Coaching Today

The Year-Round High School Distance Runner

 

By Jeff Arbogast 

"The Four Macrocycles of Training" 

The Year-round High School Distance Runner_ImageThe heart of any successful high school distance program lies not in one singular training philosophy, but in an overall plan that allows sound year-to-year buildup in conditioning that culminates in an end-goal of performance. Any coach of reasonable dedication and experience is able to produce workouts that should help in the development of the distance runner, but quite often, the overall plan is missing as coaches try the "workout-of-the-week" approach, or whatever might be in this month's issue of Runner's World magazine. In high school age athletes, it may be argued that any workout of intensity will condition to some degree, but no program will take a high school student-athlete to maximum capabilities unless it is grounded in long-range planning. The "year plan" at Bingham is derived from USATF Level II instruction in Multi-Events, focusing on 4 major macrocycles of training that each build upon one another, culminating in an athlete who has built the foundation for future development.

At Bingham High School, we have operated under a series of base rules that have held true and governed the type and direction of our distance training. These rules are:

  1. Of all training concepts, that with the most value is the development of speed.
  2. Second to the development of speed is speed endurance.
  3. Speed and speed endurance potential is directly proportional to summer strength base.
  4. Future (collegiate) potential is determined by speed, not mileage.
  5. Intensity is reduced every fourth week to allow for a recovery phase in training.

Potential for speed development is always determined by the level of preparation the athlete has achieved prior to the onset of speed work. As each of our athletes are gifted with varying amounts of terminal speed (via recruitment of muscle groups and fast v. slow twitch fiber), the best way to develop speed in every distance runner is through strength, followed by speed endurance, followed by specific short-distance speedwork. This approach does not end with the conclusion of an outdoor track season, but instead carries through to the summer strength building of the next year.

No one can argue that African runners have recently set new standards in distance running performance, particularly since the 1984 Olympic Games. From the 800m to the marathon, runners from Kenya, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Algeria have dominated the events such as no other time in history. The reasons for this dominance are complex, but one overriding factor is unquestionably the African view towards long-range development. American distance runners are continually referring to the "pyramid" of peaking, where extensive distance base gives way to specific speed development that in turn ends when one "year-plan" is finished. African training theory indicates that the "pyramid" points the athlete toward a narrow and confining area of performance, whereas the "building" model they use allows for a broader and deeper base of strength.

The "building" model of training views summer strength as an attempt to 'anchor' training, as a building would start with a basement, concrete reinforcement, and deep stability. Africans believe each successive macrocycle, albeit each successive year plan will build upon the previous, just as floors will be added to a building. The building continually reaches higher and higher, with a broad and expansive "peak" area, made so by the strength of the base and 'anchoring' in training through time and effort.

American training models of the "pyramid" do not 'anchor' the training at all, but allow for an athlete to build for only one season and a short peaking time of performance. Quite honestly, how many times have we heard coaching discussion centered on the thought that "he (or she) peaked them too early", or "they didn't peak at the right time"? In an African model, the "peak" does exist, depending upon the structuring of macrocycles in the individual athlete's profile, but the peak is a season, not a race.

Summer strength training is the basement, the reinforcement, and the solidity of the next three macrocycles. Dedicated efforts to establish a sound strength base will allow the "building" to get to new heights each year without tearing it down, moving it, and establishing a new base, repeating all of the old training goals.

After the summer has been completed, the coach develops speed endurance with longer intervals in a traditional cross country setting, then refines the speed and race savvy of the athlete during indoor and outdoor track. The critical difference is in structuring the workout and the mindset of the athlete to understand that legspeed developed during the end of one year-plan is of great benefit to the next year-plan's summer strength base! The threshold runs of the next successive season's strength training will be correspondingly higher if care is taken to structure workouts so that the athlete uses a certain amount of legspeed during several higher-speed base runs during the weeks of summer.

Ancillary training, such as plyometrics, weightlifting, and/or cross training can normally be used at any time the coach feels the desired training result supplements the goals he or she is after. Any supplemental training should be placed in the weekly schedule, or microcycle, where it does not interfere with the "hard-easy" progression of training runs.

