This post is not about my son’s race at the Wilton XC Invitational on September 13. He ran a smart race and finished 2nd overall in the boys youth 1.5 mile race with a time of 8:40, and helped his team to a 3rd place among some of the best middle school teams in Connecticut. He finished less than 10 meters behind a national level runner. That’s the outcome. This post is about the process – all the things he did leading up to his race.
Let’s start with the goal. For the past year, my son set his goal to win the boys youth race at the Wilton XC Invitational. Two years ago, as a 6th grader, he placed 18th in 9:36, and last year wanted to finish among the top 10. An illness before the race weakened him and he ran a slower 10:02 and was 38th. He walked away from that humbling experience and told me “Dad, next year I want to win!”
My advice to him: “Work hard during the summer and you will be in the mix come race time. Races are won in training. Do the little things that others don’t do.” After his outdoor track season ended with the Junior Olympics, we went to work. Our plan was simple:
- Build the aerobic base during the summer. Incorporate one long run per week (8 miles).
- Increase the lactate threshold with tempo runs once per week. We used the Waveny XC summer series races on Tuesday evenings, usually 2-3 miles on trails and fields.
- Develop speed. Add 6 x 200 meters progression (starting at 36 and ending at 31) on the track after the tempo runs.
- Improve running economy and form with “cruise” intervals (similar to tempo runs, but shorter, e.g. 6 x 800 meters or 3 x 1200 meters).
- Increase strength and flexibility through active isolated flexibility exercises (Dr. Phil Wharton) before and after runs, and a weekly strength session.
- Most important, stay healthy and have fun!
Over a 10-week summer period, my son ran about 350 miles, including 50 miles while at the Nike Green Mountain running camp in August. Week after week, he was able to train with a passion and goal in mind. He stayed healthy. In late August, my son ran a road 5K in 19:57 (as a 12 year old) and we knew we were on track.
In mid-August, about a month before the Wilton Invitational, we added some race specific workouts. With the Tuesday tempo runs and speed work, we added another tempo workout on Saturday, starting with 4 x 1000 meters at 3:30 (about 5:35 mile pace) and then 3 successive Saturdays of running cruise intervals on the Wilton course. We broke the 1.5 mile course into three 1/2 mile sections, ran each in 3:00 (6 minute mile pace on a XC course), and repeated the first 1/2 mile (including the start), which combined was 4 x 1/2 mile at close to race pace with a minute rest interval between each 1/2 mile. During our training I helped my son visualize the race and plan for different race scenarios. No detail was too small. Each Saturday workout was preceded by warming up and cooling down on the Wilton course, with the added benefit that he ran the course 3+ times for 3 consecutive Saturdays.
That was the process. And planning and following a good process improves the probability of a positive outcome. No illness or injury to affect the outcome. Trust your training, I told my son at the starting line. And knowing that races are won in training, he took it out fast and moved to the front at the 400 meter mark. At the 1/2 mile point, he was in the lead with a competitor on his shoulder pushing him, both separated from the chase pack. At the 3/4 mile point, the two were running shoulder to shoulder, with no chase pack in sight. It reminded me of something my son said to me during the summer: “Dad, I want to run in the front like (Steve) Prefontaine.” Coming out of the woods at the mile marker, the two runners were still together.
Both my son and I realized that his nemesis was someone who beat him by 17 hundredths of a second in a sprint finish of a 1600 meter outdoor track race in May. Coming around the field for the final 400 meters, the other runner started to open a small lead and my son fought with everything he had to finish strong. Smiling at my son after he finished 2nd, I told him that in my book, he won the race. He worked hard all summer, he executed perfectly, and coming in less than 10 meters behind a national level XC runner is a win. Further testament is his almost 60 second improvement over 2 years (from 9:36 to 8:40). The process made it possible.
Stretching and visualizing the race
In the lead at the 400 meter mark (Photo © by Fred Gaston)
Running from the front, not afraid to lead the field (Photo © by Fred Gaston)
Controlling the race and separating from the chase pack (Photo © by Fred Gaston)
Final 100 meters, holding on for 2nd place (Photo © by Fred Gaston)
“Dad, I left it all out there” (Photo © by Fred Gaston)
Very happy with the outcome
And the boys team placed 3rd – tiebreaker was necessary to decide 2nd and 3rd place