As a runner approaches the home stretch of any race, they need the ability to dig deep and have an explosive sprint toward the finish line.
With the cross country schedule approaching its home stretch of the season, the Penn State runners are now shifting their training to more speed-orientated workouts to hopefully have an explosive finish for the end of the year.
The preseason days of just recording mileage and establishing a strong base of endurance to build on during the season are long gone.
Coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said the first month of the season is dedicated to high-volume type workouts to top off the runners’ aerobic conditioning they do over the summer.
“As we move into October we’re working more on strength endurance,” Alford-Sullivan said. “Then as we move towards the end of October and into November, it becomes more speed endurance. So we go aerobic to strength to speed, and the workouts get a little shorter and a little faster.”
Short speed workouts may seem strange when training for races that are anywhere from 6,000-10,000-meters long, but there is a specific purpose behind it.
Redshirt junior Tom Luff said once postseason rolls around, the runners use these types of workouts to help sharpen all the training they have done to this point.
“The whole training is peaked towards postseason so the shorter, faster intervals are just a stage of peaking,” Luff said. “It gets you feeling like you’re a little bit more on your toes and ready to run hard throughout the last mile of the race.”
These workouts also help the runners be stronger at the starting line and beginning of their race, which the junior said is good since a lot of the postseason meets start out fast, and the runners need to be prepared for that.
Whether or not these long-distance cross country runners prefer the speed workouts over the long workouts at the beginning of the year really comes down to personal preference.
Senior Natalie Bower said she prefers the fast, short workouts because she feels they keep her rhythm up, and she feels more like a track person when it comes down to it anyway.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that the Nittany Lions have completely gone away from distance training.
Alford-Sullivan said the Penn State women still average 55 miles per week, and the men run around 85 to 90 miles a week.
This high amount of miles on a weekly basis can create a difficult balancing act for the runners to get their training and daily schoolwork done.
“It’s doable, and it’s kind of all I really know,” Bower said. “I’ve been taught that throughout even high school until now to just definitely manage your time well. It takes discipline and hard work obviously, but it works out.”