Elements of Cross Country - Part One: Consistency

In preparation for this upcoming cross country season, Milesplit MN is publishing a six-part series addressing particular topics within high school cross country, such as consistency, program building, injury prevention, and more (final topics TBD). These topics are relevant to both athletes and coaches, because after all, they both have the same goals. This series will highlight the diverse thoughts of many great running minds and talents, but we are open to your voice as well. If you are a veteran coach or a graduated athlete and would like to contribute to this series, feel free to contact me (Bill Peyton) at wipeyton_schools@hotmail.com.

Steve Bence, University of Oregon, Class of 1975

Bence has been working for Nike for 41 years and is currently the Director of Global Sourcing and Manufacturing.  Nike does not own most of their factories so the main company has to reach out to each outlet.  There are 500-600 factories around the world.  

He was a 1:55 880 yard runner in high school, and originally enrolled at the University of Oregon as a student. He did work out with the cross country team in the fall of 1971 but did not compete in meets for the full distance of races. Then in the spring of 1972 he ran 1:47.7 and gained All-American status.  His time was only 3.4 seconds off the world record at the time, set originally in 1962 by Peter Snell of New Zealand at 1:44.3. Bence was also a teammate of Steve Prefontaine, arguably the most famous distance runner in American track & field history.  He also had the opportunity to room with Pre and run with him in Europe one summer.  Prefontaine died in 1975 holding six American records at distances from 2000 to 10,000 meters.

If you were training high school cross country runners how would you do it?

 Well, I actually was an assistant coach at North Eugene High School for a year and ran with the kids every day.  That team was only third in their district meet but wound up second in the state meet.  They did not race every workout but rather were consistent and they were ready to race when the state meet came around.

What I would tell your Minnesota kids is to find a running partner or better yet run as a group.  The number one and two runners will not be a problem.  What you need to do is run at a pace where everyone can handle it.  It might be too easy for the top kids but this way at least you will have your four and five runners eager to come back the next day.  They should do easy mileage all summer with something a bit quicker afterwards like 6 x 100 at a bit faster than race pace after they are done with the main distance run.  Motivate the whole group.

You ran cross country at Oregon and often ran with the distance runners on their long daily runs?

Yes, I was considered mid-distance and ran different track workouts than Steve Prefontaine and Paul Geis.  But I sometimes would go with them on their recovery runs.  They were meant to be "conversational," but I never talked.  Some used to say that bugged them that I rarely talked and I said the pace was too fast for me to both talk and run.  So they would say "quit running so close to me your silence is psyching me out!"

What was Bill Bowerman like? 

He had us run in groups.  If we were doing like 6 x 300 for example they would have us do them at increasingly faster pace.  So the first one was easy and each one would be harder than the previous one.  We also took turns leading.  Often the slowest members of the group would lead the first repeat.  Then those guys would be hanging on for the last one where we would go pretty fast.  Bowerman would ask us questions afterwards such as "how did that feel."  I might say, "I think I could have ran another two at that pace."  He would then say, "Good, that is how you are supposed to feel."

He never wanted us to race in practice.  If anything he would scold us for going too fast. No one workout was really that hard but if you strung them all together you would be able to develop.

So the idea was to be consistent?

Yes, that's true and it was not considered bad to take a day off if you needed one.

Sometimes I would feel sick, or tired from classes and needed a day off.  I made it a point to be ready for the hard track workouts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  Sometimes I would miss a morning run.  Pre basically never missed a morning run though.  He used to say that he needed to work harder than anyone else because he had less talent.  That was not true though.

Kenny Moore had to change his workouts to only two or three miles per day for several weeks because he constantly over-trained.  When he came back from that period, he improved his personal best by almost a minute in the two mile run.  It really does depend on the person though as some individuals he would have to advise to run harder or more often.

What about Bill Dellinger?  How did he contribute?

He confided in me once because he used to always add to workouts over the years without ever dropping anything.  Off of that conversation he started to back us off some things and we quit getting injured and got better.

Was Bill Dellinger more of a science guy than Bowerman?

I would not say that, he actually tried to do a lot of things Bowerman did.


Declan Dahlberg, Mounds Park Academy Graduate

Many of you have gotten to know Mound Park Academy's State Champion runner Declan Dalhberg through his Run, Write, Repeat articles he contributed to Milesplit MN over the past year, but before he officially begins competing for the Gophers this fall, we asked him for his thoughts concerning high school summer training...

The first step before you start your summer training is to think about what you are setting out to accomplish. If you don't set goals or have a clear vision for what you are trying to do your training will be aimless and far less effective. Whether the goal is to finish a 5k, break 20-minutes, or win State, it is important to think about it, and get it down in writing!

After goals have been set comes the time to work out what your summer plan will look like. The biggest mistake I made early on and see other kids constantly making too is thinking that summer is when you grind out hard work out after hard work out. My summers are all about building up a solid base, slowly and conservatively bringing mileage up and preventing injuries, and focusing on tempo rather than speed (which comes later in the actual season).

For a beginner, they probably should not even run every day of the week! Cross-training is important when your body is not used to daily running, and will help keep you healthy. When just starting out, running maybe 3 days a week, and working up to 5-6 by the end of the summer is an excellent idea. For the more advanced, running every day is good so long as there are sufficient recovery days.

Again, the hardest thing for me when I started being serious about summer training was that I thought I had to go out and drop all these quick intervals and workouts. The summer before I 'made my jump' to the top level of high school I was running 40 miles/week at the beginning of the summer, built up to 60 by the middle, and was doing a long run, maybe a tempo, hills, and easy days scattered in between. Whatever you do end up doing, always come back to, and center that training around your goals!