Runners Know Best: XC Tips From The Pros

Chris Derrick

The end of summer brings cooler temps, changing leaves, and high school cross-country runners training on every sidewalk.  Eastbay sat down with Chris Derrick and Emily Infeld of Nike’s elite Bowerman Track Club to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what this tough-as-nails sport looks like at the professional level.

Here’s their advice for up and comers:

Focus On The Big Picture

“My high school coach used to say all the time that the two keys were consistency and moderation, and I think moderation allows you to be consistent,” explained Chris. “I think that’s something that a lot of professional athletes, or high-level high school and college athletes, struggle with — the moderation element — because we all want to be really good, and we want people to think we’re tough, and we want to work really hard.

“So sometimes, when I should take a day off, I don’t because I want to have that perfect training log. That’s been a big thing that I’ve learned since becoming professional, just knowing when I need to back off a little bit and think long term.”

Keep It Simple

“Fitness is fitness,” explained Chris. “Obviously, at the elite level, the small differences are magnified in terms of strengths, but I think that mental discipline and physical fitness are the deciders, whether it be on the cross-country course or on the track.

“Running is a pretty simple sport,” he added.  “It’s mainly just about working really hard aerobically and getting in as many miles as you can staying healthy. A lot of the stuff we do with the PT people we work with is just trying to maintain our strength in an ancillary way so we can stay healthy and run more mileage. We focus a lot on glute activation, hip mobility, all that kind of stuff that tends to be pretty poor in runners.”

Emily agreed, and emphasized the importance of not overdoing it right before a race. “You don’t have to hammer the day before a race,” said Emily. “Just a nice, easy run and then some good quick strides to feel like you’re flushing the legs out and getting good, quick turnover.”

Emily Infeld

Gain A Mental Edge

“Everyone’s just as tired as you,” said Emily. You just have to bear down and deal with that uncomfortable feeling. That’s what a cross-country race is. It’s dealing with a lot of pain and discomfort while you’re running and not checking out mentally, letting yourself know that it’ll ebb and flow.

“Pushing yourself in training and practice and kind of riding that edge enables you to — when you’re running a cross-country race — try and do the same sort of thing, pushing yourself to that level and seeing how long you can hang for — being tough.”

Above All, Love Your Sport

“The thing I love about cross country is that it’s really gritty, authentic, and each course is totally different,” said Emily. “It’s never cookie cutter. That’s what’s fun about cross country, just being super competitive, racing everyone around you, and just trying to see what you can do — putting yourself out there and seeing what it’ll get you.”

“You can just grind people down on the grass,” said Chris. “It’s just a really pure, fun element of the sport, and I think it appeals to my strengths as an athlete, as well. What I want to get out of the sport is to be able to test myself and find out how good I can be, and also just how disciplined and strong I can be mentally. Cross country provides an avenue for that that’s just very pure.”

Watch Chris and Emily talk about pushing their limits to increase their distance.

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