Our goals for the 2013 cross country season were simple: have fun, stay healthy, continue developing and improving as a distance runner, and start the transition from private coaching to team coaching.
This fall – entering 7th grade – my son joined the New Canaan Running Club (NCRC) cross country program under a new and experienced coach, who also recently assumed coaching responsibilities for the New Canaan boys high school cross country and track & field teams. Having coached my son since age 5, I realized an exciting opportunity for him to work with the same coach for the next 6 years (middle and high school), and learn from someone who was a multiple-All American and former Olympian and has successfully coached at the high school and college levels.
To make the transition successful, we had to address a few challenges:
- Training volume and quality: Before joining NCRC, my son was running 30 miles per week on 5 days with 1-2 quality workouts, and because NCRC was accommodating a less experienced “typical” runner, we had to supplement his training outside of NCRC.
- Meet schedule: We had to manage the long competition season with more than 10 meets, which affects long-term development goals and could impact performance during the late-season championship meets. My son competed in fewer meets and peaked for the championship meets.
- Two-sport athlete: My son’s primary sports include running and Taekwondo, and he’s working towards his Taekwondo 3rd degree black belt before he enters high school. Balancing the 2 sports required a few scheduling adjustments, including avoiding sparring sessions the night before a big meet and/or missing a dual-meet if there was a Taekwondo test.
We worked around the challenges and consequently were able to realize many benefits:
- Race tactics: The coach was able to help my son position himself upfront in the first 400 meters of a large cross country race with a few modifications to his start, and either hold that position for the remainder of the race or move up a few places. This was a significant improvement compared to the beginning of the cross country season, when he would generally start in the back and expend valuable energy and time moving up during the race.
- Running form: Both the coach and I noticed that my son’s running form had changed, and he made suggestions to correct aspects of his running form using simple exercises at home. We have incorporated these exercises as part of our post-workout stretching routine.
- Leadership and team work: Being goal-oriented and an eager learner, my son enjoys having conversations with the coach before and after practice and meets, many of which are focused on what is required to be a leader and good team mate. He is able to apply what he learns, and has recruited friends to the team and taken them under his wing. He enjoys sharing his experiences with team mates both to motivate and to teach.
- Mental strength: “Trust in your training” was advice from the coach before my son’s Junior Olympic Regional meet at Bowdoin State Park in New York. This has become a mantra before meets. He has focused on several aspects of my son’s mental strength, which has helped him become a better runner.
It was an ominous beginning to my son’s 2013 XC season as he developed a head and chest congestion before his 1st XC meet of the season, the Wilton XC Invitational on September 28, 2013. He was determined to race to support his NCRC team even though he knew he would not be near his best. We evaluated that morning during warm-up and let him run, and as expected he was disappointed with his result. Fortunately that was the low-point and being the competitor that he is, it made him more determined to work his way back and run to his potential.
Putting the Wilton Invitational behind him, he showed continuous improvement throughout the XC season:
- Brewster Invitational, Brewster, New York (October 5): Ran 9:56 for 2.5K rolling course around Brewster High School, and placed 5th overall (6:24 mile pace). Nice improvement over Wilton Invitational.
- Wickham Invitational, Wickham Park, Manchester, Connecticut (October 12): Ran 11:30 for challenging 3K course, and placed 53rd of 252 runners (6:11 mile pace). Third race in 3 weeks. Healthy again.
- Home Meet, Waveny Park, New Canaan, Connecticut (October 16): Ran 8:38 for 1.5 mile home course and placed 2nd overall in dual meet with NCRC, Wilton Running Club, and New Fairfield Flash (5:45 mile pace). Tactically smart race, ran back of lead pack for 1st lap, moved to front on 2nd lap to challenge for lead.
- Western Connecticut Conference Championship, Ridgefield, Connecticut: Ran 12:44 for 3K course around Ridgefield High School, and placed 35th of 116 runners in Boys “A” race (6:50 mile pace). Poor race overall with slow start on open field before course narrowed to single trail, and being too far back in the large pack to move up on narrow trails around school. Coach focused with my son on starts in large invitational meets.
- State Championships, Wickham Park, Manchester, Connecticut (November 2): Ran 14:39 for 2.3 mile course including famous Green Monster hill, and placed 114th of 419 in Boys “A” race (6:23 mile pace). He improved by 77 seconds on same course from previous year. First of three big championship meets.
- Junior Olympics – Connecticut Association, White Woods Memorial, Litchfield, Connecticut (November 17): Ran 11:31 for 3K, and placed 17th of 70 runners in the 11-12 age group (6:10 mile pace). Fast race on cool fall day. Qualified for regionals.
- Junior Olympics – Region 1, Bowdoin State Park, Wappingers Falls, New York (November 24): Ran 12:11 for 3K and placed 65th of 148 in the 11-12 age group (6:32 mile pace). The JO Regionals were held on the famous Bowdoin course that hosts the Nike Cross (NXN) New York and New England Regionals for high school runners, with brutal weather conditions in late November driving temperatures into the single digits and winds gusting up to 40 MPH. Gutsy race and probably best meet of the season.
Brewster Bear Invitational
Connecticut State Championships at Wickham Park
Connecticut Association Junior Olympics at White Woods Memorial
Region 1 Junior Olympics at Bowdoin Park