What you should do: Pierce does interval training on Tuesdays, tempo training on Thursdays, and a long run on Sundays. For interval repeats, he runs 12 x 400 meters or 6 x 800 meters at slightly faster than his 5-K race pace. On tempo days, he runs 4 miles at a pace that's 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10-K race pace. On Sundays, he runs 15 miles at a pace that's 30 seconds per mile slower than his marathon race pace. You can easily adapt these workouts to your own 5-K, 10-K, and marathon race paces.
Plan 5: Do PlyometricsDeena Drossin had already joined the ranks of America's all-time best female distance runners, including Joan Samuelson, Mary Slaney, and Lynn Jennings, when she first paid a visit to Zach Weatherford nearly 2 years ago. She asked Weatherford, the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Olympic Committee's training facility in Chula Vista, California, if he could devise a program that would give her more leg endurance and quickness.
Weatherford said he wasn't sure, acknowledging to Drossin that he had never worked with a distance runner before. "But let me think about it, and do some research," he said.
Weatherford returned with several ideas worth testing, and the two have been working together ever since. "We started with core strength, and progressed to explosive leg plyometrics, always focusing on the basics, and doing quality sessions, not quantity. Runners already do enough quantity," he says. "In her first plyometrics workouts, Deena hit the ground like this big, flat-footed person, but we kept emphasizing, 'Get your feet up fast. Get your feet up fast.'"
Drossin did jump roping, skipping drills, box jumps, and even high-knee sprints through the "rope ladder" that you often see at football training camps. And then she ran the London Marathon last April in 2:21:16, a personal record by more than 5 minutes and a new American record. "I really felt a difference in London," says Drossin. "I've noticed a considerable change in my running mechanics. My feet are spending less time on the ground, and I've increased my stride frequency. At London, my legs did not fatigue at all during or after the marathon."
What you should do: You could always train with your local high school football team while they work out with the rope ladder. But if that's too intimidating, here's a simple alternative: Instead of running strides at the end of several easy runs a week, do a "fast-feet" drill. Run just 15 to 20 yards with the shortest, quickest stride you can manage. You don't have to lift your knees high; just lift them fast, and move forward a few inches with each stride. Pump your arms vigorously as well. Rest, then repeat six to eight times. Once or twice a week, you can also do 5 minutes of single-leg hops, two-legged bounding, and high-knee skipping, all on a soft surface such as grass or packed dirt.
Plan 6: Run Longer Tempo Runs
We admire runners who refuse to give up on their goals and who keep trying various methods to reach them. By this standard, Patrick Noble, a career Army man who's now retired and living in South Korea, deserves a lifetime achievement award. In 1986 Noble finished his first marathon in 3:17, feeling both proud and ambitious. "Let's go for a sub-3," he told himself.
Thus began the journey. Noble increased his training, and before long he had run 3:04, 3:01, 3:05, and 3:02. You can quickly see what's missing from this list. A less-determined runner might have given up. Not Noble.
He kept running marathons-dozens of them. In the last 2 years, he ran his 49th marathon. No luck. His 50th. Ditto. His 51st. Nope, sorry. But last May, in his 52nd marathon, Noble broke through the 3-hour barrier with a 2:58:23 at the Camp Casey U.S. Army base in South Korea. And it was a new approach to tempo runs, Noble believes, that helped him dip below 3:00.
The conservative view on tempo runs suggests that you cover 20 to 40 minutes at a pace that's 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than your 10-K pace. Noble pushed his tempo runs up to 60 minutes. "I think the long tempo runs gave me the extra strength I needed," says Noble. "I also made sure to run very easy the day after the tempo runs, and watched my diet and even gave up beer for 6 to 8 weeks before the marathon." (Joe Vigil, coach of American marathon record holder Deena Drossin and 2003 U.S. marathon champ Ryan Shay, also believes in long tempo runs to build endurance.)
What you should do: Do a tempo run once a week for 8 weeks. Start with a 20-minute tempo run at 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10-K race pace, and add 5 minutes to your tempo run every week. Be sure to take 1 or 2 easy days before and after tempo days.
Plan 7: Run Long and FastOkay, we know. This is the opposite of Plan 3. You caught us. But it works for some runners, just as the long-and-slow approach works for others. A perfect example of the "high-responders" versus "low-responders" principle.
A recent convert to long-fast training: Scott Strand of Birmingham, Alabama. Last February, Strand improved his marathon personal record by more than 4 minutes with a 2:16:52 in the National Championship Marathon right there in downtown Birmingham. And it was his longer, faster long runs that got him the PR, Strand believes.
"I covered 18 to 23 miles in my long training runs," says Strand, "and I did the last 9 to 14 miles at marathon pace or faster. That was much faster than my previous long-run efforts of 17 to 22 miles at whatever pace I felt like running."
This kind of endurance program, based on long, hard runs has been popularized the last several years by marathon world record holder Khalid Khannouchi. Khannouchi does ferocious long runs-so fast and sustained that he gets nervous for several days before them. Old school: The only thing that mattered was spending 2 to 3 hours on your feet. New school: If you want to finish strong and improve your times in the marathon, you have to run hard and fast at the end of your long runs.
What you should do: On your long runs, pick up the pace for the last 25 percent of the distance. Gradually accelerate to your marathon goal pace, or even your tempo-run pace. You don't have to attack your long run the way Khannouchi does, and you shouldn't collapse when you finish. But you should run hard enough at the end to accustom your body to the late-race fatigue of the marathon.