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Train like a cross country star

Train like a cross-country: workouts I traveled back to my hometown earlier this summer and wound up on my high school track one morning. I had 800m repeats on the docket as part of my training for the New York City Marathon. But as soon as I stepped on the track, I heard my old coach’s voice telling me to do a ladder workout. A mile warm-up followed by 600m, 800m, 1200m, 1600m, 1200m, 800m, 600m, with a lap to recover in between each repeat.

Remembering that workout got me thinking – what other track and cross country workouts could I do? Is there any chance I’m faster now than I was in high school? (Definitely not over short distances, but I have more endurance now.)

If you’re up for the challenge, warm up by running a few easy miles first and then try these XC workouts:

Timed fartleks Most cross country runs are done out on the trails. Back in my day we didn’t have fancy GPS watches or apps that told us how far we ran. So, we measured our workouts based on time instead of distance.

  • Best for beginners: 1 minute at 5k pace followed by 1 minute of jogging for recovery. Repeat the sequence until you reach 20-30 minutes.
  • For runners with speedwork experience: 3 minutes at 5k pace followed by 1 minute of jogging. Repeat for a total of 40 minutes.

Repeats If you have access to a track, you can run repeats based on distance like so:

  • 6 x 1600m (at 10-15 seconds slower than 5k race pace) with 60-90 seconds of easy running between each repeat.
  • 6 x 800m (at 2-mile race pace) with 30 seconds of easy running in between.
  • 8 x 400m (at mile race pace) with 4 minutes of rest between intervals.
  • 4 x 200m (all out effort) with 2-3 minutes of rest between each interval.

To make repeats more challenging, speed up your pace, decrease the amount of time between intervals, and do more repeats. To make track workouts less challenging, slow your pace, increase your recovery time, and do fewer repeats. Ladders Ladder workouts are interval runs that mean you gradually increase the speed or duration of each interval until you peak, then you gradually decrease the speed or duration until you get back to the starting point – just like going up and down a ladder.

  • 30 minute ladder: 1 minute at 5k pace, 30 seconds jog for recovery, 2 minutes at 5k pace, 1 minute jog, 4 minutes at 5k pace, 2 minute jog, 6 minutes at 5k pace, 3 minute jog, 4 minutes at 5k pace, 2 minute jog, 2 minutes at 5k pace, 1 minute jog, 1 minute at 5k pace, 30 seconds jog.
  • 20 minute ladder: 1 minute at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 30 seconds jog, 2 minutes at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 30 seconds jog, 3 minutes at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 1 minute jog, 4 minutes at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 1 minute jog, 3 minutes at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 1 minute jog, 1 minutes at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 30 seconds jog, 1 minute at 10-15 seconds faster than 5k pace, 30 seconds jog.

Tip: Ladder workouts are a great option for treadmill runs – it will make time on the ‘mill fly by! Follow each workout with one cooldown mile or so.

Written by Jen Matz.

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