Macrocycle 1 – "Summer Strength Training"  

The Bingham "Summer Strength Training" Macrocycle follows the African model, popularized here in the United States by Coach Chick Hislop of Weber State after his experiences with the African coaches at Atlanta in 1996. Our goals as a team are to complete as many miles as is possible with care to avoid injury, and to structure workouts within this framework that will continue to utilize the legspeed developed over the last year. Our miles are adjustable for experience as well as gender, and stem from a base of 750 miles per summer (about 55-60 per week depending upon the duration of the summer) for male varsity athletes (please see "2001 Bingham High Cross Country Summer Training" for specifics).

Our program relies heavily on the use of "mileage cards" to monitor performance. At the end of the fourth macrocycle (outdoor track) a meeting is held for all prospective cross country athletes of the following year. The athletes commit to filling out mileage cards over the summer and are put on a summer training list as well as given a Summer Training packet. The athletes then bring $6.00 to our main office and obtain a receipt, with the money being paid to offset postage costs for the 12-14 mileage cards as well as 10-12 newsletters that each athlete receives. The athletes are also given a schedule which outlines our intensive runs, usually done together as a team. Athletes now have the option of recording mileage on the internet as well.

Summer training should always follow the "hard-easy" training patterns. Injury prevention during mileage buildup keys upon this concept. Structure three days per week in which an "up-tempo" run will be completed, and three days when miles are recovery-based. One day is usually reserved for rest or "active-rest” . . . swimming, biking, or full-contact room-cleaning!

Coaches should always bear in mind that one of the, if not the most important aspect of improvement is to have an athlete run with his or her teammates, particularly on more challenging runs. The camaraderie that develops and the pull of the team keep runs that are supposed to be intensive from becoming lackadaisical. For that reason, Bingham structures Monday-Wednesday-Friday runs as "team" runs. Monday and Wednesday runs are either all boys or all girls, while Fridays are altitude and resistance runs done as an entire team. These days are intensive days, with hard fartleks, altitude, resistance, and/or power runs done at a site of the athlete's choosing. Friday's "Alta" run is a challenging alpine road, 10K in length, with 3 miles of gradual up followed by 3 miles of gentle downhill, timed and charted each week.  Athletes will try to set seasonal or career PRs on the course, and each athlete works together to keep the 'spread' close. Tuesday and Thursday runs are easy and may or may not be with teammates. Saturdays are reserved for occasional summer races or for longer runs.

Each week the athlete mails in a mileage card designated for that week (Or reports on the website) to the coach who compiles the miles and includes them as part of a weekly newsletter that returns to each athlete's home. The news is always pertinent, and the athletes pay close attention to the mileage totals of those athletes desiring to run varsity for the next year.

Most athletes work better with short-term as well as long-term goals. Our short term mileage goal for the summer is the altitude camp, designated HARC (High Altitude Running Camp), always conducted the first Monday after the Deseret News Marathon & 10K in late July. Any athlete who is on track for hitting mileage goals for the summer is issued an invitation to the camp that is run just for our athletes by our coaches and graduates. If miles are suspect or lacking, the athlete is not allowed to attend, which is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the summer. Once the camp is done, the remainder of the summer's miles determines invitations to the Oregon Trail Invitational, a pre-season meeting of nationally-ranked teams in Vale, Oregon, and another fun trip. Again, not enough miles will mean no invitation is issued to that runner. Varsity runners help inspire each other, and JV runners are lured by the prospect of an enjoyable trip and experience.

Coaches chart improvement at weekly Alta runs, miles are totaled, and the M-W-F runs are done under the eye of coaches who help maintain intensity. The legspeed work accomplished in the preceding macrocycle of outdoor track is put to the test during these runs, and athletes who have developed a new "comfort zone" of intensity during outdoor track now find it much easier to hold a challenging pace during intensive summer runs.  Our athletes use this time to accomplish a circuit-type weight training workout three times per week as well as daily push-ups and sit-ups throughout the summer.

The Summer Strength Training Macrocycle ends as school begins and the competitive cross country season starts.

Macrocycle #2 – "Cross Country" 

The critical aspect of the second macrocycle of Bingham training is to move from the stresses of longer mileage to the adaptation of the athlete into the speed-endurance phase of training. Mileage that peaked at summer highs of 55-65 miles for boys and 45-55 miles for girls is cut down in order to allow intensity to be developed with longer intervals both on the track and on varied terrain.

