Future Success Starts Here

Any keen athletics fan would applaud the success of NZ athletes at the Commonwealth Games. While we all cheered on Jake Robertson for his excellent New Zealand record in the 10,000m, I am sure we all wished for more athletes to join him in the middle and distance events. That should be the challenge for any teenage runner. Given most middle and distance athletes start to reach their potential after age 25, it means the work needs to start now.

If you look back at the national school cross country results you will see it began for Jake when he gained a 4th in 2005 and a 3rd in 2006. The years since then have been characterised by a lot of kilometres, a lot of hard reps and a lot of learning in races. It further emphasises that success does not come after 1 or 2 years training. I wonder if the athletes who finished ahead or around Jake during his years at school are wondering what if.... Could they have gone on and achieved better results or did the training and commitment become too much and too hard? Successful elite athletes have an intense commitment to achieve their goals and they are prepared to put in many years work to get there.

Future success can begin for you right here, right now. Given that May is the start of cross-country, I have been asked to give some tips on how to approach the season. I have endeavoured to do that below.

Cross-country races and training help to further develop endurance. It also gives the legs and mind a well needed break from the track. The best cross countries have hills - short and long. That means your training should also include hills. Gain momentum in a race and training by surging into the start of a hill, concentrate on cadence as you go up (even shortening your stride) and then push over the top.

Most cross-country races have the same sort of start. They have a long straight and then a sweeping or sharp turn. Those that get out fast are ideally placed for that first bend. Get caught up in the crowd and you can get squeezed out to the back of the pack. Therefore you need to decide on your race plan. Is it place or pace? If wanting pace then your only option is to put yourself in the front pack. Racing for place means you need to put yourself close to opponents of similar ability or starting conservatively and then working through the field.

Cross-country racing still needs weekly interval work. These sessions can also be done at a park over hills and on grass. Best sessions include 1km, 2km or even 3km reps at your 5km race pace. The good thing about running in a park is that these distances can be dictated by landmarks and the recovery can either be a 2 or 3-minute stand or a jog back to the start position. Shorter and faster sessions can still be achieved with flat runs up to 400m or even reps up hills. These sessions are developing extra muscle strength that cannot be obtained from running on the track.

Regular races every 3-4 weeks helps compliment training. Each course has a different type of surface and both this variety and the racing will help develop your race confidence. During each race you learn to overcome the discomfort of the mud, the weather, the hills and the pace. Not only are you strengthening your muscles, but you are toughening your mind. During each race try and work on your tactical skills. With any cross country you can run a bad race and finish a minute down on your expected time. However nobody really notices. The field is always well spread out and there is always another race within 3 weeks. Try to run each race smarter by judging the pace to the terrain. Practise different strategies – going out fast, surging mid race or kicking at the end.

Finally understand how each of your main competitors’ race. You are either trying to close or increase the gap each race. Quite often in June and July you will slog through the dark, the cold, the mud and the hills and will wish for the return of sunshine, the track and some fast sessions. However a good summer season always comes from consistently doing the winter cross country work.

See you on the course!