Summer Cross Country Running:
Why Summer Mileage is Important
By Roy Stevenson

If you want to run your absolute best in the upcoming cross country running season, laying down a conditioning base by doing lots of summer mileage is essential. Without it you will not run anywhere near your full potential in your fall cross country races and your chances of injury are greatly increased.

Your racing peak is greatly determined by the depth of the fitness foundation you develop over the summer. Having superior aerobic fitness enables you to maintain your race pace over the cross country course, and still have enough left to finish fast. Running a solid summer mileage has dozens of physiological benefits including developing your maximal oxygen uptake (your ability to take in and process oxygen), improving your cardiac output efficiency (your heart’s ability to deliver and adequate blood supply to your running muscles), and greatly enhancing your muscle’s ability to process oxygen and store and utilize glycogen for fuel.

Contrast these great benefits doing summer cross country running with turning up at your first fall cross country practice out of shape. You’ll spend the entire season just regaining your aerobic fitness, so you performances will not even be close to what you could have done if you did your conditioning over the summer and arrived at your first workout ready for the faster training that your coach is giving you.

And here lies another of the major benefits of doing a good fitness base over summer. You’ll be ready for the higher intensity workouts like tempo running, track interval sessions, and fartlek workouts that your coach will be throwing you into almost immediately. The better your aerobic fitness, the less your body will have to tap into the anaerobic energy systems. This means you will not be fatigued as easy because your muscles are able to hang on to their glycogen fuel for longer, and you’ll be able to deal with lactic acid accumulation much better if you are in excellent aerobic shape.

Another reason why summer mileage is important is because all of that long running strengthens your muscles, tendons and connective tissue. Conversely, if you haven’t put in some good summer mileage, you’ll have a high probability of getting injured as you try to keep up with your fitter team members; eventually the stress on your muscles and tendons catches up with you, and you’ll strain a muscle, or get tendonitis, which effectively puts you out for the rest of the season.

The starting point for successful cross country running is to do lots of steady paced distance running from June through to August. Most of your summer running should be continuous aerobic running at a pace fast enough for you to improve your fitness (not slow jogging), but not so fast that you overtrain. One guideline that coaches use is that you should be able to talk while running.

Another more scientific method commonly used these days is by using a heart rate monitor to make sure that you stay within your ideal training zone. For most of your long running you should keep your heart rate at 65% to 75% of your maximal heart rate. How do you establish your maximal heart rate? Easy. Go to the track, warm up, and run a mile as fast as you can. Note your heart rate immediately after you finish.

Do as much of your summer cross country running on softer surfaces like grass, dirt roads or trails, and beaches. You should be running between 25 to 70 minutes every day, depending on your age and whether you have been running for a year or two previously. Include one long run every week to keep improving your base and run different distances every day to give your legs a break on the shorter days.

The following schedule will give you some idea of how to do this. Beginning runners should stick to the low end of these workouts, and more experienced runners can go to the high end.

Monday: Short recovery jog (20-30 minutes)
Tuesday: Easy paced run (30-50 minutes)
Wednesday: Medium distance run (40-80 minutes)
Thursday: Easy paced run (30-50 minutes)
Friday: Steady paced run (40-60 minutes)
Saturday: Faster run over hilly course (30-60 minutes)
Sunday: Long run (45-90 minutes)

When possible try to run with other teammates of your ability. And because you’re going to be racing cross country, you should get used to running hills hard during your summer training sessions. This will give you a big advantage over your teammates and competitors in your races because hill running develops endurance, cardiovascular fitness and helps strengthen your gluteals for cross country surface.

You can find more running information at my running website:

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