Kids Running Programs

Nittany Track & Field: (Mid-Atlantic USATF Club #08-0147) is a non-profit club for young athletes 8 to 18 years old. The club's main objective is to foster a positive, fun, and supportive atmosphere for training and athletic growth. The club coaches encourage kids to set personal goals and develop discipline and techniques needed to reach those goals. This training program is suitable to all levels of ability and experience.

The Centre Region Youth Cross-Country Program: The Nittany Valley Running Club and the Centre Region Park and Recreation sponsor cross-country races for Centre Region youth, ages 14 and under. The program began in Fall 1999, and we've had more than 100 kids participating each year.

Challenge and Recovery

by Morgan Windram

[Morgan Windram may be State College’s premier ultramarathoner. She has participated in numerous races across the running spectrum, from the Indoor Mile to 5Ks, marathons, adventure races, and especially ultras, where she has distinguished herself. She has done 100 mile races, 24 hour races, and Tussey. Morgan grabbed the female course record at Tussey in 2002, and broke her own record again in 2003, coming within 20 minutes of the men’s record at that time. She was out to do it again in 2004, and was on pace to possibly win the event against national competition, but had to drop out just past the halfway point because of an inflamed tendon. But after her recovery, no doubt she’ll be back at it again!  Here is her story of challenge and recovery. Even the best runners need a day off! - Ed.]


Reconstructive foot surgery has given me a much needed break from running for three months, so in between sessions of thesis-writing, paper-grading, and swimming, I had the chance to read Marla Runyan’s book, No Finish Line, My Life as I See it—and to add a plug to the “Gift list for Valentine Runners,” I would highly recommend it.  Along with several other life lessons earned from various coaches throughout her career, I think the most valuable one, that has also given me a lesson came from Dick Brown, a first rate coach known for his work training Olympians.  He once told Marla that, “training is stress to your body.  It’s challenge to your system, but if you rest and recover your body will adapt to the challenges that you give it.  You adapt stronger than you were before.  It’s a delicate balance of challenge and recovery.”       

Every now and then we need a break from running and racing. (Yes this is coming from Morgan who can’t go a day without her two hours of solid foot pounding on pavement, trail, or track).  Some of us are blessed with the ability to know when we need a break, and actually schedule a ‘day-off’ each week.  Others of us, who are not so lucky, come to this revelation when our body or mind wears down to reveal the threads of overtraining, like stress fractures, slower times, or decreased motivation. 

Interning in Washington DC this past summer, I became familiar with the metro system and being the frugal grad student that I am decided to save the bus fare to and from the metro everyday—so I put my god-given legs to use, and ran to and from the metro (a total of 6 miles) for three months.  This on top of my daily 12-15 miles logged after work, and then an hour or so of lap swimming, gave me more than 20 miles a day of running and 4+ hrs of exercising, this summer.  I worked very hard at my training, but coupled with a hectic long work day and commute, my eating schedules and portions were erratic and lacking.  I finished my first 100 miler this summer at the end of May, ran a few races in July, then ran a PR at a 5-mile race in July and didn’t schedule another race until Tussey in October.  I planned to train my body to oblivion that summer in preparation for the world-class competition that was expected at the National Championships.  Come October, and 25 miles into the race, I felt a painful burning in my left outside leg running from my hip to my knee.  I knew immediately that my iliotibial band was inflamed.  I tried to walk but couldn’t; I tried to run but couldn’t.  Halfway into one of the most important races of my life, holding a strong second place, I dropped out, wishing I had taken just one rest day out of those last 5 months. 

This injury made me realize that the body needs time to heal after you challenge it.  I stopped running for a week, and began using my bike and the pool more as cross-trainers.  November and December were some of the best months of running for me.  I did a few good long trail runs, but no racing in November.  Some strength training sessions allowed me to build some muscle back after a summer of no weight-bearing activity.  An epic race was set for December 11th.  This would be the last before my scheduled foot surgery at the end of December.  Hellgate 100k in Lynchburg Virginia is a race I wanted to try, so I entered.  I finished this race feeling like someone took my quads and ran them through a meat-slicer, but I finished strong and fast, within minutes of the second place female, top-notch ultramarathoner Bethany (Hunter) Patterson.  I was more than satisfied knowing that my rest and cross-training over the past few months had paid off more than I could have expected.  This was the best way I could think of to end 2004 and ring in the New Year.            

