How to thrive in your first year on the cross country team.
Is this your first year running cross country? Do you want to make varsity? Or do you simply want to become a better runner?
Both goals are achievable if you approach your summer in the right way. No matter your sport background, you have all summer to get ready for the first day of practice and the fall season.
Participating in cross country can be a valuable experience. By being patient, consistent, and a team player, you can have a very successful first season.
It’s not going to be easy. Running is a difficult sport—one that can take years to master. Don’t expect to bounce through fast intervals in your first workout.
“The most important thing for a new runner is not experience, but patience,” says Adam Kedge, the coach at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico. His teams have competed in five NXN meets and won 20 state titles in track and cross country. “Kids who start early in the summer, don’t get carried away right out of the gates, and keep showing up every morning will ultimately succeed,” he says.
To start out, Kedge recommends doing two to three weeks of running at least four to five days in the 20–40 minute range. That will allow you to get into shape while not overdoing it.
If you’ve done another sport, keep doing it as a form of cross training. Go out to shoot some hoops or kick around the soccer ball—it can be a great supplement to your running.
A lot of runners are worried about making sure they work up to big mileage weeks and tough workouts. But for someone who just started running, Kedge recommends focusing on time and adding more and more to your running after two to three weeks of getting in shape. Keep in mind: For a first-time runner, a 20-minute run is a workout in itself.
To build up, first, work up to five to six days a week. Then, go a little farther on your runs, getting up to 45–50 minutes. On top of that, add indrills and a core routine, too.
If you do want to try some workouts before the first day of practice, do something like a simple fartlek run. Try 5 x 1 minute on, 1 minute off, and do it by feel, starting out slow, at 75 percent effort, and picking it up each “on” section only if you feel capable.
Be a Team Player
Making the varsity squad depends on a number of variables. How good is the team? How naturally talented is the runner? Can you stay injury free? But making varsity shouldn’t make or break your season. Being on the JV squad can be a good thing.
“Time spent cutting your teeth on the JV is usually well spent,” Kedge says. “Newcomers can take their time adjusting to the volume and intensity of cross country without the pressure of having to perform at a consistently high level.”
And remember, have patience. If you take your time building up mileage and getting better at workouts, you might work your way up to varsity by the end of the year or be called upon in case someone gets injured or sick.
Enjoy the team aspect of the sport and cheer on your teammates. You could form a special bond with them. “There is something magical about the daily toil, suffering together, and developing a sense of pride and a sense of family that comes with cross country,” Kedge says.
Even if you don’t make varsity, the friends and relationships you can build will have an impact on the squad.