Speed endurance work stems from the philosophy at Bingham that the standard 3 mile or 5k cross country race is a series of 800 meter intervals, strung together with no rest. Our speed endurance work is designed to produce both self-confidence and physical competence to handle the rigors of a 3 mile race. Our traditional speed endurance workout, completed once per week, consists of 5-6 800 meter repeats with a 1.5 rest interval. Our goals during this standardized weekly workout (charted and recorded) are to first, show speed progression to the athlete as he or she is able to handle greater individual rep and rep average pacing, and also to build confidence that the athlete can handle pacing much faster than that required to run a 5k competitively at our level. Varsity boys are encouraged to run together between 2:12-2:20, and girls are challenged to keep between 2:38 and 2:50.

Physiologically, the transition from strength work to speed endurance is a natural step. It is now possible to see the beginning of the interrelations between the macrocycles as the speed from the preceding track season has carried over into the summer strength phase and the power of the summer strength phase now carries over into ability to complete the speed endurance intervals at high quality. Psychologically, the athlete is aware that competitive times at the State Meet require sustained effort of around 2:40 / 800 for boys and 3:15 / 800 for girls. After development of the speed endurance phase of training, the runner feels that those paces are particularly easy to maintain, both from a physiological as well as psychological standpoint.

Additional workouts, still continuing with the "hard-easy" philosophy of training would include "stepdown" runs of decreasing pace per mile carried over 3-5 miles, dropping pace per mile by 15 seconds per mile each 800 meters starting at 7:00-7:15 for boys and 8:00-8:15 for girls, hill repetitions of 600-1000 meters with an emphasis on completing the downhill cycle at competitive speed, and fartlek runs completed as a group with constant pacing and terrain changes. Due to competitive responsibilities during this macrocycle, the workouts must be designed around or through the competitive needs of the team. Traditionally, a team may have one league meet per week and possibly one meet of higher importance on a weekend. The coach must evaluate each week individually and determine how the workouts may be scheduled while staying within the "hard-easy" routine. Many coaches feel that multiple meets per week eliminate any possibility of hard training on the alternate days. This must be considered carefully and each week examined throughout the season in order to allow for the maximum amount of quality workouts along with the requisite rest periods in between.

This example of a non-competitive week would allow 3 hard workouts with appropriate rest in between speed endurance sessions:

Monday 

AM
PM

Easy circuit lifting.
Speed endurance trackwork (5-6 x 800 w/ 1.5 rest), and 2m cooldown.

Tuesday 

AM
PM

Easy 2.5-3m at conversational pace.
Medium 4-5m with light resistance. 

Wednesday 

AM
PM

Easy circuit lifting.
4 x 600-1000m hill repetitions with a 1. Rest, and 2m. cooldown. 

Thursday 

AM
PM

Easy 2.5-3m at conversational pace.
Medium 3m. 

Friday 

AM
PM

Easy circuit lifting.
4-5m hard fartlek (groups of 6-8 of similar ability rotating leader). 

Saturday 

AM/PM 

Team building activity and 5-7 mile steady state run at medium pace.

Sunday  

AM/PM Rest.

In this system, the easy morning runs function as "lactic-acid depletion" runs, following the hard days. Workouts are structured "hard-easy" both from day-to-day as well as workout-to-workout within each day. The end of the week offers two days of reasonably heavy mileage and workload, but is followed by a day of total rest which also precedes the first intensive day of the next week, whether that be a meet or start of another intensive week.

The schedule is adapted to include a meet in which the athlete must compete at a maximum level:

 

Monday   

AM
PM

Easy circuit lifting.
League Meet.

Tuesday  

AM
PM

Easy 2.5-3m.
Medium 4-5m with light resistance.  

Wednesday  

AM
PM    

Easy circuit lifting.
Speed endurance trackwork (4-5 x 800m w/ 1.5 interval rest), and 2m. cooldown.  

Depending upon the day of the meet, the schedule is adjusted to include the race day as a hard day. It is possible that the coach include some speed endurance work on the day of a meet, at the meet site but after the meet is concluded, if, in the opinion of the coach, the athletes have not achieved the desired level of intensity in the racing.

This speed endurance work naturally blends the strength base of the summer with a gradual physical progression from longer to ultimately shorter speedwork later in the macrocycles. As the season draws closer to a conclusion, it is advisable to bring a second workout into the weekly mix that allows for increased speed over a shorter interval. Distances of 200-300-400-500 meters allow the athlete to develop a feel for the changing of gears necessary in race conditions, and the intensive weeks of speed endurance work allows him or her to feel comfortable with the anaerobic pace.

