that extra 15-20 minutes of post-race running is vital. 

9) Eat up: A good meal within 30-40 minutes of a workout will spare you that awful blood pressure low that leads to fatigue and irritability. Enjoy.

10) Gossip: Seems like a strange addition, but shooting the bull is the surest way for a group of runners to bond. Sometimes we get so caught up in our personal goals that we don’t take time to just head out with some buddies and pass a few miles in pleasant conversation. 

11) Ice baths..! 

Martin Dugard is a high school cross country coach and the award-winning author of Chasing Lance. Catch his weekly column “Monday’s With Marty” HERE.