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Guide for prospective runners and parents

To the parents of Clarkston Junior High and Sashabaw Middle School Cross Country athletes:

We would like to take this opportunity to welcome your son or daughter to the Clarkston Cross Country team.  We would also like to invite you to participate in your child’s athletic endeavors in any way you feel comfortable; whether as an exercise partner, volunteer at the cross country meets or just coming to some of the meets to encourage your child. Please feel free to call with any concerns or questions. 

Our long term goal for the program is to provide an atmosphere where students may enjoy running enough to continue to run their entire lives. Our goal for the season is to implement a system where student’s can work independent of the coach to improve their running performance and enjoy the sport.   Our secondary goals for the season are to bring a large competitive team to each meet and to get as many students as possible wanting to run throughout the winter and summer.  Finally, we would like to feed the high school program with enthusiastic athletes who will continue to run through high school. 


Practice will officially begin on the first full day of school (the first day of school is only a half day) and workouts will be held at both Clarkston and Sashabaw Middle Schools after school Monday through Friday except for days of meets or scheduled days of rest. There will be almost at least one meet scheduled per week throughout the season from September through the end of October.

In middle school, we wish for students to experiment and find their niche.  There are many activities a student can choose from.  We realize that cross country running is one possible activity and does not take priority over family and academics. We prefer to allow the athlete to set his or her own priorities and find a balance where running fits into his or her life.  If homework is heavy, if its Grandpa’s birthday, if their stomach is not quite right or if there is any pain from running at all, your son or daughter should feel comfortable taking time away from the sport.  We ask that runners notify us prior to an absence. As athletes continue with the program, we help them learn how to find that balance and what it means to commit to a team.


Our experience from working with runners in the past has provided us with the following thoughts:

  • The spark must come from the athlete
  • The coach can encourage but not motivate
  • The athlete will learn to motivate his/her self
  • The athlete should track his/her own progress
  • When a person is treated with respect and given responsibility, that person will respond with unusual effort
  • Other than words of encouragement one should never yell at an athlete
  • When racing, the race is run in the athlete’s head
  • In every race a little voice in the athlete’s head says “Slow down, this is not comfortable”
  • Learning to defeat that voice in your head is half the battle.
  • You can win a race without coming in first
  • Using “Personal Bests” will help to catapult the athlete to greater achievement
  • Winning is fun but not important
  • The athlete can succeed without winning
  • Racing in meets is a good way to gauge the athlete’s progress
  • Improvement equates to success


Rather than discourage some athletes, who would prefer not to compete, we have structured the program to include both competitive runners and social runners.  The athlete will choose which type of runner he/she wishes to be and may change his/her mind back and forth several times throughout the season.  Competitive runners will participate as athletes do in other sports. They will use participation on the cross country team to achieve a high level of fitness.   Competitive runners will race in most meets and may choose just to run in others. They will need more of the coach’s time to plan practices, establish goals, and learn more about the sport.  Social runners will need less of the coach’s time, but are still important.  They will use participation on the cross country team to get in shape and stay in shape. These athletes may choose to just run in meets instead of race in meets.  Social runners are still active members of the team who may help those runners wishing to compete.  Social runners should not try to deter a competitive runner from doing his/her best.  A social runner may at any time change his/her mind and decide to compete.  While the parents of a competitive runner might ask about the athlete’s time and place in a meet, the parents of a social runner might ask how the course was and if the runner enjoyed the run.

We want to assure you that the fastest runners will not take precedence over slower runners.  We believe all athletes are important.   Middle of the pack runners may be tomorrow’s star runners.  Back of the pack runners are ahead of the many students who have chosen not to participate.  They are not last.


The athlete’s progress is the athlete’s responsibility.  After some baselines are established on each runner, the athlete can then decide on his/her long term and short-term goals.  All of our race results are available online. Athletes can decide how much they want to record for their personal benefit. This could be on paper using a running journal (can purchase one online or create your own) or using an online resource such as Strava. Besides knowing their race time, it can be beneficial to record other factors such as the weather, how did they feel that race, what did they eat before the race. Runners can also see benefits by recording the workouts they do during practice. 


