New to the Sport..

by Robert
(Charlotte N.C.)

Good evening Coach,

While looking for spikes for my 12 year old I came across your website. Don't ask me how,but glad I did. My 12 year old son recently began running xc for his middle school team.

We went to practice 2 or 3 times then time trials, only to be use as a bench Mark for the runner. He ran a 10:20 mile and a 1/2...a few more work outs then try outs for the team... He ran a 9.45 mile and a half in try outs. Again, both of these on a track.

I don't run, if I cant catch you in the first 40 yards then keep what ever you stole from me, so I was impressed. Anyway the team had the first meet and he ran a 14:19 2 mile coming in 54th out of 220 kids...then we had a 3k today and he ran a 12.44 finishing in the top 25.

I guess my question is do kids his age usually have that big of fluctuations in their times? If it is mental preparation then how do I help him with that? He has asked me for spikes. Do they help that much? Also the coach has told them to sprint to the trail head then set pace, not to get caught up in the pack. Is this correct in a 3k? He had nothing left to sprint at the end. I read your post on how to run hills and I will pass it along to him, I watched him sprint the hills today in his race.

Thanks for answers in advance
new to the sport

Thanks Robert for all the questions. I will go through them one by one.

1. Yes, it is quite normal to have large fluctuations in time at a younger age. It's hard to get used to the feeling of fatigue you get during a race. Sometimes young runners work through it because they are excited about how they are running. Other times, they get discouraged and slow down their pace which leaves them with a much slower time. The times will get more consistent with added experience.

2. Mental preparation helps, but you need more experience as a runner. If you want to work on mental preparation, tell him to focus on how he feels during practice. When he is tired and not feeling well, tell him to focus on keeping his running form smooth, and holding onto the runner in front of him. Don't focus on the pain. Try to find something else to focus on so you keep going at a steady rate.

3. Running spikes do help because they are lighter, and they provide more traction. They don't make a huge difference in the amount of time he could improve, but it does help with a runner to get into the right "racing mindframe." I would always tell my runners, "You have racing spikes on, so that means it's time to race!"

4. Finally, don't sprint at the start to get ahead of everyone. That only makes you a sitting duck for the end of the race so everyone can pass you back. You can start the race relatively fast, but NEVER SPRINT AT THE START. Did you watch the Olympics? Did any of the distance runners sprint the first two laps? NO! That's because it's a terrible strategy. Tell him to go out so he is in the middle of the pack, and then when everyone else is tired from the sprinting, he will be able to pass them later in the race. I've never seen trails that were so tight that you couldn't find places in the race to pass up people. Here's a simple quote for you to share with your son, or even the coach. "They hand out the awards at the finish line, not at the first turn."

I hope these tips help. If the coach questions the validity of my strategy, just tell him I coached at Arrowhead High School in Wisconsin. The girls and boys teams just won the State Championship last year, without sprinting at the start of the race, and that wasn't the first time AHS has won state. I've lost track of how many championships Arrowhead has won.

Happy Trails - Coach Tief

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