I knew I ran too much this summer—I heard it from people regularly.  My favorite training partner, Steve Cohen never failed to tell me that if I stopped racing so much it would do me some good.  I knew I didn’t eat well and enough or sleep enough.  Weekends were made for long training runs, or traveling to races, not for sleeping in or lounging by the pool!!  But all I could think of was if I was taking a day off, there was someone else out there logging miles, and I couldn’t bear that thought.  I believed all my hard work would make me faster, and stronger, when all it really did was break me down.  So if you’re feeling a little unmotivated, or tired or weak, take a look at last month’s running log.  Did you remember to schedule an ‘off-day’?  Did you have a few days of non-running, cardiovascular activity be it biking, hiking, swimming, or roller-skating?  If January is the month for resolutions, then my vow is to find this delicate balance between challenge and recovery and to teeter there as long as possible.   

Updated 01/10/05

A Back-of-the-Envelope Half-Marathon Training Program

by Marty Mazur

[I was recently asked if I could publish a training program for the half-marathon distance in the Nittany Vallley Running Club Newsletter in time for our December Nittany Valley Half-Marathon. The problem was that the next issue of the Newsletter would come out in mid-November, leaving only three weeks to train. I responded with a quick-and-dirty program via email in time to give my correspondent at least 6 weeks to work with. What follows is a somewhat expanded version.]

So you want to run a Half-Marathon. Did you get hooked on running races after doing your first 5K? Great! There's a whole spectrum of races out there! If you are still a relative beginner (say, you've only run 5K races or less), then you should take a longer approach to Half Marathon training, and maybe try a 10K first. A 10K is less than half the length of a half-marathon, but it's twice the length of a 5K and starts giving your body some of the challenges you might experience in the half. If you're ready to give the half a go, here is an outline of a program to do it.

First, you need to have a good mileage base. One thing you should never do is ramp up your training too quickly. The rule of thumb is a 10% per week increase in miles, max. To be ready for the Half, you should be running at least 20 miles a week by about two months before the race, otherwise consider putting it off until a future half. A training program for a half entails 25-35 miles of running per week for the 6 weeks or so before the race.

Second, do some long runs. For most recreational runners, the long run of the week is 5 or 6 miles. You will need to go considerably longer. Once a week, between two months and 2 weeks before the race, do a run of 7 or more miles at a slower-than-race pace. If you can run 8-10 miles, you can probably finish a half-marathon, but it's best if you do some training runs a bit closer to the actual distance. It'll make the experience more pleasant. At least 3 of your long runs should be 10+ miles, and at least one of those should be 12-14 miles. The longest one should probably be two weeks before the race. The NVRC Weekend Group Runs are ideal for this, and we usually tour the NV Half course itself some time in November. Scale back starting on the last weekend before the race. Maybe do 7 miles for your long run the weekend before, and don't run from Thursday on (or just do a couple of light jogs to stay lactic acid free). A good plan for your weekly long runs for the last 8 weeks before the race would be runs of 7, 8, 10, 8, 11, 9, 14, and 7 miles.

Third. if you want to do more than just finish with a smile on your face, you can do some pace work and speed work. Work some fartlek (Swedish for "speed play") into your medium-length runs and even into some of your longer runs. Fartlek training builds endurance, and is more fully explained on the Old Fartleks web page. You can also go to the track and do some medium distance pace work. Repeated 800 meter and 1600 meter runs at a target pace will help you increase your racing speed and endurance. Do about 3200-4800 meters worth at an elevated pace with a few minutes rest between each repetition. Try to maintain the same pace for each repetition. When you can do this, increase the pace at your next workout. You can also come to a Thursday Track Crew workout at the Penn State track any Thursday at noon. You'll probably find someone in the group who can run at your speed or who can challenge you to run a little faster.

