Reflections on the 2015 Cross Country Season

Wow, what a fun season. I’m going to call it over even though there are a few Harriers going on to Nationals in a few weeks in New Mexico. This is Aleah and my third year coaching cross-country with youth and we’d like to share with you the ups and downs of the season.  Cross country is a lot like life, nothing is perfect, and lots can be learned from both the good and bad.  My favorite is always the growth that I see throughout the season and especially from Harriers who have persevered year after year.

The 8 & Under boys got off to a great start yesterday in Pasco.

The 8 & Under boys got off to a great start yesterday in Pasco.

Here is by no means an exhaustive list but some of what we have journaled through the season. The good:

  1. The split up of the regular and post-season. This was a new idea from the result of a fair amount of burnout from the previous years.  It was also to accommodate runners from other teams (both Wenas and middle schools) that didn’t want to leave their teams but wanted to continue running. Next, it was also for those families who were not like us that wanted to run a full regular season as well as a full post season.  We really liked this idea and felt it worked great.  It was also good for some of our volunteer coaches who felt they could commit to five weeks of coaching in the regular season but not the entire 12 week season. We will be doing this next year again.
  2. Increasing our base distance. We have always done quite well locally at both Sunfair and Apple Ridge but we were destroyed as a team in the Junior Olympic meets as the base distance we raced went from one mile to 2, 3, or 4k. We worked really hard to increase our mileage as a team carefully this year and it paid off.  There is still more to do, but we are making a lot of progress as evident by the performances we saw at JO’s the last two weeks.
  3. We had a crazy number of PR’s this year.  PR is a personal record and what we focus on because as athletes the only person we can control is ourselves. If you didn’t see it, look at the FaceBook post from last week where I listed the time improvements year over year.  Likewise, we had a similar situation at Sunfair which means our team is doing something right as our Harriers naturally develop and grow older.
  4. We drew a few new Harriers from both Wenas and local middle schools. This is one thing the Spokane Mercury does really well.  There is only one team in Spokane but they draw from all the other teams at the end of their season.  This is one of our visions for the Harriers next year.  We can have up to eight athletes per team in the Junior Olympics and if we even go over this, we can even have A, B, and C teams so we can never have too many Harriers.
  5. We are seeing a number of kids stick around year after year.  We even had a number of kids come back to the team this year after taking year two off because they missed it last year. As anyone who does a trade, it takes a long time to get good at your job.  The same is true with running.  We are teaching our bodies “how” to run.  How our feet strike the ground in an efficient manner with proper form, etc. This is one of the many reasons it is not a coincidence that the Harriers who have been around for longer tend to be improving. On average it takes about seven years for an athlete to really perfect her/his form depending on how hard they work at it.
  6. We are having fun! There were the old standbys: “Sharks and Minnows”, “Capture the Flag” and “Steal the Bacon” and we made up a few new games this year as well. Even on those days when the workouts were hard, the Harriers seemed to have a good time as well seeing how hard their bodies could be stretched.  We were made to improve and be active which is what makes this so much fun.
  7. This year we had the best parent support we have ever had.  This makes it so much easier to coach for Aleah and me.  We also had numerous volunteer coaches and those who were not coaching were running with their kids, walking in the park, or being social with other parents. Thanks parents and grandparents!
  8. From a personal standpoint I was healthy this year.  I shared last year that Aleah and I faced burnout.  I also herniated my L5/S1 disc and had surgery. The changes I made were I lost 25 pounds, got my back healthy, and really focussed on the Harriers who wanted to run in the Junior Olympic meets which is my personal passion that gives me life.  We all have our own strengths and weaknesses but this last post-season is hands down the highlight of my 2015 year.
  9. We had very few injuries this year as a team.  With close to one-hundred athletes, our percentage of injuries is one of the lowest of any sport.  I atribute this to how careful we are as coaches and training as much as possible on soft surfaces. We do look very closely at the few injuries we do have and do whatever we can do so we don’t repeat them.
Joy and Kate started quickly yesterday in the 8 & Under girls yesterday.  It was a crisp 30 degrees at the time of their race!

Joy and Kate started quickly yesterday in the 8 & Under girls yesterday. It was a crisp 30 degrees at the time of their race!

What needs to be improved for next year:

  1. For those nine through fourteen, I would like to see our base mileage increase another 25% for those wanting wanting to do the postseason. Even though we did significantly better this year, our lack of base was still evident in the Junior Olympic meets.  Aleah and I are already working on how we might do this.  This has to be done really carefully because if it is done too quickly, the young harriers get injured so there is a fine line here one must walk.  Initially this will probably look like an extra optional practice on a soft surface one day a week (or an extra run the kids do by themselves) very similar to what we did at Cowiche Canyon on Saturdays.  Talking with the teams on the westside of the mountain on Saturday, this is what they are doing.
  2. We would like to field eight full Junior Olympic teams in the USATF cross country meets next year in the 8 & under through 14 & under age groups.  This year we had three, and in two other age groups we were one athlete away from having a full team so we are really close.  If we could have our little Harriers talk to their friends we could be there!
  3. I would like to see us work more on nutrition.  We are not exactly sure what/how this looks like but a Harrier can only go as fast as he/she is fueled. Also if one has too much mass, they are slower, but on the other side if they don’t eat enough they don’t have energy to get through workouts and can even deal with eating disorders such as anorexia. We want to encourage families to eat healthy and eat proportionately. We would love to find some resources to support our Harrier families who are like us, we want to be healthy but also live a very busy life.

Nationals!

  1. For those that made nationals a huge congratulations.   This is huge.  The regional meet was all of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and drew from over seventy teams. Congratulations to  our five ladies Joy Lally, Kate Mickelson, Claire Branch, Olive Clarke, Ciera Reyes and five guys Kian Compton, Mack Stephenson, Shepherd Lally, Aiden Waddle, and Brayden Packard who qualified for nationals in Albuquerque New Mexico. I am super proud a small group from Yakima, Washington qualified ten runners for the national meet.
  2. Our family is making the trip to New Mexico.  If you are one of the ten, let us know by this Thursday so we can register you for the national meet.  The entry fee is $25 and our club will pick this up but the athlete needs to figure out how to get themselves to the meet.  We will be there from Thursday to Sunday and then turning it into a family vacation to the Grand Canyon post-nationals.
  3. We will not have any formalized practices the next three weeks but I will write up a training schedule for the Harriers competing at Nationals and will post it by tomorrow.  I will be training Kate and we will have all of our practices at Franklin Park.  We will probably have to move this up another 15 minutes to 3:45pm since it is getting darker every day. I need to verify the times because it will have to work around her ballet schedule. Any nationals bound harriers will be welcome to join us.
Yesterday's race at Big Cross in Pasco was a fun rolling course.

Yesterday’s race at Big Cross in Pasco was a fun rolling course.

Track Season:

  1. We are already thinking about track season.  Just as we made some changes to this year’s cross country season (splitting up the regular and post-season) we will be making some small tweaks as well for track season. A few initial thoughts about what to prepare for those wanting to do track:
    1. The season will be shorter this next year. We will be starting later in the year so it doesn’t drag on like it did last year.
    2. One of my passions with Aleah is the middle distances (400-1500 meters). We will be coaching these events and not the sprints this spring/summer.
    3. We are not exactly sure of the dates yet but we will figure out when the Junior Olympic meets are and then reverse engineer backwards so we will be posting these dates in early March.  Our guess is we will start track in May sometime.

Thanks again for a great season. Congratulations to all the Harriers whether you came out for just a few weeks or the entire season.

Coach Erik