Break-through race to open the cross country season
Saturday, September 15 was a perfect fall day for the 24th annual Wilton Cross Country Invitational. Azure blue skies, temperatures in the low 70’s, a slight breeze, and hundreds of high school and middle school cross country runners warming up, racing, or just milling about on Allen’s Meadow in Wilton, Connecticut.
My son and I watched a couple of the high school races, cheering on some familiar runners and teams as they threaded through the cross country course and raced towards the finish line. But we were not mere spectators. We came to race. My son was excited to participate in his second Wilton Cross Country Invitational along with 170 middle school boys and girls (grades 5-8).
Last year, as a 5th grader (age 9), he had placed 42nd among 80 middle school boys in 10:56 on the 1.5 mile high school freshman course. This year, faster, stronger and more experienced, he hoped to place in the top 20 and run around 9:45 (6:30 mile pace). There was additional motivation this year: my son had the opportunity to represent the New Canaan Running Club, sponsored by New Balance New Canaan. He was proud to wear the red, white and black colors and run with many of his middle school friends.
As the runners lined up for the start, my son knew he had to go out fast and there was not a lot of time to move up in the field because the course was short, flat and fast, consisting of grass fields and dirt trails, with a few turns that slowed the packs of runners. He passed the mile point in 6:20 and was in the top 25, closing the gap on runners ahead of him, but knowing he had to make up ground in the last 1/2 mile to achieve a top 20 finish. Unbelievably, he made up 7 places in the last 1/2 mile to move up to 18th (he finished about 5 seconds out of 15th place) of about 100 boys and scored a 9:36 PR (6:24 mile pace). And he won silver among 6th graders and placed first for the New Canaan Running Club!
During the cool-down, we jogged part of the high school varsity course and reflected on his race. My son was on top of the world and (rightly) proud of what he had accomplished since last year’s Wilton Cross Country Invitational. To put things in perspective, middle school (and high school) running is increasingly competitive (his 9:36 time would have been good enough for 3rd place in 2006) and to improve from 42nd to 18th and score an 80 second PR in a 1.5 mile cross country race in one year without increasing the number of weekly workouts or the weekly mileage is thrilling! If my son had run in the high school freshman race on the same day, he would have placed around 50th of about 150 runners (top 1/3).
Sound preparation is important to achieve goal
I thought it may be insightful to share some of the things that we believe are behind my son’s progress and result. I have discussed the importance of setting goals, designing a plan to achieve the goals, and monitoring progress and making adjustments (here, here, here, and here). Here are a few activities that we planned and executed to help achieve his goal.
- My son and I previewed the Wilton Cross Country course on Thursday evening for the Saturday race (we ran the course 2x times at medium pace, and finished with 4×100 strides)
- We focused on race strategy and tactics during Thursday’s preview, as well as during Saturday’s race warm-up (visualized the race)
- From June to August, we participated in the Waveny Cross Country summer race series in New Canaan to create a similar race experience (length, terrain, pace, tactics)
- This year, we adjusted the weekly training to include more 400/800/1200 intervals at mile goal pace (sub-6 min mile) with full recovery (1:3 break) to improve strength, speed and form (again, no increase in number of workouts or weekly mileage)
For my son, the break-through race is important validation that his commitment and hard work over the summer paid off. And it builds confidence as we head into the state championship and Junior Olympics.