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today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Blueprint for Cross-Country Success

By Frank Horwill

The writer from 1963 to 1980 coached sixteen English Schools Cross-Country winners. He also coached from 1963 to 1990 eleven winners of the National Cross-Country Championships in various age groups. One gained two silver medals in the World Cross Country Championships and from 1963 to 1993 always had one runner in the World Champs, in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Great Britain, (then England, Scotland, Wales and N.I.).

Now the success of those athletes was due to 90 per cent their own efforts, and 10 per cent to my guidance. They had to do the training, the racing and had to ensure a good food intake and knowing when to rest.

Using Logical Training

  1. Find out the distance of the national championship for your age. Once this has been ascertained, start with one run a week, double that distance and after 12 weeks move it up to treble the distance. This is a run as you please session - it will still be tough.
  2. If the distance of the national championships is 10K, you need to train once a week at your 10K speed, lasting 10K in total. This can be 6 x 1,600m in 5mins with 45 secs rest. Or, 3 x 3,200m in 10 mins with 90 secs rest. Adjust the times to suit you. Do not adjust the recovery times. Another good session is 2 x 5K with 3 mins rest.
  3. To help accommodate 10K speed, train at 5K speed once a week. The estimated 5K speed is 3 x 1,500m time plus 3 mins, e.g. Best 1,500m/4 mins x 3 = 12 mins + 3 mins = 15 mins (72/400). This means that 10K speed will be 76/400 for sessions in (2) above.
  4. Cross-country races are not always run on the flat. Build up to running uphill in one session half the distance of the national champs. For example, if the champs are 10K distance, build up to running uphill a total of 5K, with coming downhill this would equal 10K total. Start with 1,600m and add to it every 14 days. Alternate one week of slow ascents with one week of fast ascents with walk back recovery. Where possible do hill running on an actual cross-country course e.g. Parliament Hill.
  5. Training at 3K speed will help 5K speed and that will help 10K speed. To calculate 3K speed from 1,500m speed. Add 4 seconds per 400m to the 1,500m time, e.g. 4 mins/1,500 = 64/400 = 68/400 estimate for 3K speed (8:30).

Putting It Altogether

Day 1 - Long run building up to 3 x distance of race.

Day 2 - AM 35 mins recovery run. PM 35 mins recovery run.

Day 3 - 10K pace - 6 x 1,600m with 45 secs rest (76/400).

Day 4 - AM 35 mins recovery run. PM 35 mins recovery run.

Day 5 - 5K speed - 6 x 800m with 45 secs rest (2:24).

Day 6 - rest

Day 7 - If no race 16 x 400m at 3K speed (68/400) with 30 secs rest.

Day 8 - AM 35 mins recovery run. PM 35 mins recovery run.

Day 9 - Hill running - build up to half distance of race uphill. One week slow, one week fast.

Day 10 - AM 35 mins recovery run. PM 35 mins recovery run.

Day 11 - Long run as for Day 1.

Day 12 - As for Day 2.

Day 13 - rest

Day 14 - 1 hour fartlek - 6 x 5 mins hard strides with 45 secs jog recovery.

Day 15 - As for Day 2.

Day 16 - 1 hour fartlek - 6 x 2½ mins hard strides with 45 secs jog recovery.

Day 17 - As for Day 2.

Day 18 - 45 mins fartlek - 12 x 60 secs hard strides with 30 secs jog.

Day 19 - As for Day 2.

Day 20 - rest

Day 21 - Start with Day 1 again.

Good food (fruit, vegetables, fish and some meat) should be taken every four hours. Particular attention should be paid to the consumption of low glycemic carbohydrates which are preferentially stored as glycogen which will be reduced by the weekly long runs. Eat plenty of:- fructose (tea, coffee and on cereals), soya beans, kidney beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, whole wheat spaghetti, oats, brown rice, buckwheat pancakes, whole wheat bread.

Do no strenuous training within 48 hours of an important race and for major races reduce training by two-thirds for the week before. However, do not reduce the frequency of training. Train daily but do two-thirds less. This practice should be not more than once a month.

Best results come from crescendo racing:-

October - 1 race, November - 2 races, December - 3 races, January - 4 races, February - 4 races, March - 4 races.

If you are a veteran runner, experiment with complete rest on days 2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17 and 19.

Strength Related to Basic Speed

There is indisputable evidence that pure speed is related to very strong ilio-psoas, rectus femoris and gluteal muscles. The first is achieved by resistance to the foot as the knee comes up to start a stride. The second is also strengthened by this method and half squats. Gluteal muscles are also strengthened by half squats and hamstring curls. These exercises can be done at home with a partner providing resistance with hand application. Half squats can be done wearing a rucksack suitably weighted with a bag of sand or telephone directories.

Race Tactics

You can only compete with the leaders in a cross-country race if you are capable of 14:15/5K male, and sub 16 mins/5K female. If you are not in this category, hang back for 15 mins running comfortably, then start moving through the field. Better to finish overtaking rather than being overtaken by hordes in the last mile!

If a rival has been hanging on to you all through the race and you are getting tired, so is that person getting tired. Try increasing speed for 100 to 200m. This often fools that person into thinking you are fresher. The psychological boost from getting away, will, in fact, encourage you to run with greater purpose.

In a cross-country result, remember the person who finished just ahead of you. That person is a future scalp to collect. The day before a race, sit down quietly and take stock. How many training sessions have you completed since your last race? What was the volume and quantity? Before the English Schools Cross-Country Championships in 1981, a female athlete of mine expressed concern. Her best result was 66th. I said to her, "There is not another athlete in the race who has done the training you have this winter." When the race started at Sheffield, she was in second place after a mile and stayed there until 100m from the end. From 66th to 3rd. You can do the same.