The team will provide a running singlet and shorts for each runner. Damaged or unreturned items will be charged for their replacement costs.  The student must provide a good pair of running shoes. Please only purchase running specific shoes. Visit Runnin Gear on Dixie Highway to receive a team discount on shoes!  A wristwatch, which has a stopwatch function, is a must.  The watches may be purchased in any department store and range from $5 for a simple chronograph to $40 for the Timex Ironman Triathlon with 100-lap memory.   Your son or daughter should bring a water bottle to practice with his/her name on it.  A gym lock is also necessary. We want to keep our muscles warm before a race. It is helpful to have warm up pants. Pants with zipper legs make it easier to take them off right before the start of a race. A hoodie or warm up jacket is also nice to have.


The team will be broken up into groups based on each runner’s time on our home course. The daily workouts will be geared toward the level of each group.  Unless otherwise stated, practice will be after school Monday through Friday.  Sashabaw goes to Sashabaw Plains Park for their workouts as well as running the sidewalks along Maybee and Sashabaw Roads. CJHS practice on the campus of Clarkston Junior High as well as running in many of the surrounding neighborhoods as well as going to the high school. 


Getting in shape is the most difficult time for the athlete.  They must overcome the natural tendency and urge to stop running.  Side stitches are common in the first several weeks.  It is important to increase the effort in very gradual steps.  Then once a reasonable level of fitness is attained, it is best not to ever get out of shape again.  Doing it once is enough!  We will encourage the athletes to stretch to avoid injuries.  


Our greatest need due to the number of athletes who wish to run in the program are parents who can help out.   This may be driving athletes to our home meets (SMS runners only), helping work the finish line for our home meets, or helping keep the various groups where they need to be during our away meets. With so many runners, we find that we need to be in more than one place at a time and can be only with your help.  At the end of the season we put a slide show.  Any pictures you may have would be greatly appreciated.  Most of all we need families coming to the meets to cheer on our athletes.

We coach cross country because we love to run and wish to pass that enjoyment on to a new generation of runners. We are looking forward to meeting you and running with your son or daughter.

What is Cross Country?

Cross Country is long distance running over a natural surface course.  Races are run through trails, fields, golf courses, woods, hills, and parks.  Most middle school courses are 2 miles (ish).   High School races are typically a 5K (a touch over 3 miles).  A cross runner runs for 3 reasons.

  • To improve themselves and their own race PR (Personal Record).
  • To get the highest place possible to help the team score.
  • To help other members of their team do the above.

Why Cross Country?

  • 100% team participation – you will never “sit on the bench” in this sport!
  • Longevity – this is a sport you can do your whole life.
  • Clear results for the efforts you put in – The more you run the easier it will be.
  • It is the world’s oldest sport – we just wear shoes and newer clothes – and we don’t use spears anymore.
  • Its one of the few coed sports around – boys and girls often train and run together.
  • But I can’t run long distances!?

Good News!! Your first years as a runner have little indication of your running potential.

Welcome to the human race!  There are very few individuals who have the ability to run long distances the first time they try.  I have never heard of someone who decided to start by running a marathon (26.2 miles).  The truth is at 11, 12, or 13 years old you have no idea what kind of runner you could be.  Especially if you have never run any distances at all.  Most athletes experience with running comes through gym class (the dreaded mile) or through parents or family members that run.  How long did you train before you ran the mile in gym?  The fact is dodge ball and sharks & minnows will not develop great distance runners.  If it did we would have dodge ball gyms in place of tracks.  Many great runners have developed from persons who were too “small” for football, too “tall” for ballet, too “slow” for soccer, too “uncoordinated” for soccer or basketball.  Running is sport in its purest form, with few minimum requirements to hinder success.  You have no idea how good you could be!

Training and Success

There are three keys to success in running: talent, time spent training, and consistent hard work.  Talent is the part of running you have inherited in your body, and while no one has the same amount, a hard working runner can pass a lazy talented runner given enough time.  Improvement from year to year is hinged on the running you do year round.  Running is a sport where you can clearly see results for the effort you put in.

Why Training Works

Your body is an incredible machine.  It has the ability to change itself to get better at what ever it needs to do.  If you lift rocks all day, your body is going to make changes to help your rock lifting happen more efficiently.  A person who sits on the couch all day will have a body adapting to help them sit on the couch longer.  A weight lifter lifts weight to try to get their body to change, but it takes time to do so.  You will never see a runner sit on the couch for 5 years, run once and then win the Boston Marathon.  Your body doesn’t work that way!

