Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Winter Training Suggestions – October – March

By Frank Horwill

Make up your mind now what your competitive goal is to be. This might be:

  • Make the country cross-country team for the inter-Counties
  • Make the Top 50 in the Southern Cross-Country Champs, or the same for the National
  • Get a place in the Indoor National Champs
  • Get into the GB cross-country team for the World Champs
  • Become your Club cross-country champion
  • No competitive ambitions, but you wish to emerge stronger and faster for the track season.

No goal - little purpose - poor motivation

All the above revolve around you improving your oxygen uptake (V02max.) and your general all-round strength. The V02max. is a technical name for a measure of your fitness. A simple test is the distance you can run in 15 minutes, e.g. 5k =, 4,600m =, 4,200m = Whatever distance you can run now, in 3 months time it should be more, and more still after a further 3 months.

He who trains the same remains the same.

A measure of basic speed is the time taken to sprint 40yds (36.6m). Greater than 5.5secs is poor, 5.3-5.5 is below average, 5.1-5.3 is average, 4.9-5.1 above average, less than 4.9 is good. Ad .5secs to those times if you are a female. If you are a male you can calculate your 400m potential time by multiplying your 40yds time by 10 and adding 2secs. For females add 3secs, e.g. Male - 5.1 x 10 + 2 = 53secs. Female - 6secs x 10 + 3 = 63secs. To improve speed you must :-

  • Sprint regularly each week
  • Acquire greater leg strength. Short sprints from 60-80m for 100m, 120-160m for 200m, 240-320m for 400m.

A measure of good leg-strength is the ability to hop 25m in 10 hops and less(male), 11 hops and less(female).

The V02 max can be improved by an increase in the volume (mileage) to a point. It can also be greatly improved by work between 80 and 100 per cent of your V02 max. 80% = 16secs a mile slower than per mile for your best 10k time. 90% = your best 10k pace. 95% = your best 5k pace. 100% = your best 3k pace. The actual speed per 400m is about 3-4secs faster per pace., or 12-16sec per mile faster.

Here is a way to build up mileage without breakdown. Choose a daily average for 6 days of the week, e.g. 24 miles = 6 days of 4 miles, 48 miles = 6 days of 8 miles, 96 miles = 6 x 16 miles. Make one of these runs each week twice the distance of the average, e.g. 8 miles, 16 miles, 32 miles. This will reduce the daily average for the remaining 5 days, e.g. 3.3 miles, 6.5 miles and 12.8 miles. Here is a 4-week cycle starting with 48 miles:-

  • Week 1 - Severe - 48 miles
  • Week 2 - Active Rest - 12 miles
  • Week 3 - Moderate - 36 miles
  • Week 4 - Light - 24 miles
  • Week 5 - Severe - 60 miles
  • Week 6 - Active Rest - 15 miles
  • Week 7 - Moderate - 45 miles
  • Week 8 - Light - 30 miles
  • Week 9 - Severe - 75 Miles
  • Week 10 - Active Rest - 19 miles
  • Week 11 - Moderate - 57miles
  • Week 12 - Light - 37 miles.

Hold the mileage at the level of Week 9-12. It will be necessary to work out each week what the long run will be, e.g. In Week 6 it will be 5 miles and 5 x 2 miles. The higher the starting point the higher the maximum will be in 3 months time. If you start at 10 miles a day (60mpw) in Week 1, you will be well over the 100 miles mark by Week 9. This scheme has built-in safety valves to prevent over-training/ stress. Research tells us that the greatest boost to the VO2 max is work at 5k pace, your 5k pace. If you have a 5k time of 17mins.30secx (84secx/400), the ideal session is 5 x 1k in under 3 mins.30secs with 60secs recovery. Make one of average daily runs each week a 5k pace one. Also, make one your daily average runs up and down a hill. You can also alternate your 5k pace session with a 3k pace one. If your 3k time is 11mins (88/400m) you can try 16 x 400 in under 88secs with 45secs rest.

