Cross-Country Q & A with Dr. K

Cross-Country Q & A with Dr. K

If you’re thinking about running cross-country, one thing’s for sure: you can’t simply show up. Summer training is a must – your coach will know if you haven’t been running, and so will your body! That’s why we asked Dr. Kornoelje (a.k.a. Dr. K) from University of Michigan Health West Sports Medicine for his pre-season tips to prepare for cross-country. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing some running already, follow his pointers and you’ll be ready to rock, day 1!

How to prepare for cross-country season

Q:  When should I start training for the cross-country season?

Dr. K’s A: If you’re just coming off a spring sport, give yourself a couple weeks before you start training. Otherwise, go ahead and begin the first week or two of June if possible – the earlier in the summer the better. You don’t want to wait until August!


Q: What should I do to get started?

Dr. K’s A: The first thing you should do is connect with your school’s coach. Many times, the coach has a summer running program already in place to help you train over the summer. If not, it’s best to start with a walk-run workout – jog for a few minutes then walk a few minutes, and repeat for 20 - 30 minutes. Do this for the first couple of weeks, gradually increasing your run time and decreasing walking until you can run for 30 minutes straight.


Q: How many days and miles a week should I run?

Dr. K’s A: Again, your coach may have a plan with mileage that varies depending on where you are in your training, otherwise: for middle school athletes, running 3-4 days a week and gradually building up to 4-5 miles each outing (or around 20 miles per week) is a good goal.

Because high school runners compete in 5Ks as opposed to the 2 mile races middle schoolers run, these athletes should shoot for running 5-6 days per week and build to 6-7 miles each time, or about 35-45 miles per week. 


Q: What if I miss some training?

Dr. K’s A: It’s inevitable that you’ll miss some training here and there over the summer. Whether it’s a family vacation, a work conflict, illness, injury, or some other issue that pops up, don’t worry about it or try to cram in a bunch of workouts to make up for it – that could make matters worse and cause you to miss even more! It’s better to just pick up where you left off and gradually return, especially if your time off was due to sickness or injury. If you listen to your body and stay the course, you’ll be right back where you were in half the amount of days you missed.


Q: What types of workouts should I do besides logging miles?

Dr. K’s A: If you’ve been running, or have been able to build up to running for 30-40 minutes straight, you can go ahead and add in some varying types of workouts once a week (choose one of the following or alternate):

  • Tempo runs – Run at a pace that’s about 70-80% effort – not all out, but faster than usual, making sure to do a mile warm up first, and a mile cool down after.
  • Speed work – You can incorporate speed work into your running routine by either running repeats (intervals) such as a ¼ mile fast with a ¼ mile rest repeated say, 6 times, or you can do some fartlek, which is interspersing 6-8 bursts of speed (between a sprint and a tempo pace) within your run.
  • Hill workouts - Doing repeats on hills helps build both strength and speed, and prepares you for hilly courses too. 
  • Road races - Signing up to run a local race or two can replace your interval days and is a great way to get ready for the racing season ahead.


Q: What’s the best way to avoid injuries?

Dr. K’s A: If you want to reduce your risk of injury, make sure you have good shoes! Also, remember that more isn’t always better. Follow your training plan and don’t overdo it.

It’s always good to switch things up now and then by adding some low impact cross-training activities into your routine, like biking, swimming, or yoga.

Be sure to take the time your body needs to recover – recovery days are an important part of training and keeping injuries at bay.

Warm up before runs with active, dynamic stretches – such as lunges, leg swings, and squats – rather than static stretches that can do more damage to tight muscles than good – save these for after your run when muscles are warm and loose.

Finally, never stay sedentary right after a run. Cool down by walking or moving in some way.


Q: Why are recovery days important, and what exactly should I do?

Dr. K’s A: When you work your muscles hard, you need to allow them time to heal which is what builds strength, so if you want to start your season strong and keep it that way, recovery days are essential! Either take the day off completely or just walk or move in some way that doesn’t require a lot of effort.


Q: What are some good habits for cross-country runners?

Dr. K’s A: Young athletes are growing, therefore need to fuel their bodies by eating plenty of calories and a variety of nutrients. Replenish the carbs your body likes to burn and eat several times throughout the day – eating things like a bagel, banana, or yogurt every couple of hours will ensure you don’t go into a fuel deficit.

Hydration is also important. Drink water throughout the day (not just when you’re thirsty!) Be sure to take water with you on long runs and rehydrate with an electrolyte drink after your run.

A sure way to tell your hydration status is the urine test – if your urine is bright yellow, you need to drink more water. Light yellow is the goal.

Getting good sleep is vital as well, since this is when your body works to repair, regenerate, and recoup. It’s recommended that teens get 8-10 hours of sleep. And catching plenty of Zzzz’s will help you wake up refreshed, reenergized, and ready to tackle your training.


Q: Do I need both training shoes and racing ones?

Dr. K’s A: You definitely need a good pair of trainers and it’s best to get fitted for them to make sure they are comfortable and provide the right amount of cushion and support for you. It’s also a good idea to have more than one pair to rotate between. That way, you have a spare in case your shoes get wet, and your shoes will stay in good condition longer, which helps reduce your risk of injury.

Spikes are an optional investment, used for racing only. These shoes are lighter weight and helpful for experienced runners looking to gain speed in competition. They’re especially useful on race days and courses with rough or wet terrain. However, nothing says you can’t race in your trainers or a pair of racing flats (lightweight shoes without spikes) if that feels more comfortable to you.


Q: What other gear do I need besides shoes?

Dr. K’s A: Socks, shorts, running tights or pants, and shirts should be made of a wicking material which wicks sweat away from your body and allows it to evaporate. This keeps you dry and comfortable as opposed to cotton which absorbs moisture. A wind and water resistant jacket is good to have as well to protect you from bad weather days.

In addition to wicking abilities, look for durable materials that are lightweight and light in color which will help to keep you cool on hot summer runs.

Get Ready to Crush Your Cross-Country Season

With these pro training tips and a trip to Gazelle Sports, you’ll be well on your way to a great cross-country season. We’ll help you find the perfect shoe and fit, get you the gear you want, and give you all the support you need. Come see us, and let the summer training begin!

To contact Dr Kornoelje or the University of Michigan Health West Sports Medicine team, go to or call 616-252-7778.

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