Fourth, for race day, follow this strategy: Carbo-load. Maybe have some bread and pasta the night before. Eat your fill, but don't overindulge. On the day of the race, warm up well. Jog a mile or two slowly, then stretch, then do a bit more jogging about 10-15 minutes before the gun goes off. Make sure you hydrate pretty well and drink at the water stops. Even on a cold day, you can dehydrate running for 2 hours or whatever. Don't take just a sip. Actually stop and have a whole cup of water. It won't kill your time, and you might even feel revitalized. Bring some energy food like a "Gu" packet (or whatever light, high energy food you can eat that won't give you a stomach ache). Eat that at around 9 miles. Take water with it, or you'll risk a stomach cramp.

As for running the race, what follows might sound a little discouraging. That's because the NVHM is a tough course. Some people look on it as a quasi-religious experience (see comments on the Half page). It's not horrible, however, if you've trained enough. The first two times I ran it, I didn't train quite enough. I felt like hell near the end of the race. The third time, I trained in the manner described above. I took 5 minutes off my best time and felt great even on the long hill near the end of the race.

If you have never run a long race, whatever you do, don't go out fast (like your 5K pace). You will definitely pay for it. On the Nittany Valley Half course, the first 3+ miles are mostly downhill, so it's easy to get a false sense of security. Miles 4 through 6 are uphill or rolling, and take their toll. The downhill on Rock Rd (miles  8 and 9) is very steep. You want to flow with this one. Don't tighten your quads (upper front leg muscles) too much to try to brake, otherwise you'll feel brutalized toward the end of the race. After Rock Rd, there are a few short, steep, and dispiriting little hills until you get through Houserville. On Puddingtown Rd (mile 11), you can see the stadium and hospital on the hill. (Depending on how you've done, you might feel like taking a short cut directly to the hospital!) The race is flat for about a mile here before you tackle the last long hill. Orchard Rd starts shallow, and just keeps getting steeper. The steepest part is just before you turn onto Park. Then, you think you're done, but Park is uphill for a quarter until you turn onto Porter. As you turn onto Porter, you think you're done, but Porter is uphill for a block. Then you turn onto Curtin and the finish line is just a couple of hundred yards away. To get through this series of hills, the best thing to do is to relax and just put one foot in front of the other. And don't be afraid to say a word or two of encouragement to runners you pass (or who pass you). It'll help make you feel better, too!

It's always good to get a spectrum of opinions on training programs. Here are a few links to other Half-Marathon training programs:

Finally, a few years ago, I wrote a review of the 2001 Half that had some helpful race day hints for middle-of-the-pack runners. Take a look!

Created 10/21/04
Updated 10/16/06

Helpful Hints For Middle-of-the-Pack Half-Marathoners

by Marty Mazur

[The article below is a review I wrote of the 2001 Half that had some helpful race day hints for middle-of-the-pack runners. ]

The 18th Annual Nittany Valley Half-Marathon is now history. Sunday's event was a record: 301 registrants and 279 finishers! The weather was ideal. The race was well-run by organizers Dave Eggler and Morgan Wasikonis, who recruited a small army of volunteers. In short, every thing was just about perfect. The results are now on-line and should also appear in the coming newsletter.

As someone who ran a PR by nearly 5 minutes, I think I'm in a position to give a few "Helpful Hints" for those middling runners who might be thinking of training for next year's race.

(1) Take the time to talk to people at the beginning of the race. I'm not just talking about before the race, either. Being too keyed up and going out too fast are the bane of any distance runner. And at the half-marathon distance, you pay a steep penalty for mistakes made at the beginning of the race. If you spend the first mile or two making some idle chatter with other runners, you'll relax and you won't go out too fast.

(2) Run with people who are running your speed. Sounds almost redundant, doesn't it? Well, after a couple of miles, you'll find yourself with a certain cohort of people that you'll likely still be with toward the end of the race. Enjoy the give-and-take with these people. Try to stick with them when you feel like giving up, encourage them if they start falling behind you.

