Faster Aftershock using wisdom gained from summer to continue building elite program
By the time the girls of Aftershock Distance Club return to competition, it will have been about three months since their last competition.
When the girls return to competition, Aftershock should look faster. Over the summer, head coach Micah Swenson implemented strength and speed drills into the girls' workout, getting his ideas from coaches like Alberto Salazar.
"We did a lot of strength and speed development. I've kind of stolen some stuff (training techniques) from some pretty good people," Swenson said. "Alberto Salazar, he incorporates speed training year round. He coaches guys like Galen Rupp and Mo Farah, so there's something to it, obviously. We're doing the same thing now, making sure there's always a speed element in every phase of our training."
Despite the long layoff from racing, the girls have been plenty busy over the summer as they prepare for the upcoming USA Track and Field (USATF) cross country season. Their first race is on Sept. 2, at Scottsdale Community College, the Sol Sports Cross-Country Festival. The USATF season consists of five meets, culminating in the National Junior Olympic Championships in San Antonio. Mixed into that schedule, Swenson has also scheduled high profile meets (like the Sol Sports race) for the girls to run in, helping them get used to the atmosphere of a large scale event.
"We don't have a race that we look at as a small race. We schedule important races," Swenson said. "We don't over pack the schedule, but we want every race to be a big race. That way, when they're at the end of season, they're comfortable with the big race, big meet experience."
Following the Junior Olympic State Championships on June 15-16, the girls rested for two weeks before beginning their training for the looming cross-country slate.
As standard, Aftershock had practice through the summer, with the girls running upwards of 200, or more, miles. Over the course of the time off form school, Swenson saw how his runners began to develop and improve.
"It was a pretty successful summer. We were definitely tired by the end of the season, but I feel like we had a lot of success in late May, and in June," Swenson said. "I felt like we had some of our younger kids really blossom too, which was nice. It's actually become easier for us to train collectively, as a group, rather than divide them up. Like Sydney (Alexander) has actually been leading us on some of our distance runs. Like today (Aug. 7) they were out there for 68 minutes and she led most of it."
They capped off the summer by attending the Bo Reed High Altitude Distance Camp.
The annual running camp, held in Flagstaff, is run by former Northern Arizona University (NAU) runner Bo Reed. As a coach, Reed has produced state champions at the high school level, a national champion and five All-Americans. In addition to his wealth of knowledge, the coach has a staff with years of experience and brings in guest coaches to help out the campers.
"That was very, like a good learning experience," Alexander said. "And I learned a lot. It was really fun, because he (Bo Reed) put learning in ways you wouldn't expect it and taught me a lot."
While the girls were learning form some of the best front and center, Swenson stayed towards the back, soaking everything up so he could apply it when they returned.
"I kind of hid out in the corner and took things in," Swenson said. "That way we can apply it more directly now, and I think it's been a real benefit. We've come back with, probably, even a greater focus, and purpose, than what we've had, and that's saying a lot, because I feel like we've been at an elite level for a while now."
This year, the girls got to meet Olympians; Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, Abdi Abdirahman, Ryan Hall and David McNeil (meeting the Olympians was the girls' favorite part), an All-American from NAU (Flagstaff native Brian Shrader) and a NCAA Division-I coach (Ole Miss' Erin Dawson). In addition to meeting and learning from some of the best distance runners in the nation, the girls brought back tips for running better and Swenson picked up some new coaching tactics.
"I've been to his camp before, so he taught me a lot of things that I didn't learn the year before, and he's always very thorough, so you get the most out of what he's teaching you," said Rachel Valentine. "We learned different work outs, different ways we can run and a lot of stuff about teamwork and nutrition."
Despite having been to the camp before, Valentine was inspired by the guests, and hopes to one day be the guest talking to the young campers.
"It was good, because they all said, 'we started where you were. We were sitting in these chairs listening to someone talk, and now we're up here talking to kids,' and it really makes you want to grow up and do the same thing, and say, 'I was sitting in (that chair) when so-an-so Olympian was talking to me,'" Valentine said.
After the camp, Swenson said that the team's overall understanding of racing, and why certain things are done, grew so much that the team is able to operate more efficiently.
"They now have a much stronger concept of the way we train and why we train, so we can have much better conversations individually, and collectively as a group about those things," Swenson said. "Just the overall wisdom of the group sky-rocketed from those five days."
Alexander and Valentine are hoping that when they put their new found tools to use, they will be able to achieve their goals set for the season. Both girls are excited to see how much they have improved over the summer and are excited to try for new PR's at their races. Valentine also said that she wants to run a sub 19.10 5K this year.
Looking towards the cross-country season, Swenson said that while there is no single race the girls are looking forward to, all of the races bring together the best runners in the respective areas, the Footlocker Cross-Country Championships, in December is circled with all eyes on that day.
"Really, all that we're trying to do is build for the Footlocker West Race, Dec. 7," Swenson said. "I know a lot of coaches that will recruit strictly off that race, so that's really our focal point, so these girls can create even more contacts with coaches regionally, rather than just within the state of Arizona."
As the girls hit the books, then hit the trails, some local running fans may wonder why the girls that are in high school are still running for Aftershock, instead of the Mingus cross-country team. According to Swenson, it's their choice and he will support them in what they choose.
"At this point, we don't really know," Swenson said. "I've been reaching out to Mingus for the last five weeks, trying to get something working so that these girls can be a part of that program at a successful level, and it's been really slow going. I hope to set up a meeting at some point at the end of this week, and then we can make a decision there. They all know that it's an individual decision for them, and it has been ever since we started."