Summer Running: Pearl Pirates Cross Country

Cross Country in Mississippi is full of competitive athletes who excel at the sport. Many go on to run for a college program. But the way coaches approach summer training varies between programs. Summer training is almost its own season.

The schedules of high are all over the place. Some may have summer jobs, summer school, family trips, camps, etc. But if they do not make sure to focus on running regularly the chances of a successful fall cross country season is practically lost.

I spoke with a handful of coaches from successful cross country programs across the state. They all know that a solid foundation of both miles and speed are paramount for success come November at the state meet. But coaches do not all approach summer training the same.

In a series of articles we'll look at how the strategies of different programs have produced both winning teams and individuals.

Pearl High School
Coach Chris Barnett

Cross Country Success. The Pearl Pirates XC and Track programs have enjoyed years and years of success. Coach Barnett followed in his dad's footsteps to continue the successful tradition. He has been at Pearl for two years after previous stops in Starkville and Northwest Rankin. The Pearl Boys have won the XC state title in 78,79,85,88,89,90,93,95,96,99,00,01,02,03,04,08,09,10 while the girls have won the title in 80,86,89,95.96,03,04,05,06. The program consistently finishes in the top two or three each year.

In talking with Coach Barnett it's obvious he love the sport and loves his athletes. He has tireless dedication rising early to help his runners get to morning practices and doing what he can to help his runners succeed.

The Summer

Summer starts quickly for the Pirate runners. They take about a week off after the state track meet. After that they go into a two week "active rest" period. "We go on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays as a team," Barnett says. "And they'd pick a day on the weekend to get a run in." He wants the runners to try to get four runs in per week. "As a distance runner you cannot shut down."

After that two week period the pick it up. "We run five or six days a week after that." Coach Barnett has a milage sheet that helps determine, based on age/experience, each runner should be logging. "The older boys can run five to eight miles per run in the summer. The girls are at about four to six miles per run. That last til June 23."

When school starts is when morning runs start. "The freshmen are going two to three days a week, and everyone else is three to four with morning runs."

June 23rd is key because that was ten weeks before the Pirates' first meet. Then they start doing Saturday runs at the Reservoir or Choctaw Trails. They do workouts about twice a week. "It will vary with speed work and track work," he says.

From July 24th to the 26th they went to Cross Country Camp at Lake Tiak-O'Khata in Louisville.

When school starts is when morning runs start. "The freshmen are going two to three days a week, and everyone else is three to four with morning runs." After school starts they also have their inner squad meet. "It's the 'Challenge Under The Stars'. The high school runners will do two miles on the track. The junior high runs 1.5 miles. We invite all the parents and friends to the meet. We have free ice cream for the kids. We sell t-shirts to the fans and parents so they'll have something to wear to the meets. We talk about the facility and our runners and our achievements. We make it a special event, turn it all into the paper and make a big deal of it."

Hills and Strength Training

"We try to go to Choctaw Trails regularly to sprint up the hill. In Pearl we have a 200 meter hill we can run," Barnett says. "We try to do it about every two weeks. We have a pretty good course that we run on about three days a week with rolling hills."

Barnett tries to get strength training in twice a week. "We do some leg presses, jump rope, do plyometrics. I'd like to do more, but it's more important to be on the road during workouts and doing tempo runs and speed work."

What to do to keep it fun and fresh?

Running in groups is a method Coach Barnett uses to try to build team camaraderie. But they gather regularly off the road as well. "The other night we had a cookout. Sometimes we have ice cream or popsicles after practice." After some of the summer Saturday runs at the Rez they go to Chick-Fil-A for lunch together. "We meet and eat as a team," he says.

"Over night trips for meets are also great for team building." The team goes to the mall or restaurants together on trips," he says. "Anything you can do to bring the team together is a good thing." Coach Barnett and his athletes have passionately prepared this summer to bring home a trophy this coming November

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