If you weren’t athletic as a youth and got into running after high school, you’ve likely considered running a solo endeavor, or you have a friend or two you meet with for long runs occasionally.
As an ‘adult-onset’ runner myself, I never had a plan other than: 1) go outside, 2) start running. Over the years, I learned a few tips and tricks (like hydrating), but it wasn’t until I started working with a high school cross-country team and attended practices and races that I realized a few major things I had missed.
Here are six takeaways for adult runners:
WARMUPS ARE HUGE
After school, the students congregate on the field, where we proceeded to run a lap of the track to get warm, then do 5–10 minutes of dynamic stretching and a bit of core strength, followed by some skipping, butt kicks and accelerations on the track before starting the actual workout, which started with a light jog for at least the first 10 minutes.
SHORT RUNS ARE GREAT
Students are busy — between classes, homework and part-time jobs, plus sports and extracurriculars — because of that, practices ran from around 3:20 p.m.–4:30 p.m. That’s just over an hour for an extensive warmup, plus a cooldown jog or walk back to the school. Their workouts were so efficient because they were hitting intervals and structured training versus plodding along for a few miles every day. By the end of the season, the new kids on the team had gone from struggling to get around the track to nailing hill repeats.
OTHER SPORTS HELP, TOO
The school cross-country season is only seven weeks long, so students often do multiple sports — overlapping with swimming, cheerleading or skiing. This wasn’t discouraged by the coaches: It was actually applauded. As runners, we can get pretty stuck in our own running bubble, but the coaches at the high school know that to keep students coming back and to foster a love of running, students need time to try other activities. So if swimming or cycling sounds appealing to you, or you want to get out your old XC skis this winter, go for it!
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
The one rule for the kids on the team wasn’t to race your hardest (though that was encouraged); it was to have a can-do, positive attitude. Anyone who’s raised teenagers knows this doesn’t come easy, but, through the season, kids started to see the difference in how they felt and performed based on how positive or negative they were that day. Try to see the positive during runs, even on particularly tough days.
RACING CAN BE A TEAM SPORT
In cross-country racing, not only do individual results matter, but team results also matter. Running tends to be a lone wolf-style sport as an adult, but there are ways to make it more team-oriented. You can go the cross-country route and find a local team and actually get ranked with them as well as individually. But if XC isn’t for you, you can still join a local team or group, or find a challenge or team on an app like MapMyRun that connects you with other runners as part of something bigger than just your training log.
RUNNING MEANS NEW FRIENDS
The best part about the team is the friendships that develop over the season — from day one to the last race. The shy kids who were clearly trying a sport for the first time ended up bonding with the top-level athletes on the team. The jock and the nerd started hanging out and talking about their classes. Just as running bridges divides for kids, adults who run find their community, too.