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Looking to go the distance in the post-season?
Ask those who've been there.

compiled by Laura Magee
with Suzanne Girard Eberle, Melody Fairchild, Patricia Ley and Rob & Kathy Hipwood

The regular cross country season has flown by again. Many teams and individuals are extending their season by choosing to compete in the post season, from state all-star meets to regional and national competitions like Foot Locker and NXN. In an effort to figure out what that takes to stay strong beyond regular season competition, we contacted five individuals who’ve been there before. Each of our contributors has demonstrated postseason success, and now DyeStat readers can benefit from their experience

Want the secrets to staying healthy, avoiding burnout, peaking properly...in general, how to succeed in the post season?

Ask one of the greatest female high school runners in history, Melody Fairchild, now director of Melody Fairchild Running Camp. Or, turn to a pair of former college teammates, turned husband and wife, turned co-coaches. Kathy and Rob Hipwood continue to prepare their Los Alamos NM teams for a competitive postseason. Well-studied on the importance of fueling the body, Suzanne Girard Eberle has lived her advice as an elite runner. Patty Ley, another great runner who transitioned from prep athlete to collegiate star to post-collegiate success to stand-out coach at Gig Harbor WA, shares what her experiences have taught.

Each has a unique take on what it takes to excel in post season competition, and each was willing to share their top 5 tips.
ADVICE: Suzanne Girard Eberle - Melody Fairchild - Kathy & Rob Hipwood - Patricia Ley

Suzanne Girard Eberle, MS, RD, CSSD

Sports Nutritionist, Author, and Former Elite Runner - Portland OR

1. Eat to run, don't run to eat. Don't fall into the mind trap that if "I'm just a little lighter I'll run that much faster." Eat in a way daily that leaves you physically ready and mentally prepared to train and compete. (Weight loss, if needed, is always addressed off-season.)

2. If in doubt, leave it out. This isn't the time for doing anything "extra," like running more miles, picking up a new drill or exercise in the weight room or deciding to change how you eat by becoming a vegetarian or "giving up sugar" or sweets. Trust yourself. Stick with the tried and true.

3. Keep your mind engaged. As you taper your training for big races, you will have more time on your hands. Have other personal interests and hobbies outside of your running life that you can turn to that are relaxing and fun. This could include reading, crafts, watching movies, volunteer work, hanging out with non-running friends, etc.

4. Monitor both your legs and your mind. To consistently perform at your best, you need both your legs (muscles) and the personal drive and desire (mind) to want to race. You may be able to get away with competing on just one for a race or two, however, it won't last. Be honest with yourself and your coach about when its time to end this season of racing.

5. Don't pull any all-nighters. Adequate sleep is one of the cornerstones of staying healthy, focused and motivated. This means getting to bed on time night after night --not catching up on sleep on the weekends. If you want to be competitive post-season at a more advanced level, you need to set yourself up to be successful. If you can't get to bed at a reasonable time, you've got to much going on. Remind yourself that you can't do everything --even if you want to --at the same time. Prioritize and simplify your life, especially if you've made a commitment to your coach and teammates.

Suzanne Girard Eberle is a board-certified sports dietitian and author of Endurance Sports Nutrition-Second Edition. Don't let all of her scientific knowledge fool you, this woman knows what it means to train and compete. Suzanne was a five-time NCAA All American while at Georgetown University, a member 3 USA teams, and a USATF 5,000-meter track champion. Her personal bests include a 4:28 mile and a 32:40 10K.


Melody Fairchild is one of five two-time Foot Locker National Champions, and she still holds the course record. She owns eight state championship titles, and was the first high school girl to break ten minutes for two miles. A collegiate career at the University of Oregon included All-American honors, Pac-10 and National titles.

Melody went on to run professionally for Nike, qualifying for two Olympic Trials. She has shared her gift and love for running through coaching, and now her all-girls summer running camp, the Melody Fairchild Running Camp.


Melody Fairchild

Running Camp Director - Boulder CO

1. Have a VISION of yourself "surging" past the date of your State Championships, through regionals and nationals. This requires that mentally you have a vision of yourself from the beginning of x-c season (or maybe even from the end of your most recent track season) that places your State Championship as a "step along the road" to Regionals and Nationals. This is not to say that you devalue the State experience at all, but more to say that you Broaden your Horizons; when the National Championships marks the "end" of your x-c season, not State, you raise the bar, elevating your thoughts to a bigger arena, EXPANDING your frontier; We are limited only by the scope of our imaginations! ** You may even want to Dream on to the World Stage, and extend your season to February, when you can try out for the World Junior X-C team and have an opportunity to compete in the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!

