For high school cross country runners, summer training 'separates the champions from the also-rans'

For high school cross country runners, summer training 'separates the champions from the also-rans'
Dillon Coffey of Hereford attended a summer camp in Wisconsin this summer that featured a 1,000-mile bike ride. (John Coffey)

Dillon Coffey of Hereford works tirelessly throughout the summer in training for cross country season. He runs on a regular basis but also found another way to train while school is out.

Coffey attended a summer camp in Wisconsin that featured a 1,000-mile bike ride that he took part in for a second straight year. After running several miles during the first part of the summer, Coffey leans heavily on biking during the second half, a big reason the junior has grown into a strong runner who finished 12th in the state's Class 2A championship race last fall.


Cross country runners do not simply start running when practices begin in August. Many already have spent the summer training for the long distances which await them in the fall. There are numerous ways for runners to grow into great shape for the upcoming season, and teams employ various methods to do so.

"Summer training is what separates the champions from the also-rans," John Carroll girls coach Rob Torres said. "You have to have that base mileage in place before you start the intense training in late August and early September. Those who don't are playing catch-up and often get injured from doing too much before they're ready for it."

Teams train in different styles throughout the summer when coaches are not there to supervise. The Dulaney boys cruised to the Class 4A state title last fall while the girls finished second, and both teams worked hard that summer in their own ways.

Coach Chad Boyle said that many of their runners attend a camp in North Carolina that's managed by Appalachian State. The college's staff pushes teams through five days of training and team-building exercises. In addition, the Dulaney coaching staff gives every runner a mileage goal and even presents an award to the most improved boy and girl at a late August preseason time trial.

At South River, boys coach Josh Carroll said the runners are encouraged to build their mileage base and take care of their bodies throughout the summer. They want the athletes to watch their diet, hydration and sleep habits. Plus, they do cross-training two or three days a week, often running at 7 a.m.

Mount Saint Joseph is the defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion, the Gaels' first team title in the sport. Coach Phil Turner said his team got together for 6 a.m. practices a few mornings a week, a 6 p.m. run once a week and a Saturday run as he trains for a 50-mile race in Boonsboro in November.

"One of the things is just creating a culture of runners," Turner said. "It's really an exhilarating thing. It's really cool. Every kid gets to achieve at their own level."

Maria Coffin of Annapolis is one of the state's top runners and defending Class 4A state champion. She spent lots of time working on her own this summer. The coaches gave her a baseline to follow, and the senior modified it in spots.

Coffin ran close to 50 miles per week in the summer, often around 7 or 8 a.m. on trails around the school or in the area and even on a local golf course. She focuses on mileage in the summer and not as much on speed.

"It's mainly just about endurance in the summer, and it helps you somewhat," Coffin said. "You have to do the work during the season and do the speed, too. This year, I [worked] kind of similar to what I did last year, and I felt like I had a good mileage base going into the season, and then I worked on speed."

That's why Coffey pushes himself on the road and the bike in the summer. Coffey headed to Camp Osrui in Oconomowoc, Wis., and the 1,000-mile, 20-day ride to Michigan and back is part of the experience.

Coffey has done the ride the past two summers with his sister, Sarah, a top runner at Hereford who starts at Princeton this fall who did it for the past four – and loves the experience. He rode about 50 miles daily over approximately six to seven hours and slept at different campsites each night.

He also ran 25 to 30 minutes two out of every three days.

"I think it puts me in really good cardiovascular shape at the start of the season," Coffey said. "I feel like it's [an edge]."


Hereford coach John Roemer IV is fine with biking – since he also did it during his college career. Roemer ran at Johns Hopkins and rode his bike 4,500 miles across the country during the summer of 1982.

He biked about 100 miles daily back then and, much like Coffey, ran on a regular basis as well during the trip. That is why Roemer backs what might raise the eyebrows of some others.

"If he's got more biking mileage than running mileage, then I'm all for it," Roemer said. "Dillon is highly motivated."

Many top runners feature similar motivation. The late Steve Prefontaine, one of the greatest distance runners of all time, said that to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. Runners all want to reach the finish line first, which is why they spend so much time working in the summer.

"I think it's a pretty big factor in your long-term success over the season because it really builds a strong base for you," Coffey said of his summer work. "Like our coaches say, then you can train for speed."