(3) Get religion. People keep reminding me of my capsule review of "The Half" that is on the NVHM page: "The last mile is designed to make you see God." In all seriousness, a good Catholic, for example, has just about enough time to say the Rosary during the last three miles, about when he needs it most. Others might seek to steel themselves with meditation. But whether you seek heavenly intercession or self-willed resolve, you could certainly spend the time in worse ways, like cursing the demons that have moved into your quadriceps.

(4) Duct tape. My involvement with the Boy Scouts has taught me that duct tape is great for covering blisters. I don't have that problem when I run. However, ask any runner who wears cotton on a cool day about the pain of "booby burn". Actually, you don't have to ask him (Him? Do women get this?). You'll see the stigmata, the two crimson blotches on his chest. After this "sandpaper treatment", the post-race shower is no longer enjoyable, but excruciating. Try the "silver solution". It works!

Created 10/22/04
Updated 10/22/04

From Couch to 5K (part 2)

by Marty Mazur

Review: The Constant Time Training Program

In Part 1 of this article,  I got the program started by telling you what kind of shape you need to be in to start running (basically, any shape, but check with your doctor if you are over 30, overweight, sedentary, or a smoker). I let you know what kind of equipment you need to start a running program. Then, I outlined what I call the “Constant Time Training Program”. The idea behind the Constant Time program is that you spend roughly the same time per session at the beginning of your program as you do when you are ready to run your 5K about 3 months later. That’s about an hour. And that hour includes stretching, a warm-up, exercise, a cool down, and a quick shower. The difference between the beginning of the program and the end is that as you progress, you spend more of the ‘exercise’ portion of the workout running, and less of it walking.

Now that you’ve been “with the program” for a while, it’s time to liven things up!

How Do I Get Faster?

You’ve been running for a few weeks and can comfortably run a couple of miles. You may even notice that you are covering more ground during the time you are running, so you’re getting faster. But, now you want to learn how to run faster still. Before you jump into the recommendations below, always heed the recommendation made in the first installment of this article: Patience, patience!. Remember, with the constant time program, you are exercising the same amount of time in each session, but slowly increasing the amount of time that you are running.

There are two things that you can do to get faster. The first is to increase your mileage. If you stick with running for a few more months, you will eventually be able to run 5 or 6 miles at a pop. Of course, the longer run will take you longer than a half-hour, and as a beginner you should probably only run that far once a week. But a longer run will give you a lot more stamina and will make running shorter distances, such as a 5K race, seem easier. But remember, don’t try to jump into a 6 mile run until your body has slowly worked up to it.

The second thing you can do, and you can start right away, is to play some speed games while running. There is a well-known training technique, developed by the Swedes, for increasing your speed and endurance. The Swedish word for the technique is fartlek, which means “speed play.” The basic idea is very simple: break up the middle portion of your run (after you are warmed up) into sections of fast running and slow running. You need not sprint, just pick up your pace during the “fast” sections. The amount of time you are running “fast” will increase as your level of conditioning progresses. The recovery time can also get shorter. The speed at which you run your “fast” sections will increase as your endurance increases. Using this basic idea, you can play all kinds of games with yourself (or your running partners).

We need not get bogged down in details. A few examples should help you design some games of your own. Try a game of “telephone pole”. After you’ve warmed up, run the distance between two telephone poles faster than your normal pace. Then rest between the next two poles by jogging more slowly than your normal pace. As you get better at this, you will be able to continue the game for longer stretches. You might also be able to run harder for two telephone poles and only rest for one. If you have a runner’s watch, you might try running “60-60s”: run a faster pace for a minute, then rest for a minute. Do try this at home. Experiment and come up with speed play that works for you.

