Improve My 1600m and 3200m Cross Country Running Times

improve my 1600m and 3200m cross country running times

I ran long distance track last year and here are my PRs:

1600m: 5:35
3200m: 12:40

I have trained all Summer and ran a 5k last week with a time of 19:10. I want to make Varsity on my team next year but that means I need to overtake a couple of runners marginally faster than I am.

I know about base runs and I do at least 2-3 of them a week. I also do some track workouts as well as hills and I am wondering if you have any advice to improve my times.

Lastly I was wondering if strapping on some extra weight on my legs and then running would significantly improve my times.


Answer by Dominique:

Hey there,

I'm thrilled to hear about your dedication to cross country running! You’re already off to a strong start, embracing base runs and hills, as well as track workouts. But let's dive into some deeper insights that might guide you towards improving your pace and snagging that varsity spot, as follows:

1. Analysis of your race performances
2. Strengthening your base
3. Weights around the legs?

Analysis of Your Race Performance

improve my 1600m and 3200m cross country running times
It is always helpful when I receive a few different race performances. It allows me to contrast and compare using my Race Conversion Calculator. This is very insightful!!

Based on your 1600m time of 5:35, your predicted 3200m time is 11:38 (current PR is 12:40).
Based on your 1600m time of 5:35, your predicted 5k time is 18:33 (current PR is 19:10).
Based on your 3200m time of 12:40, your predicted 5k time is 20:11 (hmm, current PR is 19:10??).

That last one looks odd. But I am going to hazard a guess and say that you have done way more 1 mile races compared to 2 miles and that that 2 mile time could be sharper. The first two results look very typical. It shows that you have the inherent ability to run faster on longer distances, but you are currently not quite able to because your base needs to be developed further.

Strengthening Your Base

improve my 1600m and 3200m cross country running times
You mentioned you're already doing 2-3 base runs a week, which is excellent! But let's clarify what base running represents. Picture it as the foundation of your running house. It involves slow, comfortable-paced running, done with consistency, to build aerobic fitness. This should be the majority of your running – roughly about 80%. So keep at it!

It sounds like currently you are doing a good amount of running. But you might be emphasising faster running a bit more than what I would recommend. It is almost guaranteed that you can get faster by just increasing your mileage. Build that engine. Make it stronger and stronger. For the races you do, speed is a smaller influence than what you might expect. Endurance is the big differentiator.

So, I'd recommend doing plenty of easy runs, steady state runs and tempo runs to improve your endurance. I'd be dropping one track workout in favour of a longer steady state run or tempo run. Obviously, the faster running or interval running is also pivotal for a cross country runner, but I'd do that type of running less than what you are currently doing.

Weights Around the Legs

improve my 1600m and 3200m cross country running times
Building strength is important as a runner. Spending some time in the weight room can do wonders for your running. It makes your legs stronger and more injury resilient. As a younger runner, you should be doing any weight room work under supervision of a coach. Also check out the strength training for runners page for more information.

It brings me to the point you made about running with weights strapped onto your legs. I know there could be plenty of folks out there on the internet bouncing around this idea, showcasing it as a shortcut to rapid improvement. However, speaking from a place of care and concern, I would discourage you from taking this route.

The logic behind this is all about body mechanics. With weights strapped on, your legs generate more force while running. The downside is the risk of altering your natural running stride and damaging your running posture and technique. This risk is pretty high, especially for a younger runner like you, whose body is still developing.

We run to make our legs stronger, and that in itself already provides ample stimulus for your legs to gain strength and speed. But if you still aim to have stronger legs for faster runs, resistance training, like I mentioned before, is a safer, more effective alternative.

In the end, don't fall for the gimmicks. Running is a very simple sport: Run a lot. Most of it easy. Some of it fast. That's about it, really!

My hope is that these tips have given you a clearer picture of your path towards achieving your goals. I'm wishing you all the very best in your cross country running journey. Remember, consistency, time, and patience are your best allies. Keep up the hard work, stay patient and watch how your performance soars!

And, of course, always feel free to check back in.
Kind regards,

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