You bring up interesting points! I can comment from my perspective with Peter this year as he went right on up through Nationals, versus what happened last year. I apologize for my rambling!
Nationals was never in the training plan for Peter this winter. Heck, New Englands wasn’t, either. I left those two weeks with question marks when I planned the season out after cross. Everything I had planned out ended after All-States with a refresh period segueing into outdoor, and when we decided to say “yes” to New Englands and Nationals, those meets were just icing on the cake. Those last two weeks of NE’s and Nationals we basically continued what we were doing all season long: aerobic workouts. We just added a faster last rep at the end of the workout. Peter only ran a race pace workout in practice once during indoors, as did Mahoney (our number two guy). Now, we did plenty of (controlled) hills, but if we did any “faster” reps in workouts they were short pickups after tempo runs, after strength building 1000s, etc.
Our other kids (whose seasons were shorter and who have different goals in mind) touched upon faster workouts a tad more, but that doesn’t really bother them because they have ample recovery time before the spring starts after their winter season ends. Still, the focus since I have been coaching in the Swamp (and when I was helping out in Danvers) has been aerobic development with your typical strength workouts. We’re lucky in our conference that a guy like Peter can use dual meets as workouts: dropping down in distance or hitting a tempo pace for two miles, etc. If we were in a different conference that might not be the case. For outdoor, his real racing probably won’t start until roughly State Coaches, maybe even later.
There was a huge difference last year, when we got a little too aggressive with “running the gamut” as you say indoors, without recovering as needed. I learned from that as a coach, Peter learned from that as an athlete, and we made changes that have worked. He even commented: “Coach, I know we have the different training phases, but there’s not too much difference between them.” And he is right with that comment, because last year, when he got down to 9:25, he was fighting his way to that time: feeling wiped out with legs that just weren’t there during the winter. So any changes as far as “phases” go this year were very minor. It got a little better during outdoor track last year, but he didn’t feel anywhere near as good as he has felt all indoor season. That’s partly because of my changes, but also partly (I think more-so) due to the base he has now that he didn’t have last year. This year, he felt great every race, and learned a lot about racing and tactics while competing against the best MA has to offer.
Peter was able to “run the gamut” because he wasn’t crushing workouts three times, or even twice, a week. Lots of steady, strong, controlled running. Had we tried to hammer out super fast intervals there is no way Peter would have been able to keep racing well that many weeks in a row.
Yes, bringing his PR down to 9:18 is fantastic, but for me the best thing is he how FEELS racing: and he still has a ton of room to grow as a runner. Hopefully, when we blend in some other training elements, we get an even better result this spring. I have to make sure I keep him on the leash for now, because he’s pretty excited after this weekend. But, he knows the long term is always the goal. No one remembers who performed well the first week of outdoor unless you can do it in June, too.
So, to end my rambling, my whole philosophy is that for a kid like Peter (or any kid who wants to rip in the spring), indoor is all about getting ready for outdoor. But, when an opportunity presents itself, sometimes you have to take it. I initially was wary about Nationals, but after the New Englands race I knew he HAD to run Nationals because he COULD run sub-9:20 and I wanted him to get that off his back. We can ease him into the outdoor season based on our dual meet schedule and have plenty of time to get into tip-top shape.
I know some teams like to hit the big invites in December and drop fast two mile times or whatever, but that’s not a part of our program. I do think that a lot of coaches can be trusted to make the right call for their athletes; I can think of a few who dropped fast times in December and came back to run faster in March. I can also think of athletes who did the opposite. Either way, there’s more than one way to go about it, depending on the coach and the athlete.
Anyway, just my two (or more) cents!