Hey fellow distance runners! How's the summer been? No really, how's your summer been? I'm talking about the one where your coach gave you that summer training schedule back in May, and you're stressing because, hey, it's now the end of August and how far have you gotten on that schedule? Well, not very far… But never fear! Preseason practices have begun! Life is good! You're starting anew, and there's plenty of time to work back up to that PR you know you're going to hit right away… like, first-meet-of-the-season right away. Now, this might be the point at which you need to take a step back, get out of your head, and look at reality. It's not gonna happen that fast (no pun intended there).
As runners, we're always striving to push our limits. Whatever you think your body can do, your runner brain thinks it can do more. For some, that impulse kicks in right at the beginning of the season. You're just beginning your first meet of the season, nerves flowing through your legs and into the feet that have the ability to carry you for miles. You're at that starting line, and all you can feel is the voice in your head telling you to push it. Others have the ability to take a step back, listen to what their coach is drilling into their heads at the beginning of the season, and say, ok, just take a breather; save it for the end, be relaxed. Well, all I can say is, in terms of the former, don't listen to that voice. I'm sure that most of us at one point or another have gotten to the end of the season wondering why the heck did I do that ? I paid the price for it at the end of last xc season. Heck, I'm still getting back into the swing of things after nearly a year of unintentional down time. You can have a great season without putting your body through hell and back. The one thing that I have learned above everything else is to pace yourself. I'm not just talking mile by mile, but throughout your whole season. It works wonders.
But wait, we've jumped two months ahead of schedule! So, let's get back to right now. Most of you have probably been in preseason training for at least a couple of weeks. Your body is just getting into that rhythm of long runs, tempos, hills, speedwork, repeats, repeat. Whether you believe it or not, getting back into the swing of thirty to forty plus miles a week is a little bit surprising for your body. Whether or not you've been following a training schedule, running on your own, or not running at all, it's a whole new dynamic. So all I can say is, let it adjust to this. There's plenty of time for that runner brain of yours to kick on at a later date.
I've had a hard time listening to my body. I have always told myself to push it, push it, never rest. For most Olympic athletes, this somehow works. But every runner is different. Every body has a different maximum. For me, huge mistake. We need that rest. That one Sunday a week that you're not at practice and not at a meet, by golly, be a couch potato. These meets at the beginning of the season, don't push it. That point in the loop of the course when you're in the woods, running between trees, loping along, relish that moment. Pretend you're a deer, frolicking through the woods. And save your legs that take you everywhere for the important meets; the ones that really matter. You have the urge to push your limits now, but resist that. You may just end up achieving that PR that you wanted so badly. Good luck in your seasons, everybody, and I wish you the best of success!
About the author - Grace Iltis is a junior at Camden Hills High School. She led the Windjammers to the Class A team title in 2017 as she placed 3rd overall.