In September we launched a section aimed at helping you step up your game but there's still so much to address, so we take you straight to the experts in The Edge Mailbag. If you have any questions, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll do our best to answer them anonymously.
Question: What's the difference between the runners who end up on the news and Web sites like DyeStat and the average distance runner? Are they born with the ability to run faster than the rest of us? What does it take for runners to excel at their sport and be better than everyone else? Is it more of the items, technology and/or trainers they have or is it more of the motivation and dedication?
Dr. Jeff Messer, former distance runner at Wesleyan University (Conn.) and exercise physiologist at Mesa Community College (Ariz.) and co-head coach of the Xavier Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.) girls' cross country program: While I am unaware of any definitive data-based treatment of your questions, I suspect that you have indeed identified the most important determinants of distance running success for high school student-athletes.
Certainly, it is fair to suggest that the most outstanding high school distance runners have a very favorable genetic predisposition toward endurance performance. In particular, these individuals likely have a specific, genetic predisposition toward a relatively high maximal aerobic capacity. Thus, a genetic "foundation" or "prerequisite" for distance running success is likely present in these individuals.
Additionally, I suspect that these most successful student-athletes benefit significantly from highly skilled, well-educated coaches. As I attend various state, regional and national clinics/conferences each year, I inevitably note certain "core groups" of attending coaches. Coincidentally, or more likely causally, these coaches inevitably seem to present the most successful teams and individuals each year at the aforementioned state, regional and national levels. I conjecture that these coaches are individuals who are profoundly motivated to pursue continuous improvement in their coaching endeavors and, ultimately, to manifest their corresponding educational efforts in well-structured, physiologically reasoned, progressive and systematic training programs that optimize outcomes for their student-athletes.
Finally, I share an anecdotal observation based on my attendance at the last five Foot Locker National High School Cross Country Championship events. My observation is that the participants in that annual national championship event are indeed among the most dedicated and motivated student-athletes with whom I have ever associated. Their collective commitments to not only their foundational training but also nutrition, rest/recovery, ancillary training and broader time management of multiple academic and athletic commitments appears to be unparalleled.
In summary, I submit to you that you are entirely correct. I admire your instincts, and I look forward to continuing my professional growth through observation of and, hopefully, continued experience with our nation's finest interscholastic distance runners.
Question: I run three times per week. I run one hour and I always run 10 km. My question is, I run 5km in 29 minutes -- am I too slow? And how can I improve my speed in a race?
Dr. Jeff Messer: I suggest a combination of short-term/long-term goal setting in addition to a relatively more structured training program. In general, it would seem that if you can comfortably complete 10-km training runs in one hour that you would indeed be predicted to run a 5-km race somewhat faster than 29 minutes.
In order to achieve that outcome, I offer the following suggestions:
1. Establish both a short-term goal such as a 28-minute 10-kilometer performance (perhaps at the conclusion of a twelve-week training period) and a long-term goal such as a 26-minute or 27-minute 10-km performance.
2. Incorporate modest diversity within the three, existing weekly training runs: modify one of the three runs to a slightly slower 75-minute run while simultaneously modifying a second run in order to complete a relatively faster 45-minute training effort.
3. Add a fourth day of training each week in which you engage in a track repetition workout; a representative workout might be five repetitions of 1,000-meters with a 2- to 3-minute walk recovery between repetitions. In pursuit of the indicated short-term goal (28-minutes), I encourage you to run the 1,000-meter repetitions between 5 minutes and 5 minutes and 30 seconds. The initial weeks of a 12-week training cycle might include primarily 5-minute, 30-second repetitions. As you enhance your fitness during the 12-week period, I invite you to increasingly run the repetitions closer to 5-minute 1,000-meter pace.
4. Add a series of 100-meter strides to the conclusion of each training session. Four to eight 100-meter (i.e. straightaway strides on a local outdoor track) strides at a pace of 25 to 28 seconds per 100-m stride should also contribute to ultimately enhancing 5-km race performance.
Question: I am a 6-foot-3 sophomore. I'm e-mailing you for help with school and getting a scholarship. I really want to go to the University of Florida, but my grades are low. I'm trying to pick my grades up as we speak, but I need as much help as I can get. Can you please help me?
Brandon Hancock, ESPN RISE analyst: My first recommendation would be to reach out to one of your teachers or academic counselors to see what resources you have available to you. Your desire to pick up the slack in the classroom will benefit you greatly in the recruiting process, and I suggest that you do your very best to secure a tutor or study partner who will help hold you accountable and reinforce your commitment to grade improvement. You are a student-athlete, not an athlete-student. Therefore, you are very wise to recognize this issue and work diligently to fix it.
Create a weekly study schedule and find the time to allocate at least one hour a day to completing your homework and studies. You may have to cut some things out of your life, but you must prioritize what matters most to you. Your education is one of the most valuable investments, and without it you will lose the opportunity to pursue your dream as a Florida Gator. If you are insistent on making this happen, I'm sure there is a team of people in your life that want to see you succeed. Don't be afraid to reach out to them for help. Use the same mentality in the classroom as you do in sports. Compete to be the best! If you do this, your GPA will improve and you'll be one step closer to playing in Gainesville. Good luck and go get it!
Question: Is it possible to receive a football scholarship from a Division I school with only playing football your senior year?
Tom Luginbill, national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc.: Yes it is possible, but you would have to take it upon yourself along with your coach in getting film out to anyone and everyone, because with no junior film to evaluate, there isn't much in the way of coaches knowing about you. Whether it is FBS, FCS or Division II, you would need to take this approach to enhance your exposure.