Ah, summer: Humidity slows you down, vacations disrupt your schedule, and the call of the barbecue proves irresistible. It can be tough for a runner to stay on track. But those distractions can be a great excuse to streamline your schedule and start accomplishing more by running less.
"People are surprised to find out that improving their running doesn't necessarily mean committing more time," says Mike Smith, a Flagstaff, Arizona, coach who works with runners of all levels through the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project. It simply means maximizing each minute and every mile. Here's how to take a minimalist's approach to achieving your goal to run fast, run far—or run yourself into a routine. (Protect yourself from the summer sun by following our Guide to Summer Running Safety.)
Get FastWhether you're seeking a 5K PR, a victory over your running buddy, or just a quicker trip around your local loop, you can hone speed on borrowed time (or with these Five Moves That Make You Faster). "Roger Bannister broke four minutes for the mile training during his lunch break at medical school," says Carl Leivers, assistant track and cross-country coach at Emory University. "It's certainly possible to run fast on a compressed schedule."
Minimalist Plan Three hard workouts a week will boost your speed—short intervals, long intervals, and tempo runs, says Patrick McCrann, a running and multisport coach and founder of MarathonNation.us. Do short efforts to enhance your body's ability to deliver oxygen to muscles—run three minutes at slightly faster than 5K pace, or a pace where you can speak only a word or two. Jog for two minutes. Repeat three to six times and add an interval or two each week.
Doing longer efforts will improve your threshold fitness, or your body's ability to clear lactate so you can run faster for longer. Run half- or one- to two-mile repeats (depending on ability) at 10K pace, or a speed where you can talk in phrases. Jog until recovered. Repeat two to four times. For your third workout, run a 15- to 25-minute tempo (it should feel comfortably hard). These runs will challenge you physically and mentally to run at a sustained effort, says McCrann. And take it easy on nonrunning days. "It's not doing the work that makes you stronger," he says. "It's during the recovery that muscles rebuild and adapt."