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Summer Workouts: Lake Braddock’s Kate Murphy, Patriot’s Rachel McArthur preach patience ahead of cross country season

Two of the area's top runners take The Post's Eric Goldwein around the track in a stamina-building training session. (Video: The Washington Post)

There’s a difference between training fast and training right. That became apparent not when Lake Braddock’s Kate Murphy and Patriot’s Rachel McArthur sped up for a 71-second final lap of their early August interval workout, but when they crossed the finish line, form intact, standing stronger than ever.

The two nationally-ranked middle-distance runners — with 11 All-Met selections between them — were taking part in a light track session earlier this month at Lake Braddock, running six 400-meter intervals at a 70-80 second pace with about one minute rest between. Though faster than planned, this wasn’t one of their more intense workouts. For perspective, Murphy was running 400 intervals in about 64 seconds in preparation for the adidas Dream 1,500 meter, which she ran in 4:07.21 thanks to a 62.05 final lap.

But Murphy and McArthur weren’t trying to go all out in this early August workout. Unlike other athletes who use preseason practices to cram in grueling conditioning sessions in a desperate attempt to get in shape for fall season, elite runners approach year-round training as a marathon, and not a sprint. For them, the dog days of summer are about staying healthy, building strength and putting on mileage so they’re ready for cross country championships later in the fall, and they can peak for the spring and summer track and field season.

“You have to be patient and just realize, this is going to be a long season and I want to stay healthy,” Murphy said. “The biggest thing is being able to be consistent, and you can only be consistent if you’re not injured. I think that’s the biggest thing that motivates me to hold back.”

Kate Murphy wins adidas dream 1500m, qualifies for Olympic trials

Murphy is fresh off a never-ending stretch of spring and summer races that included Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Virginia state championships, the adidas Dream 1500m in Sommerville, Mass., Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. and the World Junior Championships in Poland. She took a short break after her 3000m race (9:17.01) in Europe, but is back to running about 50 miles per week. After rolling her left foot on several occasions since indoor season, Murphy has added several strength and balance exercises to her regimen and cut down on some of the tougher runs on uneven surfaces.

With Lake Braddock, Murphy will train with a variety of long-distance and tempo runs, usually slightly faster and with a little more mileage than her teammates. In one of the workouts, “the Baker’s dozen,” the team goes to a nearby trail and runs hard for about 650 meters, then jogs at a solid pace for 150, repeating that cycle 13 times.

“It’s like building a really good foundation to a house. If you build that really strong, then you can start building up pretty high,” Lake Braddock Coach Mike Mangan said. “That’s the goal for us, to really go about trying to have a nice base for those kids.”

McArthur is coming off a lighter summer, comparatively, which included a personal best mile (4:45.72) at the Brooks PR Invitational in Renton, Wash. and a 1,500 personal best (4:25.66) at the USATF Junior National Championships in California. To minimize wear and tear, the Patriot senior includes various non-running exercises — circuit workouts, planking, stationary bike sessions — in her summer training plan.

Rachel McArthur wins the race of her dreams at Virginia state meet

Like Murphy, McArthur enters the preseason with a strong foundation and is trying to strengthen it with long-distance and tempo runs. In one of the tougher workouts at Patriot, McArthur said she’ll run at a solid tempo (around a 7:30 mile) for five minutes, then hard for three minutes, jog for 90 seconds, run hard for two minutes, jog for one minute, before climbing back up the ladder, rotating between fast and faster, usually for multiple sets.

“When it’s really hot out,” McArthur said, “you have to get prepared for stuff like that, days before.”

Murphy and McArthur have been leading the Virginia field since their sophomore seasons, routinely finishing first and second in middle-distance events. At the 6A North region meet in June, Murphy edged McArthur in the 1,600, and at the state championships McArthur finished .15 seconds ahead of Murphy in the 800.

Building back to that level without getting hurt is a process that requires patience, McArthur said, and with a long cross country season ahead they won’t be running those speeds any time soon.

“I know when I was a freshman, the biggest thing I faced was just having patience. I wanted to be at the top right away,” McArthur said. “And I think telling the freshmen that, you can wait. It’s fine to not pound it from the start.

Still, the slower pace of these August runs doesn’t make them any less vital. The Tuesday intervals, for example, forced them to run at a faster pace without letting their heart rates drop, mentally and physically preparing them for tougher workouts, and simulating the final stretch of races when they’re out of breath and their legs are dead.

As the season progresses, Murphy and McArthur will ramp up with tougher interval and tempo runs, and it’s then that the results of their consistent  — and sustainable — summer training begin to show.

“I try to tell them to have patience, but also I try to show everyone what you can do. Sometimes I’ll wear my gear and stuff to practices and I just want to show them [what happens] if you actually train hard,” McArthur said. “Training easy is fun, but doing well is a lot more fun.” 

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