Finally, a good speed workout can be had at the track. A track offers calibrated distances, and a flat surface so you can best measure and track your progress. There are tracks on the Penn State campus (on Porter Rd. down the hill from the Bryce Jordan Center) and at the State College Area High School (behind the athletic fields on the south side of Westerly Avenue). You are also welcome to join the Thursday Track Crew. The group meets in the warm-up area behind the bleachers in the main gym at Rec Hall and leaves at 12:10 PM every Thursday for a mile-and-a-half jog to the track and a hard workout. (If it’s more convenient, you can meet the group at the track at 12:25).You need not be a seasoned runner to join. The group welcomes newcomers, and there is usually a slower runner or two in the pack. More information on the Thursday Track Crew can be found at

What If I Get Hurt?

Even if you follow the program, stretch before running, are patient in increasing your miles, and don’t overdo it, you can still end up with a runner’s injury. There are many kinds of injuries that runners are susceptible to, and even seasoned runners sometimes get hurt. If you get hurt, you should “listen to your body”. This means that it’s OK to stop running for a while. It’s also OK to self-treat. After all, you’re the best judge of when things are getting better. But before treating an injury, you should do a little research. There are numerous online resources that can help you identify and treat your injury. One good general site is Cool Running, at . But always remember, if the hurt gets worse or won’t go away, see a doctor.

The two largest categories of runners injuries are probably pulled muscles and ligaments, and tendonitis. A pulled muscle is an acute injury (you usually know exactly when it happens). A pulled muscle sometimes happens when you have not warmed up sufficiently, when it is cold out, or when you are straining too hard in a workout. The best strategy for such an injury is called the RICE approach: rest, ice, compression, elevation. When you first get a muscle pull, you should ice it. Use an ice pack, or a freezer bag full of ice cubes. Cover the bag with a moist cloth and apply it to the injured area for 20-30 minutes several times a day. Ice helps prevent swelling. If you pull a muscle in one of your legs, elevate the injured area while you ice it. You can also wear a compression (“Ace”) bandage while you are not icing. Do not over tighten the bandage. Finally, rest for at least a couple of days, then slowly start exercising the area again. Depending on the severity of the pull, you might have to go back to “square one” for a while. But don’t despair, and be patient. If the injury does not start feeling better, consult a doctor.

Tendonitis is a chronic injury that is generally caused by either over training, bad shoes, or an underlying physical susceptibility. Tendonitis usually manifests itself as pain that mostly goes away after you warm up, but gets worse over time if nothing is done about it. Tendonitis develops over time and usually takes time to heal. You can usually run with tendonitis, but it can lead to a more serious condition if you don’t do something about it. Here are some things to do if you get tendonitis. First, check your shoes. Are they running shoes? Don’t run in anything not designed for running. Are they getting old (more than 300 miles)? Get a new pair. Did you have a running shoe pro match your shoes to your running form? Sometimes the way you run can leave you open to injury and a running shoe professional can help find shoes that mitigate the problem.

Once you’ve gotten yourself into some better shoes, you should try icing the injured area after a run. Try a course of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (e.g. Motrin). Take the recommended amount for a couple of weeks. Do some extra stretching and strengthening exercises that are designed for the affected area. If the pain persists, consult a doctor.

Down The Home Stretch

It’s almost time for the big race. What should your race plan be? The best race plan is to run at the pace you are capable of the last week of your training. It’s your first time out, so don’t overreach. If you can cover the distance by running two miles and walking the rest, then that’s what you should do on race day.

Race Day

You’ve set the date, chosen a race, and put in your training. The big day is almost here. Here are a few tips to help get you through to the finish. First, pre-register for your race. You can usually save a few bucks by doing so, and doing so will cement your commitment to run. Second, take the two days before the race off from training. On those days, just do the stretching part of your workout, and maybe enough of a jog to break a sweat, no more. This will help keep you muscles limber, but won’t wear you out. Eat a good meal the night before, but don’t eat something that will make it hard for you to sleep. Eat something easy to digest. Eat pasta if you want, though “carbo-loading” is not necessary for a 5K.

