When an athlete is first introduced to an endurance sport they usually make the most rapid progress. Virtually any training results in headway, and the first season may represent a tremendous leap in performance from baseline.
However, with each successive season the gains become smaller and harder to come by. It may require progressively more advanced and accurate training methods to squeeze even the smallest amounts of performance improvement out of an athlete. The faster you become, the harder it is to become faster. Here are a few tips for breaking through those running plateaus that are not related to fitness, but rather to structure of training and economy.
Use Video to Address Economy
Running faster can be very elusive. I have interviewed runners that have trained hard for years, yet made little or no forward progress with their speed. Like swimming, running is a highly technical sport. A runner may reach a tipping point at which an increase in fitness does not necessarily result in an increase in speed if the athlete does not first address economy.
In fact, a more fit athlete running with bad form will place greater impact stress on the body and further reinforce the bad economy. Braking forces slow the athlete with each stride, excessive upper body rotation misdirects energy, and any vertical motion other than that which is required to overcome the forces of gravity can add meters of ascension to each mile. However, it is very hard to correct what you cannot see or do not understand.
There are what I consider to be many "myths, misconceptions, and metaphors" regarding running form that can be confusing to the athlete, but the bottom line is that it is very hard to correct your form if you do not know what you are doing wrong.
Getting some trained, professional eyes on you is a good place to start, and slow motion video playback is the best form of visual feedback. We now have easy and inexpensive access to this technology and it is relatively simple to incorporate. After an economy analysis I send video clips with the athlete to review and compare and encourage them to take their own footage between sessions to assess progress. Once they understand what good form looks like it is much easier to make the mind/body connection along with the drills I prescribe.