Has your cross country season been what you were
expecting? It's not easy being a cross
country athlete... waking up at the crack of dawn during the heat of the summer,
trudging through the mud on a rainy day, maybe an afternoon weight workout
after a morning run, missing out on some of the summer gatherings because you
want to train harder for the season to get a new PR, trying to balance homework
and workouts? Whatever your motivation
and sacrifices, you've made it to this point - when the Cross Country season is
reaching its peak performance stretch.
It's time for all 8 of the Region meets this week to select those lucky enough to make it to the State Championships on November 4th. Individuals and Teams alike! Check out the TN Mile Split calendar so you don't miss out. So how do you feel? Feel like the time flew by like an impulsive surge in the last mile of a really fast race? Or as slow as a run the day after training your legs in the weight room? No matter the case, the end of the season - the time of year you've been training for - is now here! It's time to enjoy the experience.
With all that said, this part of the season can get a bit anxious for some athletes. And for coaches, well, some get pretty anxious too, but that can be another topic for sure! Everyone is trying to balance out the workouts, nutrition, sleep, homework, school, maybe a job too... and the weather, sometimes that's a real challenge... you get the picture. It's not easy. But really, this time of year should be the most comfortable cycle in your training. Don't let the end of season be a time of anxiety or stress for you. You've put in the work and the effort, time to glean those benefits. Second guessing at this point serves no useful purpose for you. Nor does worrying if you put in your best effort at the last race. Relaxing this time of year should be, at least to some degree, one of your top priorities. Ok, I'm not telling you to take some kind of three hour hot yoga class or go on a transcendental meditation journey to Tibet. But it's time to embrace these last races of the season and be relaxed in doing so.
Here's a thought. If you've kept a log of your running, go back and take a leisurely look at the training you've done. If you don't have a log, just think back to the workouts or ask your coach, they know what you've been through. Look at the hard workouts first. The ones where you had to push yourself a bit more than you expected that day. You felt terrible, right? Well, the thing is you're here now and so you got through them. Think back on how you felt. Maybe it was a tough hill workout where your quads just burned to no end or your legs shook when you finished. Or maybe an interval session where you thought you'd never catch your breath... ever again! But here again, you got through it.
Then think back on the easier workouts, maybe the long easy runs you've put in. How relaxing those were and how you felt at times when it seemed like you could run forever. The time, effort, and determination you've put in throughout the season seemed to make those easy-going runs get even easier as the season moved along. That's your progress, that's your training making its mark. So you know you are in better shape now than you were in the middle of the summer when you started this routine. This, I'm a cross country runner routine!
Cross Country has this unique flavor, most of the athletes are out there to improve throughout and season. Most want to race strong at these end of season meets. Whether or not the state meet is a trip you make, ending the season on a good note is worth tackling these last races with a drive for your best. Relax. I'm not saying chill out so much so that you take a nap instead of doing your tempo run today. No way. You still have to have the intensity to compete at this time of year. But focus on the training, your technique, and your goals and not on the anxiety of the race. You're already in shape. Your conditioning is great. You've run those races up to this point. Look back on all your training and tell yourself that you're ok... you're ready for these races... you're ready to put in a fast race this time of year...
So... are you ready? To stay on the theme of staying relaxed this time of year, what are the things you should be doing to help you be ready for your race? Your coach is worrying about the workouts, so I'm not going to touch on workouts other than to be sure you let your coach know how your body is responding to the training. If you're hurting, they need to know. If the workouts seem too easy, they need to know. More than likely, how you feel is exactly how you should feel this time of year. Outside the actual workouts, there are some - what I would call managerial things - which you can do to be sure you are ready for race day and that race.
Managing your time and getting enough sleep the last couple of weeks is always really important. Those are probably the most important things to consider at first. Don't schedule too much outside of your training and school work. Yes, it's ok to go to the game or take in a movie as long as it's not a weekend long ordeal where you stay up all night eating nothing but chips and soda. Keep an eye on that sleep thing, that's important this time of year. Make it a part of your plan to organize your time and get enough sleep these last few days before the major meets.
And something else, I wouldn't recommend buying new shoes at this point. The last thing you want to do is go to a meet and have your feet ache because the shoes don't exactly feel right about half way through the race. But should you buy new ones now, run in them for a few sessions to be sure they fit properly. A race in them before you race an important region or state meet is probably a good idea as well, but time is running out on that idea. If you can't race, a good tempo run could help mimic a race situation. So maybe instead, take a look at your shoes and clean them up a bit. Now, don't throw them in the washer and have them shrink or get ruined, just wipe them down with a wet cloth. Try replacing the spikes on them if they look worn. You could even replace the laces if they look bad too. Don't take the cleaning too far. That grass stain on them is kind of a badge of honor you had to go through to get to where you're at now. It might just have to stay. But a little wipe down is ok.
Another thing, this time of year you should continue with what you've been doing all along. Don't make some drastic nutritional change the night before the Region or State meet. I've seen that happen in the past and it never turns out well. The POJ's aren't where you want to be the minutes before the race starts. Stick to your normal routine, stick to your normal diet.
Then a day or two before your big race be sure you have everything ready - washed, packed, etc. You don't want to rush out the morning of a race just to get on the bus to realize you left your right shoe on your dresser back home! Doing a Zola Budd act at the State XC championships won't work out to your benefit. I can't tell you how many times I've seen athletes rushing around trying to find someone to borrow a pair of spikes on race day - it isn't pretty. Maybe you have a pair of lucky socks, if so, keep them off your feet until race day - pack them early so you have them ready.
Prep yourself ahead of time. There aren't a lot of things you have to remember to bring, uniform, warm-ups, rain gear, spikes and your normal running shoes.... It's not like you're packing for a trek to climb Everest... You'll appreciate the effort and so will your teammates... oh yea, your Coach will be the first to appreciate that too!
On race day, take a hike by the POJ (port-o-john) a little early so you have time for your warm up. And give yourself time for your warm up. Who knows how you'll feel before the race and so you might just need some extra time to get your muscles loose enough for the effort you're about to put them through. Use the warm up as a way to distract you from the anxiety of the upcoming race. Plus, it's always a good competitive strategy to be really focused on your warm up - might just put a thought into your competitions head that you are really focused and ready to race! Nothing like getting in a really strong warmup to put some doubt in your competitions head! Ok, let's be nice, I'm not suggesting you play mind games before the race... that's not what this sport is about. But looking good on a warm up, well... you are in shape and ready for these races, so why not act like it too!
So which Region meet are you in? Today they start off with the Region 3 and Region 4 Small schools and Region 3 Large (D1class) at the Camp Jordan site in East Ridge TN. I saw that they are set up for Live Results on the TN Mile Split site and with a lot of races today, should be exciting to watch. Region 7 Large schools are the 24th (today) as well and held at Crockett County HS. These are followed with several Region meets on the 26th (Thursday). Then the Region 8 AAA meet is the last contest for the week and is at the new Shelby Farms course in Memphis. I'm just wondering if we're going to see a change in the rankings by the time the weekend rolls around! I'll be watching that closely for sure!
And lastly, once you are warmed up and getting ready to line up in the box, be sure you are focused. Be sure you are giving the race ahead the attention it deserves. The Regional and State meets are important races. It's your chance to make a mark, or at least do your best at the end of the season! Remember, you've been training, putting in the miles, running hills, intervals, and tempo. You're in shape. So relax and race your best. You deserve it!
See you on the track...and the grass!