There's an old way to do almost everything. For example, listening to cassette tapes on your Walkman, connecting to the Internet with a modem, and wearing leg warmers on the treadmill would all be considered by most as old ways of doing things. There are also old ways to train, which may prevent you from seeing the results you want. Here are some new ways to spice up your workouts and get better, faster results.
Old Way: Long easy run
New Way: AT/LSD combo run
If you've got a history of long runs on your legs, make a medium-long run higher quality. A twist on the 1970s term "long, slow distance (LSD)" run, this version includes a few miles at your acidosis threshold (AT) pace to help you break past plateaus. These runs simulate the feeling of the marathon, use up muscle glycogen at a faster rate, and train your legs to run fast when they're fatigued. Run about 12 to 16 miles, with the first 10 to 12 miles at an easy pace and the last 2 to 4 miles at AT pace, which corresponds to your fastest sustainable aerobic pace (about 10K race pace for beginner/recreational runners; 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace for well-trained runners).
Old Way: Intervals at 5K race pace
New Way: Matching the speed of the hard efforts with the purpose of the workout
Although many runners and coaches are fond of 5K race pace, there's nothing special about it. Knowing the purpose of the workout is much more important because you can train more specifically. For example, to improve your acidosis threshold, do workouts at threshold pace (10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace or 20-25 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace for most good runners). To improve your VO2max and your ability to transport oxygen to your muscles, run intervals with work periods of 3 to 5 minutes (800 to 1,200 meters) at 1.5- to 2-mile race pace. To increase anaerobic endurance, run intervals with work periods of 45 to 90 seconds (300 to 500 meters) at or slightly faster than mile race pace.
Don't try to get faster by running the workouts faster than the pace at which you need to run to meet the purpose of the workout. Distance runners don't do workouts to practice running faster; they do workouts to improve the physiological characteristics that will enable them to run faster in the future. As you progress, make the workouts harder by adding more reps, lengthening the distance of each work period, or decreasing the recovery intervals rather than by running faster. Only increase the pace of the work periods once your races have shown that you are indeed faster.
Old Way: Strength training in the gym
New Way: Plyometrics
Although strength training can play a supportive role in increasing muscle strength and power, it can't improve the most important factors that enable you to run faster races, including:
* Cardiac output, which determines how much blood your heart pumps per minute
* Amount of hemoglobin in your blood, which determines how much oxygen is transported in your blood to your muscles
* Muscles' capillary density, which determines how much oxygen is delivered to your muscles
* Amount of mitochondria in your muscles, which determines how much oxygen your muscles use to produce energy
* Muscles' ability to use fat as fuel, which occurs only when you've been running long enough that your muscles start running out of carbohydrates
Plyometrics, on the other hand, which include powerful jumping and bounding exercises, increase muscle power by exploiting muscles' elastic property, enhancing the rate at which your muscles produce force against the ground. When doing plyometrics, try to spend as little time on the ground as possible between hops, bounds and jumps to maximize the muscles' release of stored elastic energy. Do the exercises on a soft surface, such as grass, track or rubber mat.