Macrocycle 3 – "Indoor Track"  

Utah is among the relatively few states that have no indoor track season sanctioned by the State Federation. Our schools use this season, from late December through the beginning of March, in a variety of ways, all depending upon the motivation of the coach and school. Colleges in the area host a variety of low-key indoor track meets on 200m indoor facilities on Saturdays starting in January, culminating in the Simplot Games in late February. Most schools in Utah organize an indoor track program around a County recreation or City Parks sanctioning for liability purposes.

The uniqueness of Utah's lack of an indoor season allows Bingham to continue making a transition to the intensive speed of outdoor by gradually introducing the athlete to shorter speedwork. Corollary benefits of tactics, racing etiquette, dealing with a tight pack, and pacing are also critical at this time. Weather conditions require that almost all workouts be completed indoors, and we are fortunate to have a main hallway system that is roughly rectangular and approximately 240 meters in length. All workouts are completed in the early morning to avoid hallway congestion.

Indoor track meet structuring in Utah is always completed on Saturday. So it is possible for a team to complete two full hard sessions per week, even though workouts are only being completed (as a team) once a day. However, weather conditions throughout the intermountain region seriously affect what type of workout can be completed during this macrocycle. For that reason we feel that indoor track should be a combination of shorter and intensive speedwork, specifically designed to improve efficiency at higher track speeds, and longer intervals run at sub-maximal speed to continue the conditioning level of speed endurance achieved in cross country.

The overall year-plan at Bingham calls for this macrocycle to be the easiest of the four, in keeping with the resting philosophy of three hard weeks followed by one of reduced intensity, and three hard macrocycles followed by one of reduced intensity. Although a case can be made to continue training at a high level, the reduction of injury and mental freshness possible through the reduction of training intensity during indoor allows us to approach the new year with renewed interest for all athletes. Immediately upon the completion of the Simplot Games, the onset of the outdoor track season means 9 months of intensive work for each athlete, so the slight reduction in stress and training load during indoor is a welcome break that also reduces potential for injury. This philosophy is also followed by the African training model, with one season (albeit an international racing season) out of the year usually taken at a reduced training rate.

The objectives for the Indoor Track Macrocycle are to continue a trend away from longer intervals and give the athlete a view to what the requirements of legspeed will be, while maintaining a trend toward shorter and more intensive interval work. The constraints of our facility necessitate this approach. During this cycle, we are able to fit in two intensive intervals bouts, one of primarily short sprinting type work and one of speed endurance maintenance. We structure our workouts (again, in the "hard-easy" mode):

Monday  

AM

Speed endurance trackwork (4-5 x 720 w/ 1.5 rest), and 2m cooldown.

Tuesday  

AM

Light circuit lifting.  

Wednesday  

AM

Short speed (3 x 240, 2 x 480, 3 x 240), and 2m cooldown.  

Thursday   

AM

Light circuit lifting.  

Friday  

AM

Easy 3 in the halls. 

Saturday  

AM

Indoor Track Meet.

Sunday  

AM   Rest.

Our athletes will accomplish what easy distance they can in the afternoons, although during this macrocycle it is undisciplined. In general, our 1600/3200m athletes want to accomplish this to a higher degree, and normally get 15-20 additional miles after school. 800/1600 athletes generally do slightly less.

At the end of this 12 week macrocycle, the athlete is fresher, more aware of the demands of legspeed, able to handle competitive pressures in track, and hungrier to compete.

Macrocycle 4 – "Outdoor Track" 

The Bingham "Outdoor Track" macrocycle carries with it a twofold purpose. First, our athletes need to be in the best position possible physically and emotionally to handle the rigors of track racing, and secondly, our athletes must carry with them an overall conditioning base (the "building" and its foundation) and legspeed to continue the improvement over the next macrocycle, the summer strength base.

Of all the macrocycles throughout the year, this is the most specialized, individualized, and speed intensive. Most high school programs require racing in a dual-meet or league environment at least once a week, and many have additional invitational competition on weekends. The potential for over-racing and over-training is enormous and requires judicious planning to allow the athlete to improve without falling victim to staleness, injury, or fatigue.

Bingham personalizes outdoor track workouts to whatever extent possible, depending upon the level of the athlete and the event he or she is competing in. Specifically, we use a 800/1600 and 1600/3200 split, with each squad accomplishing slightly different workouts depending upon the emphasis. The philosophy remains the same for both groups, but the speedwork differs slightly. Also, Bingham places those athletes in the 400 with an individualized coach and program, with an occasional athlete in this group dabbling in the 800 as well. More than at any other time of the season, athletes in outdoor track may "train through" local competitions in preparation for more intensive racing, particularly on weekends. The emphasis in this macrocycle is improving legspeed for all athletes in the distance program, and improving PRs in order to mentally prepare for the summer strength building to come.