So, each week you have a long run, hill run and a 5k or 3k pace session. Your mileage is increasing gradually. You are building up your VO2 max very efficiently. If you plan to run indoors you must keep in touch with speed, that's pure speed and race speed. Devote one of your daily average sessions to pure speed one week (Full out sprint) and race speed the next week (800 or 1500m pace). If you are a sprinter devote three sessions a week to it, but do not neglect general conditioning (mileage). Running heats, semi-finals and final, requires stamina.

To build up muscular endurance, do one exercise a day to maximum three times with 60secs rest after each effort e.g.

  • Monday - Press-ups (max x 3 with 60secs rest)
  • Tuesday - Bent-knee abdominals
  • Wednesday - Hop 25m on each leg three times.
  • Thurs - Squat thrusts
  • Friday - Half squats
  • Sat - Step ups with weight
  • Sun - Hamstring curls with partner

Where possible, race at the end of an Active Rest week or a Light week. Do not expect good results if you race at the end of a Severe Week.

It is said that there are no tactics in cross-country racing. This is not quite true. The distance for men is around 12k, for women 6k.Both distances are predominantly aerobic (you breathe in the same amount of oxygen as expended - nearly). If you go off too fast you will incur an oxygen debt and lose ground rapidly in the latter stages of the race. There is nothing worse than being passed by numerous runners over the last part of a cross-country race.

It is a good idea to calculate the winning time for the distance beforehand. For men, calculate 6mins/mile, and 7mins/mile for women. Remember that cross-country is much slower and harder than road racing. Thus a 6 mile course finishing time is calculated at 36 minutes. A female 4 mile course at 28 minutes. This can be much faster.

Ask yourself what is the state of your fitness? If you run two or three times a week it is unlikely that you will be as fit as someone who trains four or six times a week. For each stage of fitness - your fitness, there is a strategy.

  • Very unfit Run well within yourself for three-quarters of the allocated time duration. For men, this will be for about 27 minutes, for women about 17 minutes. Then, start trying to overtake the runner in front, and when you've passed him or her, go for the next one. Make no mistake about it, you will always pick up a few who have "blown up". It is better to finish passing, than finish continually being passed.
  • Unfit Run well within yourself for half the allocated duration (18mins/male, 12mins/female), then start overtaking.
  • Fit Run well within yourself for a quarter of the allocated time (9mins/male, 7 mins/female), then start moving through the field.
  • Very fit Go out with the leaders and hang on. Cultivate a fast last 1k by making the last 1k of your training runs always fast.

The above strategy was practised by the writer in the 1960 National. Over the last 3 miles of the 9 mile course, his club "counter" calculated that he overtook about 250 runners. So the advice is born of experience.

We are what we eat and what we do not eat. If we eat every four hours we have a greater physical output. We should breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Often we do the exact opposite. It is a folly to skimp breakfast. If we are too late for breakfast - a-meal-in-a-cup is a sound substitute (Complan or Build-Up). At least we get some carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Runners require a high iron intake - no iron, no oxygen. Iron in haemoglobin conveys oxygen around the body. Anaemia (lack of iron) is a matter for the doctor. In order for iron to be absorbed fully we must have a good vitamin C intake (pure orange juice with every meal). Vegetarians must be particularly careful. Iron-containing vegetables are: - lentils, haricot beans, dried peas, and spinach. The fruits are: dried apricots, dried figs, prunes and raisins. Egg have a little iron as does oatmeal. Meat-eaters should remember that all curried foods are high in iron, as is liver, kidney, corned beef, and beef. A cup of cocoa at night provides 4.1mg of iron per ounce.

It is a good idea to imbibe 200g of a liquid carbo-loader each day for 48 hours before any distance race.

If you are 5ft 6ins tall (1.676m) and male, and weigh 1431bs (64.864kg), you are too heavy for successful running. If you are 5ft.6ins tall and female, and weigh 130lbs (58.967kg), you, too, are too heavy. You need to do more running and eat less fat foods such as frying oil, lard, dripping, cooking fat, margarine, butter, cream, cheddar cheese, bacon, pork, mutton, beef and sardines. You can eat fish, vegetables and fruit until the cows come home.