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Summer miles add up for cross country teams

Summer is no time to slow down for members of the cross country teams at Farmington and Rosemount high schools.

Runners from the boys and girls teams at both schools have been getting together to train over the last two months in preparation for the fall season, which gets under way Monday, Aug. 12. The Irish have been meeting every morning at 7 a.m. on the trails at Lebanon Hills, with anywhere from 15 to 30 runners participating daily, while the Tigers have had slightly smaller groups in their first year of organized summer practices.

"Last year we would run together here and there and this year all the boys said they wanted something that was more scheduled," Farmington boys coach Lisa Lippold said. "This year we got together and set it all up before the summer started. Everyone is happy to be there and see the results that can come from doing summer training."

Up until about a decade ago, runners were left to work out on their own or organize their own practices as the Minnesota State High School League didn't allow coaches to work with athletes over the summer.

"When I was in high school we were encouraged to run, but I don't think we ever had a summer practice," Lippold said. "You did it on your own or your season wasn't going to go as great as you wanted."

Since the MSHSL changed the rule the Rosemount team has run together every summer, and long-time head coach Chris Harder has seen positive results.

"It clearly makes a big difference. We've had a lot of success with teams and individuals that have done a lot of work in the summer," Harder said. "I think it helps more with team depth. The top-end guys would be willing to put in the time and effort anyway, although it helps them to get the coaching and advice, but it definitely helps with depth having everyone training together over the summer."

Harder was quick to rattle off some of the many benefits the additional training offers for his athletes.

"Everything improves. They're running more economically, building mitochondria, building capillaries, building lung capacity and building a base that will allow them to train harder later in the season," he said.

"It helps prepare their bodies so we can start doing workouts based on speed and how to race a 5K," Lippold added. "It gets them ready so they're prepared to push even further."

Year-round training has been a key to Rosemount's emergence as one of the top distance running schools in the state over the last decade. The Irish boys won a state team title in track in 2008, have won numerous conference and section meets, and have placed high as a team at the true team and Class 2A state meets, thanks in large part to their success in the distance races.

The cross country program has been just as strong, placing in the top five in the team race five times in the last seven years. Numerous runners have earned all-state honors.

Harder credits the success to year-round training, as well as competition within the team and a team-oriented approach.

"Those top-end guys train in the summer and the winter, and if they're not running they're thinking about it," he said. "When we've had more success is when we think of it more as a team than as individuals, just like the true team concept in track. When we're better as a true team in track the guys are running faster in the distance races."

Farmington is coming off a state track meet where four relays - including the boys 4x800 - earned all-state honors. Lippold is hoping the Tigers can build on that success and, with a summer of training together, catch up with some of the programs that seem to show up near the top of the cross country rankings year in and year out.

"When we watch runners from other schools they'll say 'Wow, they got really fast' and I just try to tell them that if they put in the work and effort they're going to get there too," she said. "When they ask me 'Why is Stillwater so good?' and 'Why is Owatonna so good?' I tell them the only difference is that they're running year-round. I think that's a big motivation for them, to be able to see - if they train - what they can get out of this."

Among those putting in extra work for Farmington is Justin Hyytinen, who placed 29th at the state cross country meet in his first varsity season as a sophomore last fall and qualified for state in the 1,600 this spring. Hyytinen spent last summer unsure whether he would run cross country or play football, and ended up emerging as the No. 1 runner for the Tigers.

"I think he's ready to see what he can really do this year with a year of training behind him," Lippold said.

That dedication to training is something that Lippold hopes will spread as she continues to build the Farmington program, and prepares it to compete alongside Rosemount in the South Suburban Conference beginning next fall.

"I want to continue to build the cross country program to get it to the point where we're top contenders with the other big schools around us," she said. "You get to that point by putting more emphasis on summer training."