Workouts run at goal pace are the most specific way to build the fitness necessary to run fast on race day.
Beginning runners will benefit from intervals lasting three to five minutes, or roughly one kilometer (.62 miles). More advanced runners can do intervals between 1200 and 2000 meters (.75 to 1.24 miles).
Depending on what you have available, you can run these on a track, road, bike path or cross country course. Don’t worry if the terrain match isn’t perfect; these workouts are more about fitness gains.
Run them in a place where you can run fast without interruption. Because the pace is more intense than tempo runs, you’ll need to recover for roughly 75 percent of the time that you ran fast.
Many athletes make kilometer and mile repeats the heart and soul of their training. At the same time, these workouts utilize the same energy system as shorter cross country races.
If you’re a frequent racer, I recommend performing these sparingly, as the training is redundant and could be better served by workouts #1 through #3. If you race less frequently, you can incorporate a session like this every 10 to 14 days.
Workout #5: Long Run With Pace Changes
For any race lasting longer than five minutes, the aerobic energy system is key. Long runs are the best way to develop this raw endurance.
To make your long run the most cross country-specific, you can consider adding some pace changes to these long runs to simulate running fast on tired legs.
Pace changes can take numerous forms. It could be a series of one-minute surges thrown in during the last few miles. It could be progressively moving from a leisurely pace to a medium pace to a tempo pace over the course of a run. It could be charging up hills during the back half of the run or sprinting the last half-mile of the long run to see how fast you can run while fatigued.
However you do it, make sure you don’t detract from the main purpose of a long run: putting in lots of time on your feet.
Sample Cross Country Workouts
- Workout 1: 2 x 2 miles @ tempo pace (3:00 recovery between intervals)
- Workout 2: 8 x 400m hill repeats (400m jog back recovery)
- Workout 3: 2 miles @ tempo (3:00 jog); 8 x 200m hills fast (200m jog back
recovery); 2 miles @ tempo pace
- Workout 4: 4 x 1-mile @ 5K pace (4:00 jog recovery)
- Workout 5: 12-mile long run with 6 x 1-minute surges over the last 3 miles
By Philip Latter. Latter is a former senior writer at Running Times and co-author of Running Flow and Faster Road Racing. His work has also appeared in Runner's World, runnersworld.com, and ESPN.com. He currently coaches athletes at The Running Syndicate, in addition to his day job coaching high school runners at Brevard High School (NC).
[This article was updated on August 3, 2020]