Intervals--shorter distances run at race speed--are considered a necessary ingredient in any successful cross-country training program. However, the distance and volume of the intervals vary.
Jack Farrell’s teams at Thousand Oaks High rarely run intervals of less than 1,320 yards--three-quarters of a mile--during workouts; distances range from 165 to 1,100 yards for Bill Duley’s teams at Agoura.
Thousand Oaks never runs intervals of less than a half-mile because the interval distance should be 25% to 33% of the racing distance, according to Farrell.
“Running 440s when you’re racing three miles doesn’t make sense,” Farrell said. “You’re not training your body to do anything except run hard for a minute and then rest.
“The kids running fastest at the end of a race are the kids with the most endurance, not the kids with the most speed.”
Duley, however, believes intervals should develop a runner’s speed and long runs should help the runner’s endurance and strength.
Although Farrell advocates longer intervals, he limits the total distance to 3 miles to avoid injuries.
Arroyo Coach Tim O’Rourke differs from Farrell on the length of intervals. His team frequently runs 5 to 6 miles of intervals near a season’s end. An interval session of four 440s, an 880, and 3 or 4 repeat miles is not uncommon.
Although many coaches shy away from that much volume, O’Rourke has seen no detrimental effects.
“We’ve never had a season-ending injury since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve never had a kid miss the Southern Section championships because of an injury. I think a lot of that stems from the high mileage we put in over the summer.”
Fartlek is another form of interval training, but it is based on running for periods of time rather than a standard distance.
A Swedish word meaning “speed play,” fartlek was made popular by Gunder Hagg, a Swedish runner who held world records in events ranging from the 1,500 meters to the 5,000 in the 1940s.
Fartlek usually entails part of a long run and involves a series of speed surges for various periods of time.
For example, a team might cover the first 2 miles of a run at an average pace. For the next 30 minutes, runners might alternate fast 3-minute surges with slower 1-minute “rest” periods, then complete the run with an additional 2 miles at an average pace.
Whether fartlek is run on trails or city streets, it can reduce the boredom that frequently accompanies track intervals.
“It keeps the kids’ minds active,” Canyon Coach Ed Chaidez said. “It keeps them interested.”
Hill training, like intervals, also takes different forms.
Coaches such as Mike Stewart of Newbury Park and Duley combine hills with long runs. Others, like Gene Blankenship of Hart and Chaidez, schedule intervals over hilly terrain.
Regardless of the method that is used, hill training is the most important factor in successful cross-country programs.
“You’ve got to be able to run hills if you want to compete in the Southern Section championships,” Stewart said. “The Mt. SAC course is tailor-made for hill runners.”
Just as intervals are tailor-made for a successful cross-country program.