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XC Running: An Intense Warmup Routine for XC & Distance Running Races
Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

Sport scientist and coaching great, Jack Daniels, believes that many runners perform their warmups at too low a level of intensity. As a result, they aren't fluid during the initial phase of their race, because they are, effectively, still warming up.

So, in addition to a regular warmup routine of jogging, drills and strides, Daniels now encourages many of his middle distance, distance, and cross-country runners to perform a 2-3 minute warmup run at a hard race-pace. The run ends about 10 minutes before the gun, giving the athletes time to recover.

Experientially, this makes sense. When performing interval workouts, it's common for runners to feel their best on the second or third interval...not on the first. So why not apply the same practice to races?

Why it Works
There is some scientific basis for this practice.

  1. An intense three-minute run then a 10-minute recovery leaves some lactate in the bloodstream at the start of the race. Daniels believes this small amount of lactate mobilizes the energy stores more quickly, including the reconversion of the lactate itself as a source of energy.
  2. A warmup run at race-pace stimulates the nervous system in a very race-specific manner, so it can begin working at that level of intensity more quickly.
  3. Finally, it warms up the muscles more thoroughly than easier running and puts the muscles through the same range of motion as required in the race.

How to Incorporate a Harder Warmup
You'll have to do a sales job with this idea and it's best to try it before less important races. The problem is that many athletes feel fatigued during warmups and believe that running a hard three-minute repetition will leave them even more tired. You'll have to explain that their fatigue is a natural pre-race feeling and a result of the adrenaline coursing through their body.

With my running squad at Laurentian University, I let each runner decide whether or not they want to do a fast three-minute warmup run. I have them perform their regular warmup jog and continuous warmup drills and strides. Then 13 minutes before the gun, I give a signal, and they run 90 seconds out from the start line, turn around and run back at the same fast pace. That leaves them 10 minutes to recovery while they continue moving and performing drills and strides.

Some athletes perform the first 90 seconds at faster than average race-pace to simulate the first 90 seconds of the race. Then, on the return, they run at what feels like their average race-pace.

About three-quarters of our runners find the faster warmup gets them into race-rhythm more quickly.

Reference: Jack Daniels interview, Canadian Athletics Coaching website, 5/15/2008.
[Jack Daniels is the head distance coach at the Center for High Altitude Training at Northern Arizona University where he trains and consults runners from all over the world. Daniels has been named NCAA Division III Coach of the Century, three-time NCAA Division I National Coach of the Year, and was named World's Best Coach by Runner's World magazine].

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© 2009, Physical Education Update,

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