Training to be a better runner require 2 things…running to stress your body out and doing this enough times so your body thinks it needs to make changes.  If you try to cram a years worth of training into 1 month you will most likely end up hurt, tired and slow.  The basic truth of running is this:

The more you run…the harder and further you will be able to run!

However, a runner can’t run at 100% of effort 100% of the time.  That is why it is wise to alternate both distance and effort.  Running too hard all the time can lead to over-training which can leave you prone to injury.

Running produces marked changes in your body, but one of the most pronounced is in your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs).  This system becomes modified to help oxygen be delivered to the muscles that are crying for it.  This modification can include strengthening the heart and producing new blood vessels to increase blood supply to the legs.

Your muscles require two main things to be able to work: Oxygen and Glucose.  Oxygen is taken in with the air you breath, brought into your blood in the lungs and pumped to your cells to help them unlock the energy stored in glucose.  Glucose is the form of sugar that your cells and muscles use for energy and come from the food you eat.  You eat foods that have lots of other types of molecules and sugars, but all of this need to be converted into glucose in order for your body to use them for energy.

There are two ways that your body uses glucose for fuel, either with oxygen or without it.  This is also known as aerobic and anaerobic respiration.

Aerobic Respiration – This is when your body burns glucose with oxygen, or in other words your heart and lungs can deliver enough oxygen for your muscles to do whatever they are doing.

Anaerobic Respiration – This is when your body burns glucose without oxygen, or in other words, your heart and lungs can’t deliver enough oxygen for your muscles to do what they are doing.  This type of respiration can’t occur very long because it produces a substance called “Lactic Acid”.  Lactic acid is what makes muscles burn when they are overworked.  When a person is undergoing anaerobic respiration they have a limited time (seconds and minutes) before they will have to stop what they are doing.

A distance runner needs to be aware of this because if you run too fact your body will go into “anaerobic” mode and your muscles will force you to either slow down or stop.  A distance runner tries to run as fast as they can without entering anaerobic respiration.  This is another benefit of training is that a runner who has trained can run faster without going “anaerobic” and when they do go “anaerobic” they can do so for a longer period of time before they have to quit!

General Training Plan

In Cross Country we will have three types of days, easy, distance, and hard.  The easy day consists of a short run.  This day is designed to remind your muscles that you are a runner, but not stress them out.  We usually do easy runs the day before a meet. 

The distance day consists of a moderate pace or “conversation pace” (you should be able to talk to someone while running) that goes for a longer distance.  However this pace should be faster than your warm up pace otherwise we call this “junk miles” and you might as well be sitting on the couch.  This run improves your endurance and efficiency.  It also helps clear your muscles of lactic acid (soreness) from a hard workout.  Running long slow distances will not make you fast, but they will get your muscles ready for the workouts to make you fast and they will help your endurance. 

The hard workouts consist of faster running but usually over shorter distances or periods of time.  These are what stress your body to try get to change so you can run faster.  A good training program will alternate hard and distance days with occasional easy days and days of no running.

Monday – 3 miles Distance

Tuesday – 2 miles, 10 hill repeats

Wednesday – 4 miles distance

Thursday – 1 mile warm up, 3 3-minute repeats, ½ mile cool down

Friday – Easy or distance (2-4) or off

Saturday – off or distance (4 or mile)

Here is the main challenge of sports; most studies show that it takes several weeks for the body to begin to make changes!  I’m not talking basic fitness, but gains in performance.  In fact, most workouts require 6 to 8 weeks before you start to see drastic effects.  The problem is that most middle school seasons are short (ours is only 9 weeks!).  If you come in with no time spent running, you will use most of the season just getting into shape instead of making yourself faster.  Too often athletes come into a season out of shape, get in good shape by the end of the season, then don’t run for 4 months, and end up out of shape for the next season.  Usually these types of athletes may improve their times from year to year, but these gains are related more to their body growing then what they themselves are doing to make it able to run faster and these gains are far less then they could have been.  If you make it a goal to try and maintain your fitness between seasons you will be able to take advantage of every season to make large improvements.

