Senior Journals: The Importance of Strength Training for Distance Runners – Stephen Schousen (3/18/21)

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I signed up for the 2 mile race at an Adidas indoor national meet in Virginia Beach. I had planned on taking the winter completely off racing to focus on my training, but I’d gotten anxious watching everyone else throw down impressive times while I was sitting on the sidelines. I didn’t want to miss any school, though, and this presented a problem. At the time of the meet, traveling out of state for over 24 hours meant a mandatory quarantine for 14 days, or at least until you can get a negative COVID test, the results of which take some time to come back. My only other option was a 3:00 AM wake up and a 5 hour drive down to Virginia Beach the day of the meet. It wasn’t ideal, but at this point I just wanted to go race, and I wasn’t too worried about the circumstances. On top of that, the previous two weeks had been the hardest of my winter training. My legs were tired, and I was not expecting a fast time.

The day before the meet I was talking to my strength coach/PT, Justin Geissinger, lamenting my poor seeding and worn out legs. He replied that, with my current strength program, I had never had more power in my legs. He even told me he wouldn’t be surprised if I ran 9:25. I was a bit shocked. Knowing I’d be running this solo up front, I had been hoping to dip under 9:40. I set the goal of running 36 seconds per lap, and I figured that would be all I could handle.

The day of the meet we drove down, and I could feel the fatigue and stiffness in my legs while I was checking in and picking up my numbers. As I took my pre-meet strides, I was a bit worried. “Will I die? How long until I hit the bonk?” Even as I toed the line, the leaden feeling in my legs was all I could think about.


The gun went off and I started running. First lap is right on 36. By the second lap I was all by myself up front, and still pretty nervous. As I went on, however, I noticed that 36-second 200s were feeling pretty smooth. Sure, my legs felt a bit heavy but I was comfortable. For the first time in my life, I was surprised to hit the bell! I finished with almost exactly an even split, and cruised in to a new PR. I was shocked. I’d never prepared less for a race, yet I still felt smoother than I did for most of my fall cross country races. I realized what Justin meant when he said, “You’ve never had more power in your legs.”

That race is just one of the many events that have really strengthened my faith in strength training for distance runners. Sophomore year, at the spring session of the Armory camp, I watched professional runners go over exercises I had been doing with Justin. If it’s good enough for the pros, it’s definitely good enough for me!

As far as high school distance running goes, a lot of athletes shy away from strength work, afraid of “getting big.” I can assure you, I have been doing it for awhile now and I have yet to get completely jacked. Strength training encompasses way more than just bulking up. Most of the strength training I do is focused on improving the way my body moves. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you look into adding some type of dedicated strength work into your training. If done properly, it can take your running to the next level!

Editors Note – Stephen is a senior at JP McCaskey High School. He placed 9th in the state this fall at the PIAA AAA State Championships. He is committed to Bucknell University.