Training for High School Cross Country

High School Cross Country Training and Coaching Guide – Part 3


Part 3: Late/Championship Season

In the pre/early season (Part 1 of this guide), the focus was a higher running volume with lower intensity and little to no racing. In the mid/regular season (Part 2 of this guide), the focus was on the athletes racing frequently while maintaining the high volume established earlier in the season along with an increase in the intensity of the workouts. Now in the late/champion season, it’s the time of year that you and your team have prepared for: the time of the year in which members of the team will compete for city, conference, and state championships, both individually and collectively. It is again important to think critically about what is best to do in terms of training and team building to get the very most out of your athletes at this final stage of the season.

For many runners and coaches, the higher stakes during this time of year may cause anxiety if the focus is on the “pressure” of these championship meets. One of the simplest things a coach can do to reduce this anxiety is to view these meets simply as great opportunities for the team to show what they are capable of, rather than high pressure events. It is great to have runners take personal responsibility over their individual success, and that of their team. However, at this young age, that burden can sometimes become too great. For these runners, it is good to remind them that this is just running, and there are more important things in life than individual and team performances at these meets.

Team bonding activities at this point in the season are a great way to keep things light-hearted, while again reinforcing their commitment to run as hard as possible for the team. Have a mix of activities the team has done and enjoyed all year, and a couple of new activities. Try to pick activities that will not tire your runners right before a big competition.

For a great team bonding activity that’s light on activity and provides a boost of inspiration going into these races, pop in your favorite motivational movie and watch it together. It can be running related like Prefontaine or Chariots of Fire, or even non-running related. Afterwards talk about how they felt about the movie, and if they are looking forward to trying to give their own inspirational performance at the upcoming race. However, if your team is already motivated to race, try something like getting together to carve pumpkins. You can even stimulate their competitiveness by challenging them to carve the best running related jack-o-lantern.

In terms of training, workouts should start to become more simplistic. The old cliché “the hay is in the barn” is true at this point in the season. There is little a runner can do to make significant gains in fitness in the final few weeks. Instead, a coach’s most important job now is to make sure athletes are as sharp and rested as possible going into the final meets of the year. In order to do this, gradually decrease mileage volume from 100% to 50-60% over the final quarter or third of the season. Also continue to increase the intensity of workouts to 100% during this time, while making sure to allow proper amount of time in between big workouts and races to ensure your runners are completely recovered before going into their next session. Remind your runners that while training intensity is at the highest point of the season, their best efforts should be spared for the big races and not wasted in practice. Great workouts to prepare your runners for the final meets of the season include speed intervals and different kinds of goal paced workouts.

Now would also be the best time of year to give your runners their favorite workouts. Two things will happen as a result: they are usually a little happier and a little more confident both during and after the workout, which is exactly what is needed going into the championship meets since a happy, confident runner is most likely to have success.

Now is also a good time for you and your runners to look back on the regular season and decide which race each raced best or felt strongest. Recall the tactics you used in that race, and again use that plan of attack in the championship races. By looking back at the season together and recalling that best race, your runners will again get a great boost of confidence, especially knowing they will again be following a plan that worked great for them earlier in the season.

Make sure not to neglect the core/prehab routine, as well as continuing running form drills and strides, to keep running injuries from hindering performances in the championship season. Special attention should also be paid to runners’ health to avoid getting illness. Championship meets usually coincide with temperatures dropping and viruses rising. Remind your athletes to do simple things: wash hands routinely, take multi-vitamins, and get ample sleep. Remember, sleep will not only increase their chances of staying healthy, but will also help with a main goal of helping runners feel rested going into these final races.

Hopefully, by this point in your season, your runners have reached or come close to some of the goals they set early in the season. The final races are great opportunities to capitalize on the possibility of reaching season long goals. Remind them of their hard work all season in accomplishing their process goals. While training hard does not guarantee achieving outcome goals, dedication to the process goals will give your runners the best chance to accomplish their outcome goals. No matter the outcome, make sure they know that you are proud of the hard work and commitment they have shown all season, and the final meet is another great chance to finish the season on a high note.

Now, as a review, here are my tips to finish your high school cross country season the best way possible:

  1. It’s good to realize the stakes are high for championship meets, but keep things in perspective and continue to have fun.
  2. Do team bonding activities that will not cause your athletes to be tired or sore. Watching a movie or pumpkin carving are two good examples.
  3. Decrease volume and increase intensity so your runners are sharp but rested for these final races.
  4. Stick with what has worked best in the regular season for the runners for both workouts and race tactics.
  5. Stay healthy! Don’t let the local virus hinder your team’s chances of success.
  6. Be excited about the possibilities of accomplishing season-long goals.





If you’d like help with your team, we’re happy to consult with you to help you have the best cross country season possible. Contact us to get started. Also, check out McMillan’s Guide to High School Cross Country three-part video series that walks you through Greg McMillan’s key principles of training for high school runners along with a 20-week training plan.

Visit the McMillan High School Cross Country Resources page to sign up for our weekly newsletter and find articles and tools to help you make the season great.


More High School Running Resources:

McMillan Running Calculator – Use this to optimize the training of your athletes and predict race times so you can better pace races.

High School Cross Country Summer Training – Some ideas on what to do in the summer to get ready for the fall.

The Four Types of High School Cross Country Runners – Coaching high school can be challenging. Use these ideas to tailor your training to match the needs of various types of high school cross country runners.

McMillan’s Six Step Training System – Understand one of the most successful training systems on the planet. This article simplifies the often confusing world of run training.

YOU (Only Faster) – Greg’s best-selling book shows you how he teases out the unique traits of runners so their training can be optimized.

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




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