There is a lot of talk about wanting to move CIF-SS Prelims and Finals away from the Riverside City Cross Country Course and back to Mt. SAC. Old school coaches will argue that the Mt. SAC course is a true cross country course, with several significant ascents and descents. Riverside, by contrast, is too vanilla, characterized by its lack of anything that truly qualifies as a hill. It seems the argument is that if we are the best Section in California, and our meet has the most competition of any State Finals qualifying race in the nation, then our race should happen on the toughest course possible.
However, I would propose that this logic is 100% flawed. Although I love having my athletes race the Mt. SAC course at a time that works well in their training cycle, it is not the course I want them on once or twice in the two weeks leading up to CIF State Finals. Here’s why:
Racing hills once or twice in two weeks before heading to Woodward Park is not going to make that course feel easier. In fact, carrying the burden of the Mt. SAC hills on the legs of our Southern Section runners is going to make the second mile in Fresno feel that much more difficult. Have Southern Section teams been able to win state in the past after racing on Mt. SAC? Sure they have! We didn’t do them any favors in the process by having them race the hardest course they could have in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving, though. We have had Southern Section teams in the past who were fortunate to be so talented that the other sections could not touch them, even after racing a brutal Mt. SAC course. This is the exception, not the rule. If they had come up against a team of similar ability from another section, I would have put my money on the other team that got to run on a flatter course in previous weeks. I don’t want my team near a hill course for a race 20 days preceding State Finals, personally. I might still do some hill work to focus on economy and form, but I’m finished with the brutal hill workouts by that time, as my desire is to peak my team, not tear them down.
The downhills at Mt. SAC are serious business! The shock our runners experience has several negative effects on their bodies. All that impact has to be absorbed somewhere in each runner’s body. The ones with bad downhill form will absorb the shock in their joints and back, and there is a good chance that they will get minor injuries. The injuries may not be completely debilitating, but nonetheless they will affect training in the weeks to come and their form in subsequent races. The ones with good downhill form will still absorb a lot of the impact in the bottoms of their feet (hot spots), as well as their quad muscles. This will hinder our athletes. Run Mt. SAC twice in two weeks, and you’ve magnified the possibilities for lingering physical issues that will hamper the State Finals capabilities of Southern Section athletes.
Riverside may be vanilla, but it will neither add a burden to our athletes legs for the following two weeks, nor will it injure them. All good teams run threshold at prelims, or else run members of their B teams, and they should be able to glide through without incident to save a big effort for the following week. The big effort that it takes to win the CIF-SS will take a little out of the athletes, but not nearly as much as a Mt. SAC race would. They should be able to put it all together and peak at State Finals, and then maintain that peak for NXN the following week. Race Mt. SAC, Mt. SAC again, and then Woodward Park, and you are severely hampering the chances of our athletes to perform well at both the State and Nationals level.