Does your running suffer from a case of same old, same old: same routes, same workouts, same shoes, same fuel, same races? If so, no wonder you're not improving. Though he probably wasn't a runner, Albert Einstein supposedly said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Be sane—try something new.
That doesn't mean you should make big changes. Suddenly doubling your long-run distance, lifting for an hour during your first gym visit in months, or cutting your caloric intake in half will only make you injured, sore, or starved. Instead, the answer is to strike that sweet spot between too much and too little, with a small step forward that ultimately leads to big rewards in your training and racing.
"You need to tweak your training over time to create improvements," says Sam Wilbur, a Maui-based online coach and former professional runner. "It's like the story about Milo, the ancient Greek Olympics wrestling champion who lifts a calf over his head each day and gradually gains strength because each day the young calf gains weight until it's a bull."
Any of the small changes here will yield measurable results. No heifer-hoisting required.
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1. Add One Mile to Long or Tempo Runs
BIG REWARD: Endurance. It takes just six weeks of covering the same distance on long runs before they start to lose effectiveness, says Troy Clifton, running/triathlon coach for C4 Endurance in Round Rock, Texas. "By adding a mile, you gain endurance as your lungs and muscles make new adaptations, and by teaching your body to hold onto the pace of those runs longer, you'll also increase VO2 max, which helps you go faster at all distances."
When you add a mile to a string of weekly long runs, drop back to your starting point every fourth week. "These breaks in mileage increases will allow the muscles to adapt to your fitness gains and rebuild," Clifton says. For example, your long-run distances for eight weeks might be 7, 8, 9, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 9 miles.
Experienced runners who also do weekly tempo runs can apply the same pattern. Just don't do this at the same time you're lengthening long runs, because that can overload your mileage. And if you find your pace slipping on any runs—or if muscle soreness ever lasts for more than 48 hours—take a day or two off and switch to more gradual mileage increases.