2. Emphasize QUALITY OVER QUANTITY in your training. It is possible that as a national-class runner in high school, your x-c season could last from August to March, if you were to run State, Regional, National, World Team Trials and World Championships! (This was my experience in high school). In order for this to work, you must have a training plan that is conservative with mileage, and big on VISION! Make all of your running high-quality; no "junk" miles. Your bodies are growing, and can run fantastic times and championship performances on high quality, not high quantity, training.*

*This applies to a HIGH QUALITY DIET as well! Eat only foods that you know support and nourish your body to perform the challenges you place on it. If you love sugar, go ahead and break up with it; it will get over you :)

3. Plan RECOVERY DAYS into your training. Pool Running, or days off, with an emphasis on lengthening your muscles, an antidote to the pounding and compression of running, will help preserve your body for the high quality running you want to do.

4. Maintain PERSPECTIVE. Take a step back now and then, and remember that every workout you do, every race you compete in, is part of a process toward your Becoming as a well-rounded, seasoned competitor who has a collegiate and adult running career ahead of you. The Point: Take it easy on yourself when you have an off-workout, or don't have the result you were looking for in a race. One of the things I have learned about staying STRONG beyond regular-season competition is that disappointments/un-expected outcomes are opportunities to become STRONG by learning to adjust positively to thing s that happen in Life.

5. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Believe that every step you take is carrying you one step closer towards your Dream. Believe in your training plan and believe in your coach. Your plan is designed to work for you. "You are what you believe you are, and you can do whatever you believe you can do!"

Kathy and Rob Hipwood

Co-Head Cross Country Coaches – Los Alamos HS - Los Alamos NM

1. Proper summer base. Very few top caliber athletes can get away with not putting in a substantial summer base. In our program, the amount varies per age and experience and their summer max is only 10-15% greater than their season’s working max. For high school-aged kids, there is a fine balance between putting in the necessary work and getting the necessary mental break from the rigors of structured training/racing. We give the kids a summer program to follow, but we only meet twice/week and attendance must be optional per state association rules. Some amount of intensity year-round keeps them at a higher level and prepares them for more intense work later. However, we prefer tempo work coupled with frequent strides/accelerations to structured interval sessions. It is important that they (and their families) feel as though they are getting a break even while continuing to prepare.

2. Don’t over-race. This goes for summer and during the season; however, it is difficult for some coaches/athletes to have any control over the latter. The racing season is plenty long, so we discourage kids from doing additional races in the summer. One, maybe two as a check or just for fun is fine, but more than that is counterproductive. In our state, we are fortunate in that races are scheduled just once/week. If you must regularly race more than that, some of those races need to be downplayed and done at submax efforts. In addition, we break the racing season up with two scheduled off weeks, never racing more than four, usually three, weeks in a row. Sometimes the kids feel as though they get out of rhythm, but it is better for them in the long run. To maintain a consistent structure, on those weeks we still do a pre-meet workout on Friday followed by a hard day on Saturday.

Emphasize recovery. The first component of this is to err on the side of caution when it comes to training. Top cross country kids generally don’t lack motivation and must learn to listen to their bodies. The quality has to be there but common sense does too. Teach them to push when their body feels eager and back off when it doesn’t. Historically, any kid we’ve had that hasn’t been able to maintain or improve his/her performances into state or after has over-, not under-trained.

The second part of this is getting the kids to understand that the time away from the workouts is just as important as practice time. As in most places, our cross country kids are also the ones who are involved in other activities, carry heavy academic loads, volunteer, etc. They will run themselves ragged if it goes unchecked. At their age, they can get away with a lot and still perform for a while, but it eventually takes a toll and they can easily end up injured, feeling burned out, etc.

During the post season, our training approach is to maintain enough mileage to keep their fitness and do just enough intensity to stay sharp. At this point, it is really about staying healthy and fresh, not making big physical gains.