Team Rules

  • All school rules and athletic codes apply to all functions of cross country.
  • All runners are expected to attend every meet and practice unless excused by the coach.
  • Being tired or just not wanting to run is not an excused absence.
  • An unexcused absence may result in the runner not being able to compete in the next meet.
  • Be positive and respectful to your teammates, your coach, and their belongings.
  • Conduct yourself on the bus according to bus rules. 
  • When we ride with parent volunteers, respect their rules for they are graciously donating their time.
  • Be respectful of other teams, athletes, officials, and coaches.

Rules of the Game

  • When the gun shoots…run.
  • Stop after you cross the finish line.
  • Don’t hinder any other runner on the course.
  • Run within 10 feet of the course markings and round all course markers correctly.
  • Runners should wear the proper uniform, tucked in.


The places of the first 5 runners finishing for the team are added together to get the score for the team.  The lowest score wins.  In the event of a tie, the 6th runner’s place will be counted.  A high school team runs with 7 runners – 5 to score and the 6th as a tiebreaker if needed and the 7th as an alternate should anyone not finish the race.  In middle school each race can be different. Usually there is a JV and Varsity race. The varsity race is normally the fastest 8 or 10 runners, all other runners run in the JV race. Boys and girls may run separately or at the same time depending on the meet but they are scored separately as a girl’s team and a boy’s team.

Here is a scoring example:

We have runners finish – 3rd, 8th, 14th, 27th, and 33rd.  (Remember only top 5 count for points).  Add up these places add you get  (hey put those calculators down!)  85 points.  If we are the lowest score we would win.  So, the object of each race is to get your top 5 runners to finish as fast as possible.

Type of Meets

A dual meet involves just two schools competing against each other.  A jamboree may have 8 to 10 schools. An invitational can be as many as 40 or more schools. All of these schools are competing against each other.


The most important piece of equipment in cross country is good running shoes.  You will want shoes designed for running NOT cross training, basketball, soccer, or tennis.  Running shoes have the proper support and cushioning that will help you ran more comfortably and prevent injury. Shoes should last between 300 and 500 miles, usually the cushioning will give out before the tread wears out.  Make sure your shoes fit properly.  It is recommended that you go shopping during the afternoon when your feet are the largest.  You should have some space between the front of your shoe and your toe (1/2 inch).  Shoes that are too large or too small will give blisters.  Running Gear located on Dixie Highway is an excellent place to buy shoes.  The staff there is very helpful and is able to answer any questions you may have.  They also have a 10% discount when you tell them you’re on the cross-country team!  (Subject to change be sure to ask first).  We do not recommend buying spikes.  These are shoes with little spikes on the bottom and are also manufactured to be very lightweight.  While they can make a difference, middle school runners are growing at such a rapid pace that they can grow out of shoes before the season even ends!  This can get to be expensive to buy spikes.

You will be provided with a racing short, and singlet (tank top). These are turned in at the end of the season.  You are not to practice with the racing short or singlet.  You should have clothes that are appropriate for the weather. Be prepared, the weather changes often here in the great state of Michigan .  Hot days will require shorts and a t-shirt or tank top.  Colder days will require sweats (wind pants and long sleeve T or sweatshirt). 


You are what you eat.  Your body is an incredible machine, capable of releasing tons of energy from the fuel you provide it (food).  The better the fuel (food) you put in your body the better it will be able to run.  Junk food (slow food) does little for your running.  Most are little more than packets of colored sugar.  Eating sugar will give you energy for a short period of time and then will make you crash (sugar low).  When you crash you will have less energy than you did before you ate the sugar, leaving you slow, sluggish, and weak.  Sugar from a candy bar will not last long enough in your body to help you in a race.  If it did you would see the start line of the Olympic track littered with Reeses Peanut Butter Cup wrappers.  Let your competition eat junk food, in fact, let them eat your junk food, especially on race day!

Breakfast – Try cereal or oatmeal.  Some runners never drink milk products the morning of a morning race.  (A morning race is usually on the weekends when we get up early and are at the racecourse by 9 or 10 AM.) They take too long to digest, avoid the high sugared cereals like Pops, Fruit Loops, etc.

Lunch – Avoid greasy heavy proteins (burgers, fries, greasy pizza) and milk products (milk, cheese, milkshakes).  What you eat at lunch is going to ride inside of you during your training run or your race later that day so you want to make sure that it will sit well with you.

Dinner – Meals high in carbohydrates (pasta, lasagna, rice, breads, pizza) will help give your body plenty of energy for the next day.