When it comes to improving as a runner, there are no shortcuts. Solid, sensible training and an intelligent, long-term approach—if implemented on a regular basis—will give you a far better chance of elevating your performance than any other alternative plan. Here's how to implement this no-nonsense, foolproof approach.
Change Your Stimuli
The overwhelming majority of runners of all ages would improve significantly if they would simply adopt one policy: Engage in different types of training throughout the week.
Most runners train the same way at the same pace each day. Implement hard days and easy days. Complete a run that's 25 to 35 percent longer than any of your other weekly runs every 1 to 2 weeks. Enjoy interval work? Try implementing some longer repetitions such as 800 meters, 1200s, miles and even 2K repeats in lieu of the "typical" 400-meter intervals. In short: Mix it up.
Distance runners can manipulate frequency, intensity and duration. Altering the balance of these factors is what will allow you to improve.
Keep Your Easy Days Easy
Most runners are aware of what a hard day looks and feels like. Hard workouts—tempo runs, interval sessions or certain long runs and races—are, in large part, where breakthroughs are seen. Unfortunately, most runners do not allow their bodies to recover sufficiently from these harder efforts.
To truly take full advantage of your harder days, allow your body at least 2 to 3 recovery days of relaxed running or cross-training after anything more intense. You'll run more effectively and with fresher legs for your upcoming hard workouts and races.
More: 3 Rules for Easy Runs
Utilize Gear Changing Within Aerobic Runs (Particularly Long Runs)
Longer aerobic runs tend to be executed, for most, at a singular tempo from start to finish. Looking for a way to break up the monotony of your longer runs and teach your body to stave off bad patches during races? Throw in moderate surges of 1 to 2 minutes every 8 to 10 minutes throughout your longer runs. These surges will make long runs pass by more quickly and, more importantly, teach your body to deal with rough periods within longer races.
Hills Hills and More Hills
Arthur Lydiard used to say that hills were both the cure for most biomechanical maladies as well as the, "Only weight work a runner ever needs." While the latter has been debated at length, running hills is an excellent way to improve balance, power and overall engagement of prime movers critical to running more quickly. Once every 10 days, complete a run with rolling hills. Accelerate up and over the top of each hill throughout the run or begin by simply concluding 1 to 2 runs each week with 6 to 8 light 100-meter accelerations up a gradual hill.