In my last
article I made my case for why I think time trials are not the way to go early
in the season. So what do I use instead of time trials? Early and Midseason
races! I know this sounds basic but that's why I like it! MSHSAA requires
schools to schedule at least 6 meets to be eligible for the state championships
so we may as well use some of them as practice! Not to mention, what's better
than a race to determine racing ability. To do this as effectively as possible
I break the track season into 3 parts: early, middle and championship. Each of
these phases has their own overall goal and effect on the races I choose to
enter my athletes in.
Early (Experimental) Season:
I like to refer to this part of the season as the experimental season because the goal is to have my athlete experiment with different races and see which ones they seem to gravitate towards. For the first 3-4 track meets I will purposefully cycle my athletes through different race distances ranging from 400m and 3200m. During this phase I usually enter them in 1 to 2 races per meet with one of the events almost always being an 800m. This is because if you look at the races available in a varsity meet with 2 entries, you have six 800m spots, two 1600m, two 3200m and one to two 400m (dependent on the number of sprinters). I also like to have them all in the 800m as often as possible because it is the only "distance" relay contested in the state series and therefore deserves to be an emphasis of training. Since I don't have time trail data to determine what they should do in the race, I tell them what workout we did during the week should have a similar feel to race pace. Other than that I let them go out there and experiment. If I have done a good job teaching them how each race should feel, then they will be fine. If not, it's still early in the season so it's not a big deal. I also make an it a point to communicate with them that I don't care about times. I don't want them to worry about anything. I just want them to go out by feel and compete with the athletes they find themselves surrounded by.
With all of that being said, I am also making sure I am collecting all the data (i.e. splits) I can from each race. I also make sure to talk with each of them about their race and what they were thinking during it. While I usually only give feedback about what they noticed and thought about their race, I am using that info along with their splits to start creating a picture of what they can do and what they need to work on (both physical and mental). Some of the questions I will ask them (and myself) are listed below.
Were they erratic? Start out fast and slowly fade? Did they hammer the last lap?
What was going on in their mind during the race? How relevant was it to their race?
What felt better to them, negative splitting, getting out fast and hanging on, etc...?
Middle (Mastery) Season
Once I have identified what the athlete can do, needs to improve on and how they best like to race we transition into the Mastery part of the season. As you have probably guessed by now, this is the time of the season where we start working on mastering our race craft. Using the data collected from the experimental part of the season I start coming up with race plans for them to implement at meets. These plans tend to be very simple because it's hard to think and run fast at the same time and have two to three predetermined coaching ques. Again, time is not the most critical part here, though it will be used to help further refine our race plans and strategies. The goal of this phase of racing is to help the athlete develop a sense of what it takes for them to race to their potential. We want to know their strengths, weaknesses and what counters both.
From a mental perspective, during this time the athlete should being able to classify their thoughts during a race into two categories, important and unimportant. Once they can make this distinction I will have them start working the ability to only act on the thoughts which are important to the race.
For example: Starting to get tired = not important
Noticing the pack is starting to string out = important
Both of the examples above are things we have all thought about during a race. However, starting to feel tired isn't important to the race because at some point everyone feels tired. Especially if they are trying to run really fast! Noticing the pack is starting to string out offers many important details about the race such as the pace just picked up, or the race went out really fast. So while neither thought is "bad" one is definitely more important when it comes to the race and therefore needs to have a bigger impact on the subsequent behavior.
Lastly, during this phase I try to keep the number of races per meet to around one to two because I want them to focus on the implementation of the race strategy versus worrying about how they feel with a full day of racing ahead of them. This is not always the case, as I don't really believe in absolutes, but for the most part holds true.
Championship (Compete) Season
This phase of the season starts around the same time as Districts. Hopefully by now the kids have honed their race craft and have an arsenal of tactics at their disposal. This is important because as you get into championship racing anything can happen. We have all seen races which go out like crazy and others which go out at a snail's pace. Therefore, it is good for our athletes to have experience with a variety of races. Hopefully they also know what type of race gives them the best chance to run as fast as possible and how to counter in a race which isn't going their way. For example, we have all seen the mile race where no one wants to take the lead so it goes out slow and then turns into a 400m kick at the end. Well, if you're a kid who can't close in sub 60s (for guys) then this type of race isn't good for you. Instead, you need to have experience in identifying that the race is going to slow and know how to take control of it to give yourself the best chance possible.
One of the biggest downsides I have run into using meets as time trials and learning experiences is the athletes will not be as competitive early on in the season when compared to other methods. So if your team goal involves placing as high as possible in every meet then this is not for you. When you think about it, by having kids learn by trial and error they are going to make a lot of errors early on which will impact performance. Also, to accurately gauge where they are in terms of ability, you can't enter any of your athletes in 3-4 races each meet because that will skew their results.
How do you know what to tell a kid to do if you don't have a time on them?
I don't tell them anything the first few meets other than go out and compete.
What do you do with the new kids?
They don't do specific paced workouts. Instead I have them do things by feel for the entire season as they learn and develop.
I like to think of new kids (and even some of the older ones) as toddlers because, from a training age perspective, they have a very basic concept of the world around them and need to be free to explore it in order to learn and grow.
How to do plan workouts during the early part of the season if you don't have a time on them?
This is why I switched over to using goal pace for everything versus date pace. :)
Thanks again for reading part 2 of this article. Even if you don't agree with my perspective, I hope you have found this to be thought provoking and interesting. Good luck to everyone on the rest of your season and hopefully I will see all of you at the state meet in May!