By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
So you want to run faster, huh? Simple. You run. And you run. Then you run some more.
Well, yes and no. As Fairmont Senior cross country coach Chris Neptune explained, getting runners to reach their full potential at the right part of the season is more complicated than what it might initially seem.
Cross country courses at the high school level are typically five kilometers. For those unfamiliar with the metric system, that’s roughly 3.1 miles. (3.10686 if you want to be exact.)
At practice, Neptune doesn’t simply blow a whistle and have his team sprint through their fastest 5K and call it a day. In fact, Neptune might not want to have his runners go all out even during regular-season meets.
“I’ve seen guys kill themselves early in the year,” Neptune said. “Then at the end of the year people are saying, ‘What happened to that guy.’ Well, he overdid it.”
“You’re trying to keep your guys fresh. Over-racing really isn’t the way to do it.”
Instead, the Polar Bears employ a sophisticated training regimen with different phases and cycles aimed at improving different aspects of running.
Right now the Polar Bears are finishing up the last couple weeks of the first phase known as “strength building.”
The name implies bulging biceps and protein powders, but it’s actually very different than what muscle-bound body builders would consider strength.
A sample workout would be six-miles “repeats.” As this name implies, it’s six miles followed by a short rest. Then: wash, rinse and repeat.
“It’s not terribly fast, but the volume makes it tough,” Neptune said. “That’s generally strength work.”
The strength phase also includes, among other things, “fartlek” training, a Swedish word that means waves. Basically it’s interval training with periods of high-intensity work followed by periods of lower-intensity running.
“Strength we base on effort,” junior Matt Strand said. “If you go out and give it what you got, you’ll get stronger, tougher and you’ll get better.”
Around early to mid-October, Fairmont Senior runners will switch to put more emphasis on track-style workouts or “speed” training.
“Fast, short-distance stuff to get your legs accustomed to running at a quicker pace,” Neptune said.
An example of this would be 800-meter cut downs. Runners start at a certain time then get faster (cut down) until the last one is the fastest. “It’s short,” Strand said. “But it hurts.”
Other speed workouts might have fast 400-meter runs. Or at the end of a moderately-long run, Neptune may add a couple 200-meter runs at near maximum effort to work on an athlete’s final kick.
“The speed work usually sharpens the guys up,” Neptune said. “They can drop some significant times from what they’ve been running. That’s the plan anyway.”
You don’t have to look far to see that the Polar Bears’ training regimen is paying off. Just last year, Fairmont Senior’s Nick Trefz ran a sub 16-minute race to claim the A-AA class state championship. As a team, the Polar Bears had five runners place in the top 30 to win the team component, as well.
This season the Polar Bears are ranked second in the state behind Bridgeport, according to runwv.com.
“I’m taking the perspective that they’re the team to beat,” Neptune said. “We’re working hard, and we need to track them down by the end of the season.”
Neptune’s goal is to have five runners place in the top 25 at the state meet on Nov. 2. Right now he isn’t far from it. Runwv.com ranks Jakeb Van Horn, the brother of last year’s state champion, as the state’s 11th fastest runner. He is followed closely behind by Strand in 13th.
“I expect that (Van Horn) and Matt will be battling it out for the number one spot (on the team),” Neptune said.
Justin Oken (25), Drew Trefz (25), Gage Clemens (51), Zach Linger (53) and Jonah Freeland (68) are also in the top 100 for the Polar Bears. Still, it won’t be easy to catch the Indians, especially since the team boasts the top runner in the state in Abe Merinar. But Neptune is optimistic.
“We’re confident that we train a lot better and smarter than they do.”
Email Mike DeFabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.