Cross country runners need to drink water throughout the day. Being properly hydrated may be the single most important thing any athlete can do to help their performance. It is particularly important to focus on hydration, when its hot and humid, in the 48 hours leading up to a race, before/during and after hard workouts or if it's on a day ending with the letter Y. You get the picture. DRINK WATER! 6-7 glasses/day. You will be glad you did.
POST RUN RECOVERY
Running stores and sporting goods retailers sell great drink mixtures that help the body heal and recover. After long runs/hard workouts especially, it is very important to "fuel up" as soon after the effort as possible with carbs and protein. Current science suggests a 4:1 carb to protein ratio works best. Bananas + peanut butter is a great snack with the right ratio. The body recovers quickest and best if it gets appropriate nutrition within 30 minutes. Some athletes swear by chocolate milk as a great post run recovery drink. Sort of makes you want to run Cross Country, doesn't it.
Cross Country runners burn through calories the way wild fires burn through the forest. They need to eat allot. A good balance of carbs, protein and fat. With morning runs on our practice schedule, athletes could have a tendency to skip breakfast or not eat enough of the right things to get the calories they need. Skipping breakfast is a terrible idea! Listen to people who tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Pop tarts are NOT breakfast.
There is no way to sugar coat it. Running cross country isn't easy. There are no short cuts. The path to personal and team success runs right through the PAIN CAVE. The miracle cure to keep our athletes fresh, strong and healthy is brought to us by our friend the sand man. Cross Country runners need sleep. At least 8 hours a night, ideally on a regular schedule. Athletes who sleep less than 8 hours are 1.7X more likely to be injured while running!
Most of our races are in the mornings. After sleeping and fasting for 12 hours, racing an all out 5K on an empty tank won't do. However, neither will pounding down two dozen pancakes an hour before the race. Athletes should experiment with eating different things prior to workouts (Saturday training days are perfect for this) to see what types of food and in what amount work best with their digestion. Each person is different. You are a snowflake. Embrace it.
SHIN SPLINTS|STRESS FRACTURES
The stress of running can cause a condition called shin splints. Shin splints are very common in new runners, when runners increase their mileage rapidly and when most of the runner's miles are run on very hard surfaces. Symptoms include shins that are sore to the touch and are painful when running. Prevention of shin splints include: proper diet complete with plenty of calcium + vitamin D, running in proper running shoes used for less than 500 miles, running on soft surfaces when possible & calf strengthening exercises. When runners experience shin pain they should, tell the coach, ice 15 minutes every 4 hours, take several rest days, improve diet & replace running shoes if they have more than 300 miles of use.
Continuing to run on shin splints may result in a more serious condition called a stress fracture, which is just what it says it is, small micro fractures of the shin bone. Typical diagnosis of possible stress fractures is that the pain is more severe and is very localized. Stress fractures require a visit to the doctor and typically a soft cast/boot and at least 6 weeks of no running.
Since girls are 3 times more likely to get shin splints, a diet high in sources of calcium and vitamin D (milk is a great source) and supplemental calcium is highly recommended for female XC runners.
Young runners (especially girls) are particularly prone to suffering from an anemic-like condition that can leave them feeling tired and unenthusiastic about running. Iron poor blood doesn't allow the runner to use oxygen efficiently and oxygen is the athlete's fuel. Female runners should be sure they get plenty of iron through lean cuts of red meat, beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs and nuts. Increase your intake of vitamin C-rich foods (including citrus fruits, berries, new potatoes, broccoli, sprouts, tomatoes, peppers and kiwis). Vitamin C helps make iron more absorbable. Don’t drink tea and coffee with meals as the tannins in them bind to iron in food, preventing it from being absorbed. Go easy on your consumption of pure bran as it is very high in phytates, which also binds to the iron. It's a good idea to have your athletes's iron levels tested as a part of her normal annual physical. Make sure the doctor tests for serum ferritin levels. A reading above 30 is considered "normal" but diet changes should be considered for any reading below 50. Below 30 consult your doctor for suggestions on supplements and dosage. Ferrous sulfate or ferrous gluconate have been noted as effective but ASK YOUR DOCTOR!