Typical weekly work with a meet on Tuesday and a meet on Saturday requires a coach to decide who will run at what competition and how intensively. It is normal to not challenge the athlete to perform an all-out race in a league or dual meet but to instead allow experimentation with pacing, strategy, and tactics. A top performance (qualifying meet) once per week is usually the maximum.

A weekly plan using "hard-easy" training but allowing for a top performance on a Saturday would look like:

Monday  

AM
PM

Easy 2.5-3m.
Modified speed endurance (Pyramid of 500-600-700-800-700-600-500 w/ 1.5 rest), then 2 x 200 all out. 2m cooldown.

Tuesday  

AM
PM

Light circuit lifting and 2m easy.

League Meet. Light racing (1 event) and 2m cooldown.  

Wednesday  

AM
PM

Easy 2.5-3m.

Team Day. Light 3-4 on a travel run. Aerobic distance games.  

Thursday  

AM
PM

Light circuit lifting and 2m easy.

Speedwork. Acceleration 200's and 300's (4 x 200 and 4 x 300 w/ 1.5 rest) then 2 x 200 all out). 2m cooldown.  

Friday  

AM
PM

Easy 2.5-3m.

Light fartlek 3-4m ending the run with easy cooldown.  

Saturday  

AM/PM

Invitational Meet. Qualifying event.

Sunday  

AM/PM   Rest.

Notice how the "hard-easy" training is adapted to accommodate the two races in one week. Light lifting is now combined with an easy run of short duration to dump lactic acid still remaining from the night before. Intensive interval sessions are placed 72 hours apart due to the racing necessary on Tuesday, but the schedule still allows for 48 hours of non-intensive running and recovery prior to the primary race on Saturday. One longer session and one shorter session of intervals continues the development of legspeed but allows the athlete to maintain speed endurance for track races.

The African model in track and field differs from the American model in one training critical manner. African training demands the athlete run fast when tired! More than any other difference, this accounts for the ability of Africans to surge and kick at the conclusion of a race. Regardless of what the specifics of a speed workout include, the end of a workout should always include several intensive, all out 150-250 meter sprints wherein the athlete pushes hard to run at high speed on the toes. More than any other training concept, this single idea will make the biggest improvement in each athlete's racing skills and conditioning as they learn to push mentally as well as physically. Coaches should pay particular attention to form breakdown and maintaining relaxation at a all-out pace. Regardless of the level of work that has come before, varsity high school athletes should attempt to perform each of the final 200s in 24-27 for boys, and 32-36 for girls.

Advantages 

Consistency is measured not only from week-to-week, but also from macrocycle-to-macrocycle, and ultimately from year-to-year. Our society demands instant gratification and immediate reward, both philosophies are diametrically opposed to long-term high-quality development of the high-school distance runner. As coaches, we owe it to our athletes to prepare them if possible for the continuation of a career as this is one of few life-long athletic endeavors they can continue to pursue after high school. If an athlete can develop intensively but gradually through a macrocycle system as part of a year-plan, he or she can achieve much greater levels of performance. Do not confuse gradual improvement with a lack of intensity . . . for athletes in American high schools must run more intensively than ever before if we hope to continue to improve on a world level.

Specifically, advantages of the macrocycle system include:

  1. Injury prevention. Athletes work with a long-term plan and are not required to improve dramatically for a short period of time, increasing the likelihood of injury.
  2. Stress accommodation. The athlete learns to deal with competition and training stresses and does not re-learn old information each new year.
  3. Event-specific training. Although the overall plan builds from season to season, each macrocycle is event-specific in its design.
  4. Athlete confidence. Athletes, parents, and the community see the long-term program and the care taken to develop the athlete.
  5. Improved performance. Each macrocycle builds upon the one before, continually advancing the conditioning, legspeed, lactic acid threshold, and mental strength of the athlete.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Arbogast has been the boys and girls cross country coach at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah, for the past 31 years and the boys and girls track teams for 29 years. He has led his teams to 10 state championships and annually has one of the nation’s top cross country programs. He has served on the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee since 2003 and currently serves as chair.

 

 

 

 

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