Keep it fun. As much as anything else, the kids’ states of mind impact their longevity. They work incredibly hard, but the practice atmosphere is very light-hearted. Our recent boys’ teams have been amazing at balancing this aspect. They are joking around much of the time, yet they are 100% focused on completing the task at hand.

We are also selective in terms of which meets we build up as important from a mental standpoint. The ultimate priority is our state meet, but we take things one week at a time and approach mid-season meets as stepping stones, not do-or-die situations. From a team standpoint, the NXN regional format helps in that we don’t have to worry about weekly rankings.

If the physical and mental aspects have been kept in check throughout the season, they are ready to handle a few more weeks. Last year, our boys and Albuquerque Academy raced each other 7 times during the year, yet both teams raced well in December.

This husband-wife duo have elevated Los Alamos to the national arena, and keep them there year after year.

As a high school athlete
qualified for the Kinney (now Footlocker) National Cross Country Championships. He is a former NAIA national champion in track and cross country for Adams State and a contributing member of three national title teams. He knows the pressures of a long season first hand.

also competed for Adams State earning an All-American honor. Kathy and Rob have coached Los Alamos to a combined 14 state titles and taken three teams to NTN. Last year, Los Alamos XC Club finished second by just two points at Nike Team Nationals in Portland OR. They hope to perform well at the NXN Southwest Regional to earn another chance to race the top teams in the nation.

Patty ran for Gig Harbor when it first opened. After a high school career of state titles, Patty went on to collegiate (lettering at University of Oregon, Washington State, and Pacific Lutheran University)
and post-collegiate success.

After a 1992 Olympic Trials qualifier and regional accolades, Patty began to mentor Gig Harbor athletes, and eventually took over as head coach. Gig Harbor, a regular in the Northwest's regional top ten ranking, has shown they have what it takes to be competitive in the postseason. In 2005, Gig XC (Gig Harbor's postseason alias) placed 7th at Nike Team Nationals, the top of four NW teams. In 2007,
Gig Harbor's Miles Unterreiner
(right) was WA 4A state champ, BorderClash champ, and Footlocker Finalist.

The 2008 postseason is already bright with Gig senior Alyssa Andrews winning NXN NW Regionals in a course record time of 17:58.6.

Patricia Ley
Head Cross Country Coach - Gig Harbor HS - Gig Harbor WA

1. Refresh. Once the track season is over, take some down time – usually two weeks. If you want to run, run. Don’t feel guilty for not running, but try to stay active. School finishes in mid-June for us, so this is a time when our kids can just focus on finals and school. Be sure you mark the day when you will start running again – and hold yourself to it.

2. Friends keep you on track. We schedule a chance to meet four days a week. I see this as providing the opportunity to get together. It takes the guess work out of it for the athletes. Our captains and seniors typically schedule two other days. None of these are mandatory, but attendance has tripled in the last three years. We now have 30 to 40 athletes each morning. The more chances you have to meet, the more likely you will. You just don’t get excuses. Don’t wait for you coaches to arrange the days. Commit to each other. Each team mate can host a day – call the place – call the time – be consistent. That said, family comes first. Go on vacation, but get the run in and be at the runs every day you are in town.

3. Consistency. Whether you are meeting with your team or on vacation with your family, you need to get out on a regular basis. Your body responds best to consistent training. You stay healthier and improve faster. Great runners are built out of small blocks over years not weeks. Summer is about putting in the background work. This work allows you to do the faster more intense work later and gives you a buffer against injury and illness. Don’t just jump in to running a lot of miles, build up. Most teams use a 5 or 10% rule to increase the mileage. We tend to do three weeks of increasing mileage then drop back to the middle then build again. (Week 1 – 25 Week 2 – 28 – 30 – Week 3 30-33 – Week 4 28-30).

4. Variety. Our kids try to mix it up a lot. They run at the school all season, so they want to try new runs and go new places. Take “field trips” with your team mates. Go to the lake, the beach, the mountains or those trails you always wanted to explore. Mix up the terrain: grass, trail, hills, flat; use it all.

5. Get strong – stay healthy. We are in the weight room twice a week and are doing a core and upper body routine all the other days. Something we will emphasize this year. Eat consistently and well. We have found a number of our kids with iron issues coming off the summer, eating right should turn it around – we hope.

As you see, not many secrets. Get out, get it done.

Photos (top to bottom) by Robert Rosenberg, Kirby Lee, John Nepolitan and John Dye