How to Not Totally Eat Shit During Cross Country Season

By Paul Snyder

July 10, 2024

If you’re part of our core readership (people whose bodies require an extensive “pre-run activation circuit” in order to even jog in the morning) then this section isn’t for you. Keep doing your band exercises. Nothing can save you, now.

But if you’re one of the precocious high school or college cross country runners who makes reading The Lap Count a part of your Wednesday ritual, listen up. Given that you’re a teen or early-twenty-something who subscribes to at least one weekly track and field newsletter, we assume that you’re a real running-obsessed go-getter… (…or you’ve been sent this by your running-obsessed uncle who’s looking for ways to relate to the youth. Welcome!)

You might be type who starts every easy run way too fast after watching some bookmarked YouTube video called “running motivation,” or something like that. Next, you lace ‘em up and bolt out the door. Regardless of conditions – we’re talking real feels in the low 100ºF range – that first mile is sub-six. The second one is marginally slower. Mile three: a death march. By mile four, you’re huddled under a tree for shade, your goose thoroughly cooked. There will be no mile five.

Your hope is this approach clicks and you make The Big Jump. That might happen. But what also might happen is you are the king or queen of preseason workouts and a husk of a harrier by championship season.

We know you. We see you. Hell, some of us once were you. And we want to save you from the greatest danger to your fall season: being excessively motivated during the summer. 

DON’T: Repeatedly re-watch races from the Olympics. The Olympics are inherently inspiring. In your case, potentially too inspiring. Do you know how many 2016 cross country seasons were tanked by an unanticipated 100-mile week, capped off with an all-out two-hour long run — just because Matt Centrowitz won gold in the 1500m? Too many. Some never recovered.

DO: Watch track during the Olympics. Yay, the Olympics!

DON’T: Break the bank on a month-long altitude trip. A month in the mountains won’t do you much long-term good and, unless you live on a cruise ship, where you’d otherwise post up for the summer is totally fine for off-season training. Instead, invest the $4,000 you’d spend on an August in Flagstaff in stocks or bonds or something.

DO: Spice up the monotony of base training by visiting some nice local trails, or running a progression run on your favorite road loop.

DON’T: Half-step your friends on easy runs or completely disregard your coach’s/team’s training plan in favor of racing your training partners multiple times per week during your workouts. 

DO: Meet up with friends for easy runs and occasional harder efforts, as it works with your training schedule. Running is supposed to be fun and at this point, not anguished!

DON’T: Build a mini-peak around your hometown’s regionally-famous mid-summer road race. You’re young and have plenty of scholastic or intercollegiate eligibility left. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Save this kind of stuff for when you’re out of college and the $300 first prize can be legally spent on beer (even though it probably should be spent on student loans).

DO: Treat said road race as a tempo effort, as a little treat to yourself. What is a “tempo effort?” Nobody knows, and that’s the beauty of it. An easy way to keep things under control is to pretend like your picture is being taken at all times and you HAVE to post the result to Instagram— so relax that form and stay smiling.

DON’T: Lose your mind over a small injury. Certain unnamed Lap Count contributors have learned the hard way that the cure to IT band syndrome during a scheduled 90-mile week is not breaking every run into six mile doubles and hitting the mileage regardless.

DO: Rest as needed. Do a plank or some push-ups if you’re saucy. Maybe foam roll a few minutes each week. It’s a long summer and a long season and while you won’t derail your fitness taking a down week or two, failure to listen to your body may lead to a November spent limping around the course, cheering in the dreaded stressie boot.

So there you have it. Get your runs in. Don’t run them too fast. Drink water. Hang out with friends. Be normal. Return to campus fit, but not too fit, and you’ll have a hell of a fall campaign.

For more of the top stories and analysis from the biggest stories in track and field from the past week, subscribe to The Lap Count newsletter for free. New edition every Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Paul Snyder

Meme-disparager, avid jogger, MS Paint artist, friend of Scott Olberding, Citius Mag staff writer based in Flagstaff. Supplying baseless opinions, lukewarm takes, and vaguely running-related content. Once witnessed televison's Michael Rapaport cut a line of 30 people to get a slice of pizza at John's on Bleeker at 4am. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @DanielDingus.