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Cross country training methods can include building endurance, changing speed tempos while running, training over hills and different types of terrain, and practicing race techniques. These different methods are designed to prepare an athlete's body to run a long distance over any course in changing weather conditions. Many runners use these basic training standards to design their own workout schedule, and incorporate regularly racing into that cycle to help maintain their skills.
A beginning cross country athlete can begin by working on his endurance levels. This involves daily or weekly increasing the distance he runs during his workout. While increasing the length of his runs, the athlete can also challenge himself by running on different types of tracks. Wooded tracks over dirt terrain often provide less elastic return than running on pavement or asphalt, and can cause the runner's body to work harder to maintain his pacing and hold his muscles in line. Cross country races often require that participants run through multiple course conditions, including slippery areas, natural ground, and paved roads, and athletes who train in each of these types of environments will be better equipped to finish the race strong than those who do not.
To improve endurance and aerobic function, runners may benefit from using a tempo based cross country training schedule one to two days during their workout cycle. These runs are typically not long, and may last between 30 minutes and one hour. The runner begins by choosing a relatively slow warm-up tempo. As his heart rate increases and he feels his muscles begin to loosen, roughly 10 minutes into the run, he may increase to close to his maximum tempo, but should not exceed it. This tempo may be held for an additional 10 minutes before the runner slows to a finishing cool down pace.
The cross country training can also incorporate running on hilly terrain of different heights as part of the athlete's growing exercise schedule. The runner typically benefits by avoiding running the same hills each day, and varying his speed and length of time spent on each one. Easy hills are those that require between 30 and 60 seconds to ascend at a steady pace. Long hills are those that take between 60 and 120 seconds to run at a steady pace. When training on hills to improve muscle tone and endurance, the athlete should alternate between short hill and long hill exercise days, to allow his body time to recover between sessions.
The runner can use these various methods to build his own Fartlek cross country training session. Fartlek means "speed play" in Swedish, and is a common term used by runners to describe their self-paced workouts. The runner typically begins at a moderate jogging pace, which he maintains for several minutes, before accelerating into a burst of speed, which he may hold for under one minute. The majority of the workout consists of steady pacing interrupted by surges of speed, followed by a short cool down. This pacing typically mimics the speed and endurance requirements of an actual race, and can help an athlete perfect his racing tactics which often involve speeding away from competitors, or holding strong with those who attempt to outdistance him.
Finally, runners can adjust their cross country training methods immediately preceding each race in which they participate. Prior to the day of the event, most races will post information on the course, the type of shoes recommended, how many runners will participate, and the course route. This allows athletes to look over the terrain and the size of the hills over which they will be running, and plan their training schedule accordingly. Many athletes will benefit from avoiding strenuous workouts in the few days leading up to the race, and should focus their efforts at intensity at the beginning of the week, to allow their bodies to store up energy and strength for the competition.
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