Conditioning with Duke Cross Country | STACK

Become a Better Athlete. Sign Up for our FREE Newsletter.

Conditioning with Duke Cross Country

January 1, 2006 | Featured in the January 2006 Issue

Must See Track & Field Videos

Learn what it takes to develop an aerobic base specific to running distance.

By: Chad Zimmerman

Despite what you might think, building your aerobic base does not start with marching in place to “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” with Richard Simmons and his killer throwback afro.

Instead, Kevin Jermyn, head coach for women’s cross country and track distance at Duke University, is the perfect starting block. He has the knowledge it takes to develop a distance runner’s aerobic base. Since joining Duke’s cross and track programs in 2000, Jermyn has transformed Blue Devil runners.

In 2000, 2002 and 2003, while Jermyn was serving as assistant coach, Duke’s cross country team qualified for nationals. In 2004, his first year as head coach, the Blue Devils finished second at the NCAA Championships. Now, in his second year calling the shots, the team ranks number one nationwide.

On the track, Jermyn’s athletes have broken every middle and distance relay record in Duke’s history. Last spring, the Duke women won their first Penn Relay title, taking home the distance medley crown.

Building his runners’ aerobic base is a huge element of Jermyn’s success. To boost your base, tap into his expertise. Headbands and leg warmers aren’t required.


Pushing too hard during a long run to develop an aerobic base is a basic distance runner mistake, according to Jermyn. “Distance runners like running set courses. Because they’re very competitive and driven, they like to try to beat previous times on that course. And soon, aerobic runs become anaerobic.”

You might think that’s not a problem, but Jermyn disputes the thought. “Aerobic training has two goals,” he says. “First and foremost, it helps you recover from hard anaerobic efforts during a meet or workout. Second, it provides a stimulus to increase your aerobic fitness. If you’re running anaerobically on an aerobic training day, you won’t recover or improve your aerobic base. You’ll put too much stress on your body too soon, which can result in decreased fitness, illness or injury.”

Jermyn advises gauging your aerobic work by your ability to talk. “To build your aerobic base, you should be running at a conversational pace—where you can hold a conversation. If you can’t, you’re running too fast, depriving your muscles of oxygen and working in the anaerobic realm.”

STACK Says: Aerobic work is low intensity exercise; muscles are fully supplied with oxygen. Anaerobic work is exercise performed at greater intensity levels, where muscles work without oxygen.


To produce the ultimate custom workout, Jermyn suggests one simple but effective tool: a record book. Jermyn used one when he trained and competed in high school, college and professionally, and he encourages his athletes to do the same. “When planning the coming year’s training, start by looking backwards,” he says. “Base this year’s training off the results of last year’s. The best way to do this is keep a log of the number of days you ran a week, number of miles per day and total miles per week. But more important than recording numbers is to note how you felt, eventually how you raced, when you got sick and if you were sore post-workout. You can use this information in the future and tweak things to create an even better workout plan.”


What can soreness tell you about your training? According to Jermyn, a lot.

1. Frequent post-workout soreness is a sign that volume and/or intensity are too high. Cut back the distance or speed of your runs until there is no next day soreness. Then, gradually increase speed and/or distance to allow your body to properly adapt to the more difficult training.

2. Soreness after a meet can be an indicator of several situations:

a. In cross country – The terrain of a new course can place new or different stresses on your body. In this situation, changing your workouts isn’t necessary.

b. In track – Post-meet soreness can result from your mechanics breaking down during a race. This typically happens when you go out too fast and then fatigue early. Work on keeping your pace.

c. For both sports – If post-meet soreness happens regularly, it’s likely your pre-season training wasn’t effective. Soreness shouldn’t result if you’ve trained hard and smart.

STACK Says: Volume refers to the amount of running performed during a single training session. Intensity refers to the speed at which those run(s) are completed. A high volume, low intensity run is a long run at a slow pace. A 400m sprint is an example of a low volume, high intensity run.


1. Produces a confident runner, and a confident runner always has a mental edge on race day. When you can actually feel the results of your training, confidence abounds.

2. Gives you a competitive advantage, because you know your training is more scientifically based than other athletes’. Your training forced you to get the most out of your body.

