Long runs for Junior High School

Defining long runs for junior high school athletes can drive a coach slightly batty. At one end of the spectrum, you have the kids that are natural runners and, in some cases, already ran on a regular basis before the cross country season started. The other end of that spectrum is occupied by the kids that are doing this for the first time and for whom a jog around the block may be the furthest they've ever run.

In Asotin, even with a very young team - we have no eighth grade girls and the boys team has only two- we have both, just as every school does. A difference for us is that some of our seventh graders were with us last year and bought into running - and baseball for the boys.

So we've adopted two strategies. The first was to take the strongest of the experienced runners and let them run with the high school team on the easy days for the high school. Even that is a bit much for them but an occasional dose - and exposure to the work ethic that our high school athletes have - is meaningful for them.

The other strategy we used yesterday is to let the kids segregate into groups - for the most part, we let them self-select - and each coach plus a volunteer, my daughter Sara, took a group out. Different paces, different distances, different goals.

For the speedy Gonzalez's, it was about 4.5 miles at 9 minute pace. Some of the kids bit off a touch more than they could chew and eased into the park at the end at a walk. One kid, feeling a twinge, wisely did the same after 3.5 miles.

I ran with the middle group. These were mostly kids that are new to running (one was an eighth grade boy that I wanted in the group for some leadership) and we discovered all sorts of things on a 3.25 mile jaunt at 'Coach Paul' pace. One girl noticed another constantly speeding up and then stopping to walk - understandable as she is a sprinter on the track team. Pacing is new to her but I was tickled that I wasn't the one that pointed it out to her but a teammate did. One of the sixth grade boys had never run this far so he got a PR on distance - it certainly won't be his last.

The final group, led by Sara, was on a mission: Run without walking. It doesn't seem like an ambitious goal for athletes but for kids that have no base of running, learning that they can do this is huge. The emphasis is not speed but perseverance. For most, it was a success.

Since we're dealing with young athletes, we don't do many long runs and, obviously, what is a long run to the kids now will someday be a short easy day. When we plan long runs for junior high athletes we take the long view and make sure that we give them just enough of a challenge to help them develop and not so much that we kill the run or injury the runner.

Because, in the long run, we want them to be runners for life.