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How much running is too much for the Harriers?

This last weekend we went hiking and my youngest daughter Kate wore her 2013 Junior Olympic Association t-shirt. The shirt had on the back of it all of the names from our cross-country team that ran in the Junior Olympics that year. We had six athletes and of those six, 50% were my children. We did have seventy kids turn out for cross-country that season but of that, only six went onto run in the Junior Olympics and in that meet only one went onto qualify for Regionals in Oregon. To put things in perspective, last year we sent fifteen kids to nationals in Alabama.

Not only did we only send six athletes to the first Junior Olympic meet, our kids were demolished from the kids from Spokane. This was 100% my fault as coach because I had spent all season preparing our kids to run the mile which is the distance for all the local cross-country meets in Yakima. When they get to the Junior Olympics, the distance goes from 2k up to 4k so our kids did not have the endurance or experience to compete at this level.

Driving home from Spokane that fall in 2013, Aleah and I were flabbergasted at how two state-champion high school runners could have kids that did so poor in a cross-country meet like this. What we failed to realize at that time was what allowed both of us to be state champions in high school was the years of hard work and discipline that was started back in middle school. Our kids did exactly as one would expect after eight weeks of training in a sport that they had never competed before in their lives.

We are very excited to be entering our fifth cross-country season September 11th. The great news for you is your coaches have four years of experience to look back upon in coaching and training of what has worked and what has not worked training kids ages 5-14 in cross-country. I want to write on one lesson we learned last year that we will be applying this year of cross-country: no two-workouts in one day!

In 2013, our kids did not practice enough. Last year in 2016 we had multiple kids come down with injuries because of over-training. The overtraining did not happen at cross-country practice that Casey, Aleah and myself run, but it happened outside of practice. I have two primary examples:

  1. Mileage Club—My wife and I are huge fans of the local mileage clubs in elementary and middle school in Yakima. The downside though is kids 14&under are not prepared to run 2-4 miles at lunch and then five hours later come to cross-country practice and do a hard workout. If he/she does this, eventually after a few weeks their bodies start to break down. So what are you to do if your child runs and loves mileage club? You have two options. The first option is on days when we have cross-country practice is to have your child “walk” during mileage club. Walking is always a great cross-training and is very low impact so if they walk during mileage club, they should have not problem doing the workout that afternoon. The second option for the child that insists on running in mileage club AND practicing with Sun City in the evening is to practice in the Orange group. The Orange group coached by Coach Aleah is for beginning runners. It has a lot of rest and because these practices seldom go over two miles in a practice it would be okay for your young runner to double-up in this way.

  2. Middle School Runners—The second area that we have seen injuries and burnout is with our middle-school runners. This is the first year, we have changed our registration to just have a “Middle-School” option on sign up. We are assuming athletes like my two oldest daughters will run the entire middle-school season with their schools and then transition to Sun City once their season is over mid-October. My 14-year-old is insisting on still coming to practices with Sun City because she feels her school won’t run her far and fast enough (which she is probably right). However, when one doubles up on workouts the young harrier enters the “danger-zone” of injury. What we are doing with Kara this year is she will run Mondays with Sun City since her middle-school doesn’t practice this day. Also on Wednesdays and Fridays when she does practice with her middle school, we have made it really clear she can only do drills, the game, and help coach the Orange group.

If your young athlete falls into one of these two groups and you have questions, please talk to coaches Casey, Aleah or myself to make sure your young harrier’s health is good.

Looking forward to the first practice of the year on September 11th. Enjoy your summer!

Coach Erik