Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's January. What do I do now?

So, here we are nearing the end of January already. What is going on for cross-country runners right now? Chances are, you are getting ready to start your track seasons. Are you running track? Should you? What event(s) should you run? How is track different from cross-country?

Lots of questions, of course. Here are my answers to these questions. If you think of other questions (or other answers!), add them in the comments, and I'll give you my two cents.

What are cross-country runners doing right now?
As I noted above, most are probably getting ready for track season. Track is a natural companion to cross-country because, well, it involves running. Different kinds of running, but running nonetheless. Since "track season" doesn't really start for at least a couple more weeks, most athletes are in a pre-season regimen of some kind. For our team, we are just running miles, with an occasional easy-ish tempo run or a few 50-meter strides thrown in. We also went to an "all-comers" meet just for fun (I even ran in it!).

Should you run track?
 Absolutely! Why? For a couple of reasons. First of all, you should continue running throughout the year. There are times when you should take a break from running, but you don't need to make that break more than a couple of weeks. You are developing as an athlete, and running track will allow you to continue to develop without going backwards in that development. Second, track will give you some experience with different kinds of running that will keep you interested in the sport, as well as develop your ability to run fast. Finally, it's fun! I actually developed my love for running from running track. Even though I was one of the slowest runners in the entire county, running in a track meet made me feel like I was competing in the Olympics. There was something about the formality of the starts of the various races that just seemed really cool to me. I also found that I loved the competition itself, as well as the systematic-ness of dividing up races into easily dividable pieces, like laps or half-laps (did that make sense?).

What event(s) should you run?
Most cross-country runners will run the 1500/1600 meters and/or the 3000/3200 meters, and some will also do the 800. I encourage runners to try other events, too, just to see if they like them. The 400 is a good one to try because it can give you some perspective on your own pacing for the longer races. Depending on how big the meets are and what the order of events is, you should try to run in two events during each meet, maybe even three. This introduces you to a new skill, which involves cooling down from one event, then warming up for another one, which you did not have to do during cross-country season. It's a challenge to figure out how to make that work.

How is track different than cross-country?
First and foremost, the distances are shorter, which means that you will be running faster. In the case of the 800, especially, it will be a lot faster. This creates a new challenge because the faster you are running, the more you might be risking injury, especially if you have not trained enough.

Another major difference is that every course is the same, pretty much. There are some differences in surface (one track may be softer or harder than another) and, of course, weather, but 1600m on one track is the exact same distance as on another track and - some people will love this - there are no hills!

Training is different for track, too, primarily because of the shorter and homogeneous races. There is a lot of precise pacing involved, which you will learn during practices.

Like I noted above, if you have other questions about track, post them in the comments, and I will answer them!

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