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Summer mileage is such an important part of cross-country. Without it, there is no way that an athlete can come close to the fall performance of which they are capable. How many miles are right for you? There isn't a single formula that tells how many miles are correct. The recipe varies with the athlete.
For example, many programs (talking girls' high school XC only) use 35 miles as an end of the summer target, mostly for juniors and seniors. You will find some successful programs that would consider that figure too low, and a few that consider it too high. We'll settle on a max of 35 and fine tune from there. Using a long-held maxim that a runner should only increase mileage by 10% per week, it is easy to take the number of weeks available over the summer and work back from thirty-five to a starting figure. Based on nine weeks, a starting figure of 15 miles for the first week is reasonable. Don't think too far ahead. Just look at the first week. If you take your time getting there, what seems hard now should be easy.
Let's address three variables before considering whether this is the program you should follow. The variables are past experience, durability and common sense.
If you've run cross-country in the past it is assumed that you've done five-milers - and more. So, the starting week of fifteen miles wouldn't appear too daunting. If you've been in a low mileage program the thirty-five might scare you – but, one step at a time. Look at the chart. The first week is mostly twos and threes with only one four. And you get two days off! You know you can do it.
If you have no distance running history, “35” probably isn't the program for you. It isn't just about what your body can tolerate for the first week. It is the cumulative effect of two months pounding before the season even begins. It isn't just about cardio-vascular conditioning. It is how your muscles, tendons and ligaments (not to mention skeletal issues) react to increased stress. A raw beginner might be advised to aim for 15 to 20 miles during week number nine. Someone with a moderate background may aim somewhere between 20 and 30.
Nine weeks is a long time. And each week builds off the past. You have to be able to listen to your body. Tired is OK during this phase. Pain isn't. Eventually, the athletes that are more durable will rise toward the top. Part of durability is really just being perceptive of the changes occurring in your body.
Early in your career you should err on the side of caution. Don't push the envelope too fast. The most important part of your training will be the ability to place layer upon layer of training. A quick burst of high intensity work followed by weeks on the sideline due to injury is not the way to build a running career.
As time goes on, if you find that you are running free of pain or stress, you might upgrade your level of work.
#3. Common Sense
Don't try to be a hero in July. Running through pain may seem like a way to prove you're tough. It can also be a way to prove your not thinking. If something is bothering you, ask questions. You can run through soreness, but issues with ankles, knees, IT bands, plantar fascia etc. can create debilitating problems. When in doubt, rest and ice?
And again, follow a sensible plan that builds on your past. Personally, having the mentality of a sprinter, I like to go at things full bore. So when I finally had free time on my hands I started running again. Twenty miles in the first six days! It felt good until day number 7 when I crashed and burned. I had to skip four days but now I'm back at it again.
I'm not young and foolish, just foolish. But that's OK because I don't have to be in peak form in late October. But, you do - so be smart.
Now, chose a plan
What plan is right for you. Start with an end of summer mileage in mind.
Veteran (a seasoned distance runner) = 35
Intermediate (has run distance off and on – likes jogging) = 25 to 30
Novice (No real experience) = (15-20)
Use the beginning of August as a time of re-evaluation.
If everything is cool physically and you don't feel too drained, just bump up an extra mile on two runs per week. Conversely, if you find that you've been “going to the well” just to finish workouts, maybe its time to back off a little bit. Grab an extra full day of rest, cross train (swim, bike, walk) or relax your goal a little bit.
Change the plan to fit your needs!
MIAA rules prohibit me from directly coaching you, but I'd be happy to answer any question you have regarding mileage, possible injury etc. One look at our roster tells me that we are headed toward a great season. If you have done your part during the summer, I'll pick up with you on the first day of practice and help you reach for your goals (both individually and as a team).
P.S. for beginners. If you can't achieve the starting distances, blend walking and running. Eventually it becomes easier. Have faith!