Answered By Kate O'Neil
I recently coached a Girls on the Run program. One of the participants is very serious about running and wants to join the track team or x-country next year. She'll be a 7th grader. She's very dedicated to running to the point where I worry she may injure herself. I'd like to continue to encourage her and was wondering what kind of training suggestions I could give her? She's fairly fast and her longest run during the program was 4 miles. I know she's running a few days a week, although I'm not sure how many or how far. Any advice or suggestions would be much appreciated.
I think the most important thing you can do as a coach is make the experience as fun for her as possible. Distance running often attracts people with intense personalities. That intensity will ultimately make her a better runner, but you might have to rein in her enthusiasm sometimes. As a seventh grader, her body is still growing and maturing so she shouldn't run too many miles yet. It sounds as though your athlete may be at a higher level right now than the rest of her team. Keep incorporating her into the rest of the team's workouts. Come up with fun workouts that will challenge her as well as the other girls on the team. One workout I loved in high school was called Cat and Dog. We all ran in a straight line. The last person in the line had to sprint to the front and then move over to become the first person in the line. Then the person who had just become last in line sprinted to the front. This continued so that everyone in the line got a chance to run hard. It was a fun workout because we were all together, but we were also challenged because we each sprinted to the front at our own ability. Some people took more time than others, but that was okay. We were all together, encouraging one another. You could also try shortening her runs by a mile or so and ending the day with a game of tag. We think of this as a game for much younger children, but I played this once in college with my team and it was hard! We had to constantly change direction, change speed, and pay attention to our surroundings. On days when she isn't meeting with you and the rest of the team, I would try to encourage her to mix some cross training in with her running. She could replace some runs with roller blading, swimming, or biking.