If you’re looking for a way to spice up your cross-country training and improve your team’s speed, endurance and efficiency, you might want to try an approach used by the world’s best distance runners: Kenyan diagonals. This type of interval training involves running at different paces on a grassy field, alternating between fast and slow segments.

Kenyan diagonals are named after the elite runners from Kenya who use this method to prepare for their races. This is a type of fartlek training, which literally means “speed play” in Swedish. The idea is to vary your intensity and challenge your body to adapt to different stimuli, rather than running at a steady pace for a long time. I often refer to this concept as simply “switching gears.”

The Benefits of Kenyan Diagonals

– Develop your aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold

– Improve your running economy and biomechanics

– Enhance your mental toughness and confidence, as you push yourself out of your comfort zone

– Break the monotony of your training and some energy to the workout

Kenyan Diagonals Distance Training

How to do Kenyan Diagonals

There is no fixed rule for Kenyan diagonals. You can have fun with this. But, here is a general guideline that you can follow or modify according to your level and goals. To make this more anaerobic, you can shorten the recovery by following the baseline of the field rather than the sideline.

– Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes with some easy jogging and dynamic stretches. Or complete a regular training run.

– Find a grassy field. A soccer field is excellent for this workout.

– Start running at a easy/moderate pace along one side of the field.

– When you reach the corner or the end, accelerate to a fast pace (about 800m effort) and run diagonally to the opposite corner. “Turn and burn!”

– Slow down to a easy/moderate pace again and run along the other side of the field.

– Repeat this pattern for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, or as long as your runners can maintain good form and pace.

– Cool down for 10 to 15 minutes with some easy jogging or walking.

Workout Tips

– Make sure you warm up properly before starting the workout, as it can be quite demanding

– Adjust your pace and distance according to your fitness level and how you feel on the day

– Focus on running with good posture, eyes up, hips forward, relaxed shoulders, high cadence and light foot strike.

– Enjoy the workout and have fun with it. Runners can take turns leading the diagonals. It’s a great confidence builder.

Kenyan Diagonals

When to Add Kenyan Diagonals

Kenyan diagonals can be a nice addition on easy running days or even pre-meet days if done sparingly. Diagonals don’t require much in terms of rest or recovery and they offer the coach a chance to view the runners up close and provide tips and feedback on their running form, cadence, stride etc. Usually, I position myself in the center of the field and provide feedback and encouragement as they pass by me. I introduce my team to this drill early in the xc season with a 5-minute effort. By the end of the season we usually can maintain good form and speed for 15-20 minutes. Kenyan diagonals add a little variety to the workouts and provide some solid speed play on a soft surface. Try it out and see how your team responds.


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