Chapel Hill's Coach Mabe Shares A Fun Postseason Workout

Joan Nesbit Mabe is the current coach at Chapel Hill High School.  She ran at East Mecklenburg and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collegiately.  She was a three time All-American placing 15th in cross country in 1983, 7th in the Indoor 3000m and 4th in the 10000m Outdoors in 1984.  She would go on to run professionally representing Team USA multiple times throughout her career.  She ran at the 1996 Olympic Games in the 10000m.


I've been coaching now for about 35 years.  Starting as a graduate assistant coach for UNC back in 1984-85 and moving through every level in the sport: youth running with CC Pacers, moms only in SeeJaneRun, semi-pros with Carrboro Athletics Club, full-time pro coaching myself, serious Hobbyists in Team Wednesday and TMR, NCAA Division 1 head coach at UNC, high school while teaching English at Charlotte Latin and now high school again while not teaching English at Chapel Hill High. 

Over these many years I have come up with countless workouts on the track, trail, and road that even have pet names like "Harry's Hammers" (named after my one-time British coach, Harry Wilson), "Criss-crosses" (because the 120m diagonal strides cross the infield), Magic Fives (5 X 100m sprints with 2-3 second turnaround recovery), Zipper Hills, Mini Michigan, Split Intervals, Cut-thoughs, Ins and Outs, Out-and-back, etc. 

So, yesterday, when I came up with a brand new workout for my team you can imagine how excited I was! Let me set the scene ... we are in between seasons now that XC States are over; some are training for NXR, some are taking a break, some are transitioning to indoor track and many are racing the 3200m Dash for Doobie on Nov. 23rd.  Athletes hope to get indoor state meet qualifying marks at DFD this Saturday.

To prepare us for the 8 laps of a two-mile (vastly different from 5k cross-country running), I separated the team into equal-paced packs of 8, for smaller teams you could use packs of 6 or 4. Next, I had each member of the 8-person team pick a playing card with the numbers 1-8 but NOT show their number to anyone before turning the card back in to me. 

Following their warm-up, each group set off for 8 laps around the track (3200m) with eight separately-led 200m surges that could happen at any time in the course of the 2 miles (on the curve, in the straight, 5 seconds after the previous one, or waiting a whole lap to keep the suspense high, etc.), as long as they went in order of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. After each person took his/her turn at the 200m surge the entire group had to reform as a pack of 8 - what I call "Accordian-ing back" (or in this case UP) together - before the next 200m sprint. 

I timed the whole 3200m per group to keep them honest and to teach them that the clock is always running! Then, after they crossed the finish line I had them circle up (another pet name: Feedback Circle) to share, in turn, what they liked and didn't like about this new workout. Almost everyone said they were amazed at how the 8 laps flew by because they were mentally engaged the whole time...expectantly waiting to see who was going to burst out from the pack to lead the next 200m! 

Finally, I asked the kids to come up with a name for this new workout and a few possibilities arose: The Card Trick, Black Jack (or BlackTrack), and The Joker. Only time will tell which name sticks.