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Thousand Oaks Cross Country Training Program

Article By: Jack Farrell
Retired boys & girls cross country coach,
Thousand Oaks High School, Thousand Oaks, CA


General Philosophy During This Time

1. What are you trying to accomplish? Our training is fairly consistent year-round for our veteran runners. There is not a great deal of difference in a training run on September 15thand November 15th. We do not follow a hard-easy pattern. All of our runs are basically tempo runs, fast, but within the comfort zone. Our mileage increases slightly from early season to mid-season (from 49 to 56 miles per week [from 7 to 8 miles per day]), and the pace gradually quickens as runners become fitter, but the effort is fairly consistent. Our goals is to lower the comfort zone of our steady state runs. Athletes gradually dropping from 7 minutes per mile to 6 minutes per mile will correspondingly drop their race pace 30 to 45 seconds or more per mile.

2. Differences between boys and girls: Girls will typically run about a mile less per day and about 45 seconds to 1 minute slower per mile. Some of our best girl runners, however, have run right with the best boy runners.

3. Areas of emphasis: Keeping major components in balance (frequency, duration and intensity) and utilizing the races as part of training.

4. Any training cycles? We run a kind of two-week cycle. Mondays are the long run, which is one mile longer than the average daily training distance. Assuming a race on Saturday, the first Wednesday will be repetition work, i.e. 4 x 1320 at race pace with 75-90 seconds between each. This will be done on a simulated cross country course, trails or grass. The second Wednesday will be a pick-up run. If we race on Thursday as well as Saturday, then the repetition running and the pick-up run move to Tuesday. The other days are just regular street and dirt trail running. There are no especially hard days and no recovery days.

We added a feature this season to strengthen the end of our races (from a Runner's World article). We call them cycles. We usually do just one. This is the only work we do on the track. The athlete runs a quarter at street pace, then a 330 at race pace for three miles, then a 220 at half-mile pace and then a 110 nearly all-out. The recovery is a continuous jog the same distance as the run. A cycle is exactly five laps. We usually do a cycle after the longer run on Monday. We experimented with our veteran runners with two cycles but found that one was sufficient; after all, it comes at the end of the longest training day.

5. High, Medium, or Low Mileage? Our veterans will run about 7 miles a day in September and about 8 miles a day in October and November.

6. Things we watch for: about 90% of what we are trying to accomplish happens out on the roads. It's necessary to watch this very closely. I use a car, a bike, or run when I can (it's getting tougher the older I get). I look for athletes running comfortably fast, a kind of fast, effortless float as a sign of fitness. I try to control athletes at either extreme, usually the ones who are racing the workouts (they're over their head attempting to stay up with athletes out of their range), or ones who chronically under train (they want to stop every few blocks and stretch, or go to the bathroom, or take on more water, or cut the run if they can get away with it). I am highly visible with my athletes on the roads, not only to discourage cutting, but also to reward those who are working hard and want the coach to know it.

7. How long is this period? Our athletes spend about 30 training days at a given duration and then move up a mile per day to a maximum, which varies depending on their age, ability, gender and motivation. Therefore, we have a number of athletes doing variations of the same basic workout. Most street runs have 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9-mile versions.


Week One
Week Two
Long run (one mile beyond the average daily training distance) plus one cycle
Regular steady state run
Pick-up run
Repetitions, as in 4 x 1320 at race pace with 75-90 sec interval
Regular steady state run
Regular steady state run
League Dual Meet
Regular steady state run
Invitational Race
Invitational Race
Regular steady state run on own


One of Our Favorite Workouts During This Period

1. Name: The Hill Workout.

2. Purpose: Thousand Oaks is a fairly hilly area. Even the streets around school incorporate rolling, sometimes steep hills. We do not even count those. We utilize these hills in most of our regular runs. As such, we only specifically train on hills about 3 to 4 times a season. We are known as a hill team and do tend to compete well on hilly courses like Mt. SAC. But, since so much of our hill work is unavoidable, actual hill repeats are relatively rare.

We like to use two different hills for this workout. One hill is on a 700-yard loop and is about 70 yards fairly steeply up and another 70 yards similarly down. We usually couple this workout with the pick-up run. We may do 3 x this 700-yard loop, jogging the last 100 yards of it. We will then continue the regular run from this point and begin the pick-up run 2 to 3 miles later. Another hill loop we use is in a canyon and is a steep set of switchbacks about 600 yards to the top. We never practice downhill running.

I do not know if the hill repeats make us better hill runners, or simply prove to us we are already accomplished hill runners. Our better runners always look very impressive on these workouts. It may be just a confidence builder. Except for that, I honestly think we could do without it.

3. Warm-up: During cross country we always run from school to a park in the neighborhood to warm up the muscles before stretching. The warm-up run varies from 3/4 of a mile to 2-1/4 miles. The distance, however, counts in the total run of for the day. Athletes pair up and do a series of static stretches for about 20 minutes, followed by form drills and shake-ups.

4. How we run the workout: See #2 above.

5. Things we look for: We feel that races are lost, not won on hills. You win races on the flat. As such, we try to simply hold position up and down hills, although we may move up at the expense of over-committed runners. When hill training, we try to get the runners to run tall on the hills and be conscious of the aid their arm swing can give them. The oxygen debt incurred in ascending a hill will be repaid in about the same amount of time on the other side. After a hard one-minute uphill, an athlete will be back in homeostasis (out of debt) about a minute later in the race. We tell them to hang onto the pace and wait to feel good again.

6. Athletes do not really get a warm-down on this day as the pick-up run ends at or below race pace.

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