Q: My younger brother is a sophomore in High School. He just started running for the track team 2 years ago in 8th grade. His first 2 years were spent running 4x800m relays and the mile. For never having run track, he excelled at the sport. In his second year (freshman year) he averaged a 5:15 in the mile despite missing the first week of the season due to of all things MONO. In Junior High Districts he ran a 5:03 in the 1600 that year.

Following that season he joined a summer track league and competed in a few invitation meets. His times were similar. Then in the fall (sophomore yr) he joined the varsity cross country team and ran in the 17-18 minute range (5k).

This season as a sophomore, my brother had big expectations of cracking 5 minutes in the mile. Unfortunately, so far this season has been a bust for him. His 1600m times have been 5:18 at best and his last race was 5:26. He also runs the 4x800m relay and has posted times as poorly as 2:17 (7 seconds off his norm). The 3200m he has posted times nearing 12 minutes (he ran an 11 flat this past summer).

As he explains it to me, "I just can't go any faster". He is beginning to believe he just isn't good and is quite down on himself. He hasn't hit any unusual growth spurts, he eats well, hydrates properly, etc. The only glaring difference I can see is he didn't practice half this much the past 2 years. Is he over training? The track team practices EVERYDAY and he often says they run them ragged. The other kids do not seem affected. He has brought his problem to the attention of his coaches who tell him, "Don't worry, you'll be fine".

I am not a runner. I have no words of advice or words of wisdom for him. I wish I could encourage him and tell him something besides, "Don't give Up". Do you have any advice? - M.F., 4/19/02

A: Not having run track in high school, I asked our technical consultant, Manciata, what he thought.

I asked if he too experienced fatigue and a drop in performance adjusting to the next level of training required for a varsity high school cross country/track program. He said that it was not until his senior year that he got "good." Then, it was on to college where he enjoyed some really fast times. If you want to get better, patience needs to be part of the hard work.

One of the things he told me to pass on was that if your brother was not training in the off-season, he is bound to be tired. If he stepped up his training too quickly, he may have a tough time adjusting to the rigorous workouts.

Now, speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that I have a difficult time with high mileage programs. I am fast, but slightly built (5'7", 128 lbs soaking wet). Strength and endurance is not what I am known for. If I were a coach looking at me, the first thing I would do is put me on some hills and build my strength. For endurance, I'd plan some longer, harder runs, with some hills peppered in for good measure. I don't think it's any secret why cross country season happens before track season.

Trusting your coaching is hard, especially when things are not going as well as you had planned. I suspect the coach is probably thinking he's right on track for a sophomore, and is not worried about a setback at this point, opting to get his body accustomed to harder work. My guess is he's looking more at his junior and senior years, not worried about his performance now, but more about getting a solid base built from which to have your brother run times much faster than 5:00.

But that's awful hard to tell a sophomore who wants to see some progress. Running hard every day, with no easy days or rest built into the program, he's bound to have dead legs. You can't run fast on dead legs.

I wouldn't have had a major break through (for me, anyway) in my running performance had I not listened to Manciata. Bruce told me that I should be running a lot faster than I was. He said I was running too many "junk miles" and prescribed hills and intervals. When I started running hills and track workouts with Bruce, I had no idea what I was getting into. My legs and lungs burned like they never had before. I was completely spent after the workouts. At times, I wanted to quit, especially when he would pass me on the real steep stuff. I stuck with it, even though I didn't think I could show up for the next workout sometimes. Now, I am glad I did. It took a couple of years, but my patience finally led to a breakthrough. I improved all of my times significantly, including a 4:56 mile. I took an incredible minute and a half off my 10k P.R. (35:59) and ran probably the race of my life: a 1:20 half marathon.

Now, I will always wonder what I might have done if I had the guts to run track in high school. I will never know. Your brother will. If he's patient, he'll run times that he never thought he could. He certainly has the talent. Hang in there. - The Rage

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10kTruth.com is a place for runners who have the attitude to train harder and smarter, who want to race faster and stronger, to better their race times and lower the chance of injury. The Rage and Manciata answer running and training questions with their own unique insight and spew. You'll also find running advice and inspirational quotes by sports legends and others who epitomize the spirit of 10k Truth.