The Rail

Jason Retz Coaching Blogs, Distance, Illinois HS Cross Country, Opinion, Philosophy/Ideas 1 Comment

By Jason Retz
St. Joseph-Ogden Cross Country & Track

The last several years we have made a big push to get on a soft surface. For us that was two days a week (at most.)  Not exactly easy to do.  We have a magical, secret, cinder track we do all our track workouts on, but recovery days…  we’re on the road…  

It’s been more than ten years, but finally our old railroad bed has been transformed into a beautiful running trail.  The day it opened I suckered the kids out on it for our easy run thinking I’ll hear how boring the out and back would be.  We had a good run enjoying the surface and really enjoyed being able to encourage people as we turned around and doubled back.

The next day for morning run we had our typical ritual.  Walk out the door to the stop sign.  Wait for everyone’s GPS to load.  Then ask where are we going?  To my astonishment several spoke up and said, “Can we go down the trail? It felt good on our legs.”  In my mind I had a diabolical laugh as if I had already brainwashed them into running on the soft surface more often.  It looks like I have found my answer to running on a soft surface!

***To understand the next part of this story you need to understand I ran for Coach Acklin (ITCCCA Hall of Fame Member, the master of evil workouts just to test you more mentally than physically.)***

Our signature workout is Rope-A-Dope.  Yep.  We tie people together and help them suffer more than they think they can.  Often times people PR in whatever distance we decide to run (400m-5000m.)  A year ago Justin Phillips, now running at Drake University, pulled 5 girls for a mile and 4 PRs all at one time.  

While running our long run, it hit me!  “The Rail!” let’s rope them together for a straight line fartlek on this thing!  Just like a railroad track! The rail is connected together so the train can get to its end destination.  If there is a broken track the train will not get to where it needs to be on time.  As those belts connect our athletes together it builds confidence between them knowing they can get it done.  And if they struggle, to put it nicely, their teammates will make sure they make it with a gentle tug of the rope.  They get there together!

How do you pick your groups to rope?  Well… that’s hard to explain.  A coach just knows.  Each group has a “Supervisor,”  a coach or someone on a bike who has specific instructions on what to look for and know when to cut someone loose.  Tears don’t mean you’re cut loose, and are common.  Each group rolls out, comes back after the fartlek, and is just excited!  “It was easy!”, they say.  The energy of the rope and the energy of the family make the workout!  The bond of the rope is always there.  When they’re in a race they always have a visual key to run through their brain. I have had former athletes and former college runners tell me the memory of Rope-A-Dope has carried them through races.  

Rope-A-Dope!  Don’t let the gap open or the rope will go tight!  “The Rail” will be a new staple to our program.  We could do it around town or around the track.  But why?  “The Rail” is symbolic of the journey we are on as a family.  Understanding every step is important to get us to where we want to be.

No tears this time, only the love of the journey and the love of family!

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