Plan 4: Make Every Workout Count
When you've been running marathons for 25 years and have an advanced degree in exercise physiology, you should eventually learn a thing or two about training. Exercise physiologist Bill Pierce, chair of the Health and Exercise Science department at Furman University, thinks he has. At the very least, he's found a program that works wonders for him. Pierce, 53, still runs marathons in about 3:10, not much slower than when he first stepped to the starting line more than 2 decades ago.
His secret? The three-day training week. Pierce follows the usual advice to alternate hard days with easy days, but he takes it to the extreme. He runs only hard days 3 of them a week. On the other 4 days, he doesn't run at all, though he lifts weights several times a week, and also enjoys a fast game of tennis.
In stripping his training program to its essence, Pierce runs each of his three workouts at a specific target pace and distance. One is a long run, one is a tempo run, and one is a speed workout. "I run at a higher intensity than some others recommend, but I have found that this program has worked well for me for many years," says Pierce. "It reduces the risk of injuries, improves long-term adherence, and still lets me enjoy the gratification that comes with intense efforts."
What you should do: Pierce does interval training on Tuesdays, tempo training on Thursdays, and a long run on Sundays. For interval repeats, he runs 12 x 400 meters or 6 x 800 meters at slightly faster than his 5-K race pace. On tempo days, he runs 4 miles at a pace that's 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10-K race pace. On Sundays, he runs 15 miles at a pace that's 30 seconds per mile slower than his marathon race pace. You can easily adapt these workouts to your own 5-K, 10-K, and marathon race paces.
Plan 5: Do Plyometrics
Deena Drossin had already joined the ranks of America's all-time best female distance runners, including Joan Samuelson, Mary Slaney, and Lynn Jennings, when she first paid a visit to Zach Weatherford nearly 