Wednesday, June 30, 2021
“On the first day of cross country practice, the season is already half over.”
I remember my high school coaches telling the team this each year. And I never truly understood it until I became a coach myself.
Too often I spent my summers playing beach volleyball, sleeping in, working at the local grocery store, and drinking Fribles at Friendly’s.
Somehow, I never squeezed summer running into those lazy summer days.
I was an average high school cross country runner – average at best.
I broke eighteen minutes in the 5k and I think my mom still has the newspaper clipping from the first time my name appeared in the newspaper after a cross country race: it was my senior year.
But after just one season of coaching high school athletes, I got it. Cross country season was half over on the first day of practice. And now, with over twenty years of high school coaching experience, I realize that summer training is a hallmark to success for distance runners.
I do not believe that summer running should reflect the rigors of in-season training. Rather, summer running should afford runners the opportunity to maintain and improve their fitness levels, experiment with cross training, build core strength, and join a community of likeminded teenagers who are focused on success as distance runners.
Too often I see runners join one-week camps that include multiple daily workouts and quickly intensify and increase an athlete’s mileage and training. Too often, many participants are not ready for this jolt. These camps certainly provide great training opportunities, excellent coaching, and tremendous bonding experiences. But these camps are also designed for elite runners who are already at high volume when camp begins.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to join Charm City Run’s summer camps for high school athletes as a coach. Rather than offering one-week camps, Charm City Run envisioned campers coming all summer long, three times a week. In theory, this was a combination of a camp and a practice. Athletes from multiple schools coming together to get their workout in while having the benefit of working with high school coaches and college athletes who could monitor progress and provide feedback.
Four years later, I am even more convinced that this is the right approach to summer training.
Each summer I meet new runners from a variety of local high schools. Some come having never run a mile in their lives and some arrive with goals of being state champions. We are able to cater to each athlete’s needs and create workouts that help build mileage, improve training habits, and build confidence.
Inevitably, as camp progresses, the school boundaries disintegrate. No longer are athletes from one school or another; rather they are all Charm City Run athletes who are all training together, building relationships, and pulling for each other. Outside of camp, they follow each other on social media, participate in challenges together, and form lasting friendships.
Summer running needs to be enjoyable – and that’s exactly what Charm City Run summer camp strives to be. Sure, camp starts early in the morning, but the whole day is the athlete’s after camp. Plus, running in the morning staves off the heat of the day while running in the cleanest air. Running in the morning reinforces positive sleep habits while encouraging proper dietary and hydration choices. These subtle benefits of attending cross country camp have tremendous impact on a runner’s success.
With camp meeting three days a week, older and more experienced runners receive workouts to complete on their own on off days; through apps like Strava, coaches are able to see each workout on off days while the athletes hold themselves and each other accountable. And because of camp, many athletes will meet with fellow campers to complete the workouts together. For our younger runners, those days when there is no camp, are often times used to recharge and recover so that each camp day is a productive camp day.
As we enter another summer of running, I am excited to be working again with college athletes, state champions, and coaches who are former participants in Charm City Run summer programs.
Back in the mid 1990’s, there were no regular summer camp options for high school runners like me in Connecticut. I wonder what could have been if entities like Charm City Run summer camps were available to me. I know I squandered every summer. And I paid the price each season spending the whole season getting in shape.
Cross country season will surely be half over on August 11th this year. Here’s to a great first half of the season and I look forward to seeing you at a Charm City Run summer camp this sum