Summer XC training: Riverside coach Eric Cummings

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Name: Eric J. Cummings
HS coach at : Riverside HS
Years coaching: 17 total
Wife: Karen
Sons: Alex (12), Lucas (9), Jon (7)
Dog: Shadow
Favorite workout: Chase race
Favorite quote: If Winning Isn't Everything, Then Why Keep Score!

How and when did you get involved in coaching?
I was in college and realized I enjoyed coaching and started looking around for a school that needed a volunteer. Byrnes HS offered me a spot and I assisted Paul Pendlenton and Paula Duncan. I had my student teaching assignment changed from Broome to Byrnes and then stayed on at Byrnes after my student teaching.

Tell us about your competitive running background, if applies (past or present).
I ran at West Hernando Middle School for two years (Florida does not allow middle school run with high school teams). I then compete for F.W. Springstead HS in Spring Hill, Florida under Coach Fred Hudson and Coach Ed Chester.  After high school I ran for USCS (now Upstate).

What do you hope for your team to achieve this coming season?
We will set some team goals in August (I leave that to the captains and runners). I would like to see the girls repeat as State Champions and to see the boys move into the top 3 this year at State. Region is always big, especially with our region.

Looking at 2013 success, how do you help athletes with their focus for upcoming season?
A new crop of new runners always keeps returning runners focused. The group we have coming back has really excelled and just by keeping the workouts fun and challenging at the same time.

What kind of terrain do you prefer for your team to train on?
We train on cross country terrain. Rolling hills, uneven surfaces, grass, road, etc...  They have to know how to adjust and be able to race on any surface. All of our speed workouts are done on a mixed loop or rolling hills and uneven surfaces. Outside of the Greenville County Course at Hillcrest HS, no CC finish stretch is on a track.

How do you prepare for summer and fall training?
I meet with my captains and they setup the summer plan. I give the athletes a mileage chart and core workout to follow, but everything else is up to the captains and runners. Cross Country requires a sense of dedication that each runner needs to have and build within themselves. Summer is a time where they can decide if this is what they want, on their own. I have been criticized by other coaches over the years for not meeting with my team 3-5 times a week all summer.  The athlete needs to be willing to do what is necessary in order to be successful on their own. In a race, they have only themselves to really rely on.  It builds a more confident person and a more self-motivated athlete.  My kids also know that Day 1 starts with repeats at 6:45am! Our fall training plan is already set. I look at the returning team and write up a 14 week plan and then adjust where needed throughout the season.

What philosophies do you have with your athletes?
I believe that cross country CAN be for everyone. I do not cut! Anyone that is willing to come out and run everyday in the conditions that we run in, has a spot on our team (in our family). The team is a family environment where they support each other. We stress improvement and competition within the team from day 1. I want them to enjoy running and make this a lifelong event.

Are you a coach that prefers high mileage, low mileage or speed for training and how do you adapt for different levels and backgrounds?
I prefer low mileage at a higher intensity. It is better for the kids in the long run and keeps them fresh over the course of their career. We, Heather Greene, and I adjust the distances and intensity based on our groups. We will start in August with 4 groups and we may have to drop to 6 groups (based on ability and fitness level) and then work to get it to three groups by the end of the season. Our boys and girls workout together everyday and this helps both teams.

What role do you have in summer training?
I give the kids the summer mileage and the core workout with instructions. I will meet the team 3 times throughout the summer (mainly to collect paperwork) and we do a 12 min run and a core workout. That is it! The captains take an active role and lead, a reason they were named captains!

What is the value for your team in summer training?
Value for me is that they build a base and they get to know each other without the pressure of coaches being around. It gives them the chance to see if they really are committed to CC and enjoy it!

Looking back at each previous season, do you make any changes for summer training?
Summer training I do not make adjustments. I am using the same summer mileage that I used at Byrnes in 98 and at SMC while I was there. I received this format from Coach Mike Massey when I started at USCS back in 1992. I have adjusted it from a high mileage progression to better fit my training model.  My summer mileage and core workout is on the RHS webpage for any coach or athlete to use. I know several runners from other schools that follow my summer plan. I do not mind sharing my workouts or ideas with other coaches.  Nothing I do is my own plan. I use a variety of ideas and workouts that I have read and tried over the past 17 years.

Do you include weight training in summer conditioning?
I include a core workout that they do three times a week with a weekly progression.

What do you see that has changed in the sport?
I hope the sport NEVER changes! Cross Country is pure. It is a set distance over a terrain that each athlete has to complete at the same time. Same weather, same pain. I see groups of runners on the roads all the time with kids from different schools training together. Athletes compete throughout the race and then slap hands, hug, or support their competition throughout the length of the finish chute.  It is pure and I hope this never changes!

How do athletes interested find out about your team?
We set a parent meeting for the beginning of May for those coded for Riverside to come and find out about the program. Our guidance department keeps our CC packet for any new kids coming into Riverside and mainly it is word of mouth from friend to friend. I currently have 106 sets of physicals already turned in for next fall, and this does not include a lot of my returners that will bring to me at one our my 3 coaches meetings.