Training for high school cross country

High School Cross Country Training & Coaching Guide – Part 2


Part 2: Mid/Regular Season

By now, your team is roughly half-way through the cross country season. You likely learned some very valuable information about your team including their commitment level, individual strengths and weaknesses, and the contenders for the top 7 varsity positions. This is a very important part of the season both in terms of providing optimal training and in keeping running fun for everyone on the team, from fastest to slowest.

This part of the season is likely to be the most difficult for athletes from a training standpoint. In the pre/early season, the focus was a higher running volume with lower intensity and little to no racing. At this stage of the season, however, athletes will be racing frequently while maintaining the high volume established earlier in the season and with an increase in the intensity of workouts.

Again, the best way to check that your runners are training optimally is to check their heart rate during and immediately following workouts. Compare those figures to ensure athletes are in the right training zone on the McMillan Running Calculator. Some great workouts for this time of year that combine high volume and higher intensity are tempo runs and speed intervals. Remember that while intensity levels are rising, they should not yet be maximal efforts.

This section of the season will also include races for your team. Cross country is unique from other sports in that regular season results usually do not have bearing on championship season qualification. Even so, these meets are great opportunities to work on different racing strategies for both your team and individual runners. By experimenting with different tactics early in the season, you can figure out what plans will work best for the championship meets.

A tactic you should consider is the concept of “packing up”. Most successful teams have a short spread of time from their first to fifth runner. A good way to keep this pack time smaller is to group teammates with similar fitness together in the early parts of the race. This can help ease anxiety that accompanies racing, making athletes feel as though they’re just out for another hard workout with their teammates. Experiment with what point is best to let your runners break free and push hard to the finish, and the runners that work best together. Individually, you should have your runners experiment with different racing strategies. Each runner has individual strengths: some perform better with a fast start, some perform better with a mid-race surge, while others perform better when they start conservatively then use a strong finish. Watch your athletes during workouts and races to learn their individual strengths and apply it to race day.

Like every point in the season, special care should be placed on keeping athletes healthy. Because of the combined stress of high volume, rising intensity, and racing, that priority is most challenging now. Make sure your athletes are following a core/prehab routine to help avoid nagging aches and pains from becoming prolonged issues. Running form drills and strides, done regularly, can help improve your athlete’s running form and efficiency, decreasing the chances of developing injuries from improper running mechanics. A day or two off from running, either cross training or taking the day off completely, isn’t contrary to the idea of optimal training. In fact, that little extra rest won’t cause any drops in fitness, but can help ensure athletes reach the end of the season without major injuries.

Routinely check in with your runners on their progress towards the goals that each set at the start of the season. Are they making sure to do all the little process goals? Are they on track to reach their big outcome goals? Now is a good time to readjust those goals based on their recent training and racing results.

Continue to do team bonding activities in this time of the season. You can try all kinds of different activities during and away from practices and meets. Ask your athletes what they enjoy the most, and keep those going throughout the season. Team dinners before races are a great way to improve focus and commitment. Ask new team members what their experience has been so far, and ask about what they have liked and disliked the most. Ask parents to become involved with the team by asking for volunteers to host team dinners prior to races.

Ok, to review, here is what you should focus on during the mid/regular season:

  1. This is the most challenging part of the season because of high volume and rising intensity in training, and introduction of races. Explain this to your athletes, and pay special attention to keep them healthy for the final push.
  2. Regular season meets may not count for championship season qualification, but they are still important. Experiment with different race tactics to find what works best before the championship season races.
  3. Re-evaluate pre/early season goals, and don’t be afraid to adjust them.
  4. Continue to have fun! Stick with what works, get rid of what doesn’t. Get athletes and parents more involved as the season continues to build commitment and tradition.




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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