3. Eliminates fluctuations in your race and practice times.

4. Allows you to peak at the right time. Training correctly 16 or even 20 weeks before the season—by properly stressing your body, letting it adapt and then giving it the appropriate amount of rest—will help you run your best in the races that mean the most.


Tottenville High School Creds

• Two-time New York State Champion

• Three-time National High School Champion

• Winner of the Millrose Games high school mile

• PR: 4:15 mile

• PR: 9:19 two-mile

Georgetown Creds

• Team captain

• All-East

• All-Big East

• All-American

• Multiple-time national qualifier

Professional Creds

• Ran for Reebok Enclave

• Member of the victorious team at the 1998 USATF Cross Country Championship

• Has a 3:43.56 PR in the 1500m


“If you have trouble determining whether you’re running at an aerobic level, you can use percentages of your maximum heart rate,” Jermyn says.

For an accurate measure, invest in a heart rate monitor. Then, follow Jermyn’s two quick tips for effective heart rate work.

1. “Don’t use a formula to determine your max heart rate. Get the real number. Keep track of your heart rate during a time trial or really hard workout. The highest number you see is very close to your maximum heart rate.”

2. “Perform aerobic work with a heart rate between 65 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.”

Chad Zimmerman
- Chad Zimmerman is the co-founder of STACK as well as its President. He earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University where he...
Chad Zimmerman
- Chad Zimmerman is the co-founder of STACK as well as its President. He earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University where he...
Must See
Antonio Brown Juggles 3 Footballs
Views: 1,082,395
Dashon Goldson: "You Just Gotta Have Heart"
Views: 2,195,013
Why You Should Never Doubt Colin Kaepernick
Views: 16,003,995

Featured Videos

Quest for the Ring: University of Kentucky Views: 224,492
Add Core Power for Basketball With Damian Lillard's Med Ball Throws Views: 4,255,154
Path to the Pros 2015: The Journey Begins Views: 26,383
Load More


STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers


Latest issues of STACK Magazine


Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice


Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes


Find the latest news relevant to athletes

More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Win the Fourth Quarter With These Basketball Sled Push Finishers

Throughout the realm of social media, we see sled push complexes and its variations from Crossfit, to Strongman athletes, to elite athletes, to regular...

5 NBA Players Who Found Their Game After Losing Weight

How to Avoid Hockey Conditioning That Slows You Down

4 Simple Drills to Improve Your Endurance

4 HIIT Workouts That Will Get You in Shape Fast

Get in Game Shape With 4 Conditioning Combos

Get in Shape With This Basketball Conditioning Workout

STACK Challenge: The 10/10 Treadmill Challenge

STACK Challenge: 500-Meter Row

Can You Survive the

Improve Your Aerobic Fitness in the Off-Season

Who Invented the Burpee?

LaTroy Hawkins' Epic Battle Ropes Workout

ZSeries 10-Minute Workouts: Interval Sprints

Full-Body Conditioning Workout: 3 Loaded Carry Variations

How Much Conditioning Do You Really Need?

Get in Basketball Shape With the Right Workout

Understanding the Benefits and Risks of Altitude Training

In Defense of Cardio

Can You Pass Drew Brees' Conditioning Test?

How Sporting Kansas City Stays 'Sporting Fit'

A Slo-Mo Must-See: Ike Taylor's 4-Man Battle Rope Squats

5 Brutal Sprint Drills That Push the Lactic Threshold

Can You Handle the Husker Toughness Test?

Get in Shape With 5 Intense Lower-Body Finishers

Off-Season Conditioning: Full-Body Med Ball Workout

Alternatives to Boring Cardio Training

ZSeries 10-Minute Workouts: Fartlek Run

7 Footwork Drills That Give You an Advantage

Training Secrets of UFC Champion Johny Hendricks

In-Season Baseball Pitcher Workout Program

The Mount Everest Treadmill Challenge

High-Intensity Interval Training: How Much Is Too Much?

ZSeries 10-Minute Workouts: The Hill

Test Your Toughness With the Who Dat? Challenge

Baseball Conditioning: Why You Need an Aerobic Base

STACK Challenge: Finish Strong

Training with the Elevation Training Mask 2.0

Advanced High School Football Summer Conditioning Program

Can You Survive These 4 Crazy Plate Push Finishers?

LeBron James's Insane Conditioning Drill

STACK Challenge: 5 Minutes of Treadmill Torture