Don't try to get your iron and calcium in the same meal. You need to separate ingesting these by at least 2 hours.
For parents and athletes new to the sport of Cross Country, here are a few things we thought you might like to know.
CROSS COUNTRY BASICS
Cross Country is an endurance running sport. Excellent for those who were "born to run" and also for athletes who want to get in shape for other sports that require significant running or endurance like Soccer, Swimming & Lacrosse.
Cross Country training is typically broken up into blocks of time, with each training block having a specific purpose.
PHASE 1 - AEROBIC BASE BUILDING
Phase #1 happens during the Summer. This is the base building endurance phase and is characterized by running lots of miles at a moderate pace. Total weekly mileage will vary based upon the age of the athlete and their experience but will typically fall between 25 & 50 miles per week. One day will usually be a long run of 6-12 miles. Some moderately fast running will be targeted, as will hill repeats to build strength. Running activity will be supplemented with non running exercises designed to build core strength critical to healthy, fast running. Since phase 1 training is done during hot, humid Atlanta weather, hydration is critical! Drink up. Without this base phase of training, cross country runners will not be ready to move to the next phase and start racing.
PHASE 2 - RACE PACE TRAINING
Phase #2 happens the last few weeks of Summer and during the 1st 4-6 weeks of the cross country racing season. During this phase, a greater emphasis on training will move towards building the athlete's ability to run at a race pace tempo. Once or twice a week we will do "hard" workouts to help prepare us mentally and physically for racing. We will do longer "tempo" workouts to build our aerobic engine and shorter quicker workouts to enhance our ability to shift gears and finish races. Welcome to the PAIN CAVE!
PHASE 3 - CHAMPIONSHIP PEAKING
Phase #3 happens the last few weeks of the season. Early season cross country meets are not expected to be the fastest races. Every run from Summer up until this point is designed to help the runner build aerobic endurance, strength and speed. In the final part of the year, leading up to Championship racing season, training starts a "taper" phase. Mileage may back off a little. Hard days will stay hard but the volume may decrease a little. Training now is designed to help athlete's "peak" and run their fastest when it counts.
RUNNING SORENESS & INJURY
It is not uncommon for runners, especially new runners, to have a few aches and pains. This is the body's way of adapting to the forces at work when we run.
Many running complaints are soft tissue muscle soreness. Being sore sometimes is normal. It indicates that the demands of running are causing your body to change and adapt. Normal soreness from running should resolve on its own in 72 hours.
Any pain the lasts longer than 3 days and is isolated to a specific place on your body that you can point to, is beyond normal training soreness and should be communicated to your coaches and taken seriously. Often, these early warning signals from your body can be resolved by taking a 3 day rest and potentially with new shoes.
Athletes MUST have direct, honest and open communication with the coaches regarding their physical state of well being. We can handle minor illness and injury but only if we know what is going on.
See the WEST XC CREED which discusses this further.
TYPICAL KNEE ISSUES
Pain in the knees can be a sign of improper shoes or poor athlete bio-mechanics. Make sure your shoes have enough arch support if you are a pronator. Even good expensive running shoes may not work best for a runner who pronates (ankles roll in) severely. Cross country runners with lingering knee pain should bring this to the coaches' attention and visit your local running specialty store for a consultation on better footwear or a footwear insert. If the pain is severe or lingers for more than a few days even with a change in footwear, go see an orthopedist who focuses on sports medicine or a podiatrist.
Some knee pain results from poor running mechanics and can be prevention doing strength work to build stronger quads & more stable hips. This is why we work on non running strength building exercises at practice. If you want to stay healthy, take your non running workout time seriously and do extra work at home.
Osgood-Schlatter disease can cause a painful, bony bump on the shinbone just below the knee. It usually occurs in children and adolescents experiencing growth spurts during puberty.
Osgood-Schlatter disease occurs most often in children who participate in sports that involve running, jumping and swift changes of direction — such as soccer, basketball, figure skating and ballet.
Osgood-Schlatter disease typically occurs in boys ages 12 to 14 and girls ages 10 to 13. The difference is because girls enter puberty earlier than do boys. The condition usually resolves on its own, once the child's bones stop growing.