Here are three quick tips that I think can help a lot of middle school and high school runners have more enjoyment and success in cross country and track.
1. Pacing: As soon as the gone goes off, everyone wants to get to the front of the race. In the latter stages of the race, it turns into a competition of who can hang on the longest or fade the least. There are some races that call for quick starts, and yes, under some circumstances, you don’t want to get left behind. However, a basic understanding of pacing can make running so much more fun. Think of your best race. Most of the time, these races have strong finishes, you get on a roll, start passing people, and then it just comes naturally, you speed up and speed up—the positive momentum creates a great race. This happens when you have good timing in a race, when you don’t go out too hard, and when you pick a point to really put the hammer down. Talking with middle school and high school athletes about pacing and teaching them race tactics is an easy way to help kids enjoy the process of running races and reach their ability in race performance. This doesn’t occur naturally for all kids: The only reason I learned to pace was because I was taught the importance of pacing and I practiced pacing outside of races. My nickname at youth track races was pac-man: I would slowly eat up the girls in front of me on the track. This made racing so much fun! I had targets ahead of me, and I maintained a steady pace around the track for the duration of my race.
2. Embracing and positively re-framing the pain of running: Running is hard. A lot of things worth doing in life are hard. This is difficult to get across to young athletes and the thought of being uncomfortable or having to get on the pain train during a race is enough to make the number of people on a cross country team dwindle. However, working with athletes from Day 1 on positively re-framing the pain of running makes racing much less scary. From talking with athletes, it isn’t even the pain itself that they don’t like. More often than not, it is the uncertainty and the anticipation of the pain that they might experience that scares them before races. Talking about how nerves are good and show that you care, and giving encouragement can help get a lot of younger athletes over these fears. It is normal to feel this way and discussing this with young runners can help them feel more at ease.
3. Training to prepare for races: This is a big one. Racing isn’t fun when you aren’t prepared. The training has to prepare the athletes for the races. I say this statement a lot and I will share it again. Getting better at running isn’t rocket science. This is especially true for children. Nevertheless, you have to run to get better at running. I am a strong believer in low-mileage for children, but this doesn’t mean no mileage. To race and enjoy a 5k at a cross-country meet in high school, you need to have some running under your belt. Seeking out a coach who is knowledgeable about training can make the experience so much more enjoyable because it can help lead to improvement and personal success.
I love helping younger athletes fall in love with running. Let me know if /how I can help you!