This guest post is by Doug Petrick, a member of HSRC, and the boys and girls track and cross country coach at Upper St. Clair High School, in Pennsylvania.
“One of my primary goals…is to do everything I can to make sure every girl who comes to our program has the opportunity to run at a college or university if she wants to, and run better at the college or university than she did in high school. Because if she doesn’t continue to improve, I feel like I’ve disserviced her.” Anyone that truly understands distance running, should hold a similar long term view of training high school athletes. Dr. Jeffrey Messer of Desert Vista High School, without a doubt one of the best high school coaches in the US, shared his long term view of training on High School Running Coach.
As a member of High School Running Coach, I’ve had access to Dr. Messer’s training and philosophy for success. Dr. Messer has had numerous accolades over his tenure at Desert Vista. One example is in 2013 his girls cross country team won the Arizona state championship- quite a feat. During the Spring of 2014, the Desert Vista girls distance program was ranked as one of only two programs in the “top ten” groups in the 800 meters, 1600 meters, and 3200 meters. During this past cross country season, Desert Vista finished sixth as a team at Nike Cross Nationals. Even more impressive is the fact that Dr. Messer’s runners have continued to flourish as runners beyond the high school setting.
One of the keys to his success is using the opposite of what most coaches would call periodization. While at Desert Vista High School, Dr. Messer created a culture that stressed the importance of working all energy systems year-round for his runners. Always on the cutting edge of sports science, Dr. Messer has allowed his methods to evolve to get the best out of his runners in an intelligent way. Strength training is another critical element that has led Desert Vista on the path to distance running success. Not only does Dr. Messer know the science that backs up incorporating strength training, but understands how the ordered placement of strength training exercises within a session can be be manipulated to achieve maximum results. During the podcast on the site, he goes into detail about the importance of this timing at the physiological level. Since Dr. Messer states that, “distance runners are in the business of building mitochondria,” he also places a high emphasis on the long run for his athletes. Long runs are structured to allow each runner to progress over the course of the fall season, and continue improving that stimulus year round.
The girls of Desert Vista have layered training that stresses key elements to prevent overtraining. Items such as keeping an intelligent progression in volume and intensity, considering the academic stressors of school, and giving kids rest as needed are fundamentally different than other top high school programs. However, Dr. Messer’s approach has been executed to both keep his runners motivated and continually improving in high school and beyond. There is a value of helping your runners value their own self-worth and explore the possibility of how great they can be when they invest in the training. Dr. Messer works closely with his cross country runners to do just that- exploring how limitless their achievements can be if they think long term. As a coach, Messer truly cares about his athletes as human beings first, and student-athletes second- something that is commonly missing in this day and age of immediate gratification in athletics. Dr. Messer considers all factors when designing training- chronological age, developmental level, injury history, environmental conditions, etc. Most top tier high school coaches do the opposite. They write their training plans in stone and forget the human component and chaos that is a high school student’s life. Throughout it all, Dr. Messer has had runners that are extremely committed and invested in the program to run at a high level.
The success Dr. Messer’s athletes have had at Desert Vista and beyond has naturally influenced what we do with distance runners at Upper St. Clair High School. Having structured, layered training is derivative of the Dr. Messer way. We use a progressive warm-up, in conjunction with speed development, and running at varied paces during the cross country season. This approach has been successful for our kids, regardless of ability level, and allowed them to build strong aerobic engines competent at a variety of paces. We’d consider the Desert Vista Approach the intelligent way to train. Dr. Messer keeps his athletes healthy and injury free by erring on the side of caution with newer runners. Customizing training is something we’ve ushered in our distance running program. At Desert Vista, a senior definitely won’t be assigned the same workout as a freshman, and this is reflected in the training assignments. As we’ve customized training in a similar way at Upper St. Clair, it’s kept our runners injury free and enthused about running.
As a high school coach, time is at a premium. Furthermore, you may not have the funds to travel and attend a coaching clinic or camp experience to hone your craft. Dr. Jeff Messer is one of the top coaches in the US highlighted at the High School Running Coach website. With a membership to the site, you can access Dr. Messer’s training plans, distance running documents, podcast interview, and access to a Q&A forum…all on your own timeframe. If you want to improve as a high school running coach, learning from the best is just the next logical step.