On race day, arrive early. It’s best to get to the race bout 45 minutes to an hour before the gun goes off. This will give you plenty of time to get your race packet, stretch, and warm up. It’ll also allow for time to get acquainted with where everything is: the registration table, the starting line, the bathrooms, a course map. Go to the registration table and get the race packet first. In it should be your race number or a race chip. Race directors use either a race number system or a chip system for timing. (Sometimes races that use a chip will also require runners to wear a number as well). If you get a race number, pin it on the front of the outermost shirt (it could be cold out!) that you will be wearing when you cross the finish line. Pin it with 4 pins using the 4 holes that are in the top section of the number. Do not pin the lower tear-off tab onto your shirt.

A chip is often used in larger races. It is a piece of plastic that can be attached to your shoes. It has an electronic chip embedded in it that signals the timing equipment when you cross the finish line. If you get a chip, attach it to your shoes. Many races are now using disposable chips, but if the race you're doing uses chips that are not disposable (if they don't tell you, ask if the chip is disposable), the chip will be removed at the finish line. For non-disposable chips, do not loop the body of the chip into your laces (this make it hard to remove and will cause a pile up of people at the finish line), but use the plastic device that race personnel give you to attach it to your laces. This plastic device is removed by race personnel when you cross the finish line with a quick snip of some scissors. If you have trouble attaching the chip, just ask race personnel to help you. Don’t misplace your non-disposable chip or walk off with it after the race! They are costly  to replace.

Now it’s time for a leisurely warmup. Maybe take a jog back to your car to drop off the rest of your race packet. After a 5-10 minute jog, do some stretching. Then some more light jogging. You might also want to do some “pick-ups”, i.e. a few short (50-100 yard) speedy runs where you lift your legs. Stop warming up 5 to 10 minutes before gun time, though if it’s cold out, make sure to stay warmed up and limber. Have a little water, but don’t worry about tanking up. Unless it’s really hot out, you won’t need much water to get through a 5K, and you don’t want to be frantically searching for a bathroom with 1 minute to go to the race. When the Race Director calls everyone to the starting line, position yourself in the crowd in a place that is appropriate to your speed. Don’t go to the front row. You could get trampled, and it really annoys the fast runners to have to dodge newbies. Go somewhere near the back. While waiting for the gun to go off, make some friends in the crowd. Tell them it’s your first 5K. You’ll get a lot of encouragement. Listen to the last minute directions of the Race Director. Then psyche yourself up for the big moment.

When the gun goes off, you’ll be very excited. The biggest mistake first timers make is going out too fast. Try to avoid the temptation to go with the crowd. This will be difficult, because in the excitement of the moment you won’t feel like you’re running too fast. Just take it easy. Relax. And don’t worry about embarrassing yourself! 5K races are increasing in popularity, and that means there are a lot of newcomers out there with you. Most of them have probably not trained as well as you have. If you’ve trained, and you stick with your race plan, you won’t finish last.

One more little bugaboo can crop up during the race and that is a side-stitch. That’s a fairly annoying pain at the bottom of your rib cage. It’s caused by a spasm in your diaphragm. Such spasms are usually brought on by overexcitement or going out to fast. If this happens, go slower for a while. Try speed walking for a minute or two, swinging your arms at your side. Also, try forcing a cough without actually coughing, i.e. tighten your abdominal muscles near the cramp as if you are about to cough, then release them by making a baby cough or grunt. This sometimes helps to clear up the spasm, and if nothing else it gets your mind on something else.

As you approach the finish line, be aware that other runners may try to pass you. You can choose to try to sprint with them to the finish, but don’t block another runner. It’s considered bad form. After crossing the finish line, move swiftly through the queue of runners as the finish line assistant tears off your bib number tab or removes the chip from your shoe. If the race director is not using chips, stay in your finish order until after the finish line personnel have removed the tab from the bottom of your race bib. Exit the finish line area so as not to cause congestion there. There will probably be water and food nearby.

When you’re finished with the race, bask in the glow of a goal accomplished. Go to the awards ceremony even if you don’t win anything (some races give door prizes!) And go home and rest up for a few days before you hit the road again to train for your next 5K!

Updated 09/27/04