Girls cross country uses distinct training phases and new crew system to defend title

While they may finish each race individually, as members of the team, runners know the importance of group training in order to repeat the results of last season, when they claimed the NJSIAA Central Group 3 Sectional title. While the team lost three varsity members, they developed a new leadership system in order to improve focus and develop a close varsity pack.

“We’ve been using little crews, [which are] like little groups that are meant to help us concentrate on different things for each group … People don’t get off-topic as easily,” Co-Captain Lou Mialhe ’16 said.

“We were faced with all these really great athletes all of which had a lot to add from a leadership position … and so the crews were a way to increase the … one-on-one connections between our leaders and newer runners,” Head Coach James Smirk said.

On the team, runners are split into groups that they warm up and cool down with so that they can develop their own mileage while improving as a group. Smirk places runners randomly to one of four training crews, with each crew having a crew chief that oversees the training process. The system seems to be working, with the team currently undefeated against four teams.

“We’ve all raced really well [so far], the past couple of races have been a step forward for the team. I think our varsity is going to be very good,” Co-Captain Annefleur Hartmanshenn ’17 said.

Coach Smirk has also split the season into three areas where the team focuses on different training techniques. Initially the team focused on volume; runs tailored to getting miles under the runner’s feet rather than speed. The second phase consisted of hill workouts, mainly at Greenways Meadows Park, in order to simulate the hills that runners encounter while racing at various courses. The final and current phase of training is interval training, wherein runners are given distances and times that they need to complete in the hopes of improving their speed and cardiovascular ability.   

Photo: Aileen Wu Co-Captain Lou Mialhe ’16 warms up before practice on September 9.

Photo: Aileen Wu
Co-Captain Lou Mialhe ’16 warms up before practice on September 9.

“The phases of training isn’t something new but it’s something that has evolved over the years; it’s most certainly something that has been included in training but every year how we accomplish that task has been varied,” Smirk said.   

While training in groups provides an opportunity for the team to bond, the captains have organized several bonding events. The team had a camp-out at Washington’s Crossing State Park and several barbeques leading up to the start of the season. Team cohesion allows younger runners to become comfortable with the sport and therefore use each other to pace during a race.

“With freshmen we try to explain racing strategies to them so that they know a little more what to do [in a race],” Miahle said.  

In addition to preseason training, each runner had a list of summer workouts they had to do, ranging from three to ten miles. Princeton Pacers, a local running store, held summer runs for cross country athletes around the county, with many PHS runners attending.

“Over the summer you don’t necessarily have a lot of free time, you normally run on your own, so it really allowed us to train together over the summer,” Mialhe said.

This year’s varsity team is relatively young, with only two seniors. According to Hartmanshenn, the team can use this youth in order to ensure success in the future.

“It’s good because it means that our varsity will be strong for next year, we’re still going to make a lot of progress [but] we still have so much time to get better,” Hartmanshenn said.

Hoping to defend its sectional title, the team wants to use the young varsity and its wide range of leaders to set goals during meets such as times and places and achieve them.

“We talked to our runners and said ‘Hey, here’s the goal, here’s the responsibility of working towards the goal’ and helped [the runners] create the program to do that … It was us working together to accomplish their task,” Smirk said.  

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