Sports Care & Fitness

Premier Issue 1988


Nature teaches--even dictates--wisdom. And as all wise people know, for all things there is a season. One season is winter: a time in most of America when barren deciduous trees lie dormant, well-fed bears hibernate, fields are fallow. And track athletes become idle or train at low rpm.

Rest ranks as a most important--and often the most ignored--mainstay of a training program. It's the period during which minute (and sometimes not-so-minute) muscle tears heal; it's also the time during which the psychological well to which serious athletes go for that extra effort, refills.

Usually, the first track meet of the season is scheduled for a date when spring is yet an infant. This presents a problem for the track coach. How does one bring the track athlete from the year's longest rest period to full competition without incurring injuries?

Brooks Johnson, track and cross-country director at Stanford (CA) University, believes passionately that rest is the most important part of any training program. He also believes, however, that rest is relative.

"A cross-country runner who is doing 80 miles a week in the fall can be brought down to 25% of that distance over the winter and still hold a good fitness level," Johnson says. He feels an athlete can "rest" by training at 25% volume, and can maintain good fitness for several months as long as one quality workout per week is run. SLOW DOWN, SLOW UP

He further contends, however, that the athlete should be closely weaned off the cross-country season and just as gradually built toward track season. "It isn't so much what you do in the off-season," he says. "But you've got to take them down very slowly, not stop them all at once."

"One of the tendencies is to have the kids do so little in the off-season," Johnson continues, "that when they come back it works against them psychologically, because they feel, 'Well, I've got to start all over again.' So they feel like they're re-inventing the wheel. They should maintain a certain level of fitness. Then the transition back into serious training will be less painful, less traumatic, and less stressful psychologically."

Dan Dooley, track and cross-country coach for 22 years at San Mateo (CA) High School, stresses flexibility when the athletes come back from Christmas vacation, and strength-training year-round. QUALITY STRETCHING

"I like to have my athletes regularly do stretching," Dooley says. "I think many athletes stretch long enough, but they don't stretch well enough. I think that's a real key--quality stretching."

The former coach of Matt Guifto (Kinney cross-country champion in his senior year and three-time All-American at the University of Oregon) and Kim Schnurpfeil (Stanford standout), Dooley stresses strength.

"After the Christmas layoff, we do a lot of base running, background running, and easy running. But I've always supplemented with weights. I have my kids lift three times a week, just about all year long," he says.

Dooley employs a rather unique weight training approach for his female runners.

"The girls lack upper body strength," says Dooley. "So twice a week, when we aren't lifting [weights]," he says, "we go through a pretty touch session of tosses and throws with the medicine ball, both standing as well as sitting. It's kind of a long ordeal I put them through, but it's a very subtle way of building up some strength, and the kids like it." NO CLOCK WATCHING

Dooley also believes strongly in ignoring the time factor during the early part of the season. "I do less work with the clock than anyone else around," he admits.

"I like to take the kids to the good invitationals where they can run on a good track<" Dooley says, "and where they can let their strength and flexibility backgrounds become part of the formula."

Capuchino High School is in the same school system as Don Dooley's San Mateo High School. Allan Stanbridge, a top local age-group distance runner, has been cross-country and track distance coach at Capuchino during the past eight years.

"In the off-season I encourage the kids to take part in various physical education and non-track sports programs," Stanbridge says. "And for those who are especially dedicated to running, I attempt to keep their off-season mileage down to about 20 miles per week."

In order to maintain his athletes' attitudes about having fun with their running, Stanbridge encourages his more serious runners to compete in local fun-runs with runners of all ages. A LITTLE FARTLEK NOW AND THEN

"After the Christmas Holidays," Stanbridge says, "I add a bit more mileage in January and ease up to two quality runs a week. These are tempo runs, but nothing intense. One of the runs may be fartlek [a Swedish term meaning speed play for endurance training and speed development, attributed to famous 1940s-era Swedish coach Gosta Holmer], but the quality runs that early in the season are never on the track."

Stanbridge cautions against bringing female track athlete along too quickly. "Injuries usually occur when you go from base mileage to quality mileage too fast--particularly with female athletes. Women are especially sensitive to increasing the workload too quickly. A smooth, gentle transition from off-season to track season is important."

If this caution is ignored, lower extremity injuries are almost certain. "Shin splints are the most common early-season complaint I see," Stanbridge reports. "A week of gentle running on grass usually helps."

"With us," Dooley says, "it's shins and pain behind the kneecap. That's why I like to get my kids into meets that are held on good, all-weather tracks. A good track will save the legs."

For Brooks Johnson, who has the luxury of using the all-weather track at the stadium that hosted Super Bowl XIX, the most common complaint involves the joints. "The body's not used to pounding that early in the season," he says. "If they really hit it too hard, the problems become skeletal--small fractures, stuff like that. It's imperative," he says, "for a coach to guide the kids gradually from winter into spring."