The problem: Your 5K and 10K race times are too variable, and you're not sure why.
The program: You need a new surefire training component to "anchor" your training regimen: the time trial. By pushing yourself in a time trial on a consistent basis, you get accustomed to running at a good clip. Result: Your body "learns" what it can handle.
To begin, find an accurately measured stretch of road or trail (a loop is best, preferably a half-mile to 2 miles long). Use it to run a time trial every couple of weeks. Keep a log of these time trials. You should notice an improvement as your fitness level improves and you become familiar with the nuances of the training loop.
Note: To stay mentally fresh in your time trialing, it's a good idea to find a new loop every six months or so. That way, you'll have a new set of standards to attack, and you won't be tempted to compare your current performances with those of the past.
The payoff: Come race day, you'll know you've done the work. Your better sense of pace will propel you to faster race times.
Fix your form
The problem: You've got sloppy running form, which could be causing injuries, tightness and poor racing.
The program: Find a full-length mirror. Jog in place in front of it. Is your head held high? Are your hands and arms flowing fluidly past your sides while curving inward just a little when they move in front of your body? Good. Now turn sideways and keep jogging. Are your ears, shoulders and hips all making a line that meets the floor at a 90-degree angle? Great. Make a mental snapshot of your image in the mirror and get ready to tackle the great outdoors.
To develop the efficient stride you want, begin by walking on a track or flat road. Remember that upright image in the mirror. Walk a little faster. Walk really fast. Then, while keeping the same form, let yourself break into a run. Yes, you've got to pick up your knees a little more surprisingly little, it turns out but that's the only change you should make. Stay loose and comfortable. Don't lean forward or reach out with your front foot. Let your feet come down naturally right over your center of gravity. Now you have it.
The payoff: Even if you don't start running faster, improved form will help you run smoother and more relaxed while increasing your endurance and decreasing your injury risk.
How to develop consistency in training
The problem: Inconsistent running. You go for a run one morning, but the next day you can't seem to find the time. The following day, you don't have the energy to run after work, so you miss another day. And so on haphazardly.
The program: Resolve to run every day at approximately the same time. Don't worry about how far or fast you run; the important thing is to carve out a specific, regular time and do it.
It doesn't matter whether you choose to run in the morning, at lunch or in the evenings, just go with the period that has the fewest potential interruptions and gives you the greatest chance for relaxed, enjoyable running.
In the summer, it might be the cool, early morning. When the weather turns cold, it might be lunch time, after work or after school. Whatever time you choose, stick with it and don't give yourself an easy "out." Let your body get into the rhythm of a regular routine and go with the flow.
The payoff: You'll feel better running on a regular basis, rather than sporadically. You'll have a better chance of running faster and farther, too.