It is winter and in between the fall and spring seasons, but there is no rest for high-school long-distance runners.

Theirs is a sport that requires year-round conditioning -- especially if they hope to remain competitive in Northern Virginia, where high-school distance runners have become statewide pacesetters in recent years.

In the 70s, Marshall, Edison, Oakton and Langley high schools all won at least one state championship in cross-country (three-mile) races. Schools like T.C. Williams, Washington-Lee, Lake Braddock and Annandale provided outstanding individual distance runners in both cross-country and spring track (one-and two-mile races).

Langley High School, which finished third in the state in 1976, second in 1978 and first in 1979, perhaps best typifies the rise of distance running power in the area.

Langley coach John Platt recalls that when be began coaching cross country in 1973, only four boys showed up for the first practice.

"I went around the school and asked people to come out and try running," says Platt, 36, a math teacher."I talked to the phys. ed. department to get names of some possible runners. Kids who joined the team then talked to some of their friends and got them out."

By midseason, Platt had a squad of 15, giving him the nucleus of a team for the following year. In 1974, the Langley cross country team won its first trophy in an interscholastic meet held at Georgetown University.

"That picked things up," Platt says, "and in 1976 when we took third in the state, things snowballed."

The beginning of the distance running "breakthrough," as Platt calls it, for him and many other cross country coaches, came in the summer of 1975 when it became apparent that many local runners had continued their training in the off-season. By the time the fall season opened, there was a large group of well conditioned runners competing in area schools.

"My boys realized that to compete on a state level, they had to train over the summer," Platt says. "I had a college runner come in and talk to them about the importance of running over the summer. We had a runner -- Steve Halsey -- who came in from out of state. He had a background of running over the summer, and he encouraged other kids to do the same."

Today, the successful high-school distance runner trains year round.

Steve Wright, Langley's top ranked runner this year and the second place finisher in the state meet, came to Langley in 1978 as a junior after running for schools in Colorado and Georgia.

"The competition around here was a lot tougher," Wright says. "It threw me back a lot. I had to work harder. I had to run more and run year round." m

Wright often arises at 5:30 a.m., runs three to four miles and then goes to school. After classes, he devotes his time to running, calisthenics and weight training. Wright competes for his school's indoor track team and spring track team, as do most distance runners who try to maintain their competitive edge.

The success of area distance runners such as Wright, Dwight Stephens of T.C. Williams, Randy Perkins of Lake Braddock, Mark Anderson of Washington-Lee, Steve Hyland of Oakton and Chuch Gavin of Annandale is due largely to their willingness to "lay down the miles," according to Garnett Million, cross country coach of South Lakes High School in Reston where 21 underclassmen came out for this year's team.

"They must put in the milage, and if they are going to be competitive in this region, they almost have to go with some kind of year-round running program," Million says.

Serious distance runners, coaches say, will run 40 to 80 miles a week, the distance varying with the season and the runner's age and physical condition.

Million, who coached for three years at Marshall before coming to South Lakes in 1978, notes that there are "better teams than there were four or five years ago. They're more competitive, more intense and they have more depth."

Million feels the recent emphasis on running in general has increased the number of young people interested in competing interscholastically. "It's important to get the numbers out to have a good team," Million says.

Platt agrees: "Running's growth in popularity has helped. I'm getting kids who have run with their fathers. Some freshmen come to high school having already run in 5-or 10-mile races."