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12-Year-Old with Asthma on Cross Country Team

My daughter is very athletic. She has always been active in many sports. She can beat most kids in a sprint and decided to join her schools cross country team.

Her age group runs 1.5 miles against other teams.

She has no idea how to pace herself or train to become faster and able to run longer distance. She uses her inhaler before a meet and has done ok with her asthma. Any suggestions? CZ

cross country running, running tips
Answer by Dominique:

Hi there,
Thanks for your question about your daughter's cross country running.

The shorter distances like the 1.5 mile run are difficult races to run.

They require a good mix of endurance and speed.

Many high schoolers do way too much speed training and not enough endurance building.

That's a shame because it is really only when you have got that endurance, that it makes sense to do speed workouts. It's no good being able to run fast, if you can only do it for 400m and then collapse!

What she'll want to work on is to work on both her endurance and her speed. You'll want to get to a state where she can comfortably cover 1.5 mile or more at an easy pace, and in addition work on her fast running.

Your daughter can best work on her endurance by doing longer runs at an easy pace. You'd have to start off slowly with just trying to cover the 1.5 mile distance, and after that build it up slowly to maybe 3 miles or so.

For adults or older high school students I would recommend going further than that, but I am very conscious of her asthma, the fact that she is only twelve years old and probably hitting puberty.

So, you and her need to work out how far you want to take it. But the basic idea is that she gets used to covering more than her race distance easily. This will build her endurance. Also see the base running page for further detail.

Speed can best be increased by doing faster running like interval running. She could start by doing a few repetitions of 3 minutes of easy running, followed by 1 minute of fast running.

Over time this can be build up by increasing the periods of fast running, increasing the repetitions and decreasing the easy running.

E.g. in the beginning she might be doing 3 x 3 min easy, 1 min fast, whereas 4-6 months down the track she'd be doing 5 x 2 min easy, 4 min fast. Again, I am very conscious of her age and asthma which can especially come into play with the faster running, so you'd need to monitor this closely and do what makes sense for her without overdoing it.

How to put this all together?

Suppose she is running 3-4 x per week, the I would advise to do:

  • One run longer and slower

  • One run faster (i.e. intervals)

  • One or two easy runs

  • This general approach should work reasonably well in the beginning. Over time, given the distance is relatively short you'll want to remove one of the easy runs and replace it with another interval session, but for now I would put the emphasis on endurance and worry about the speed later.

    Hope this helps.
    Best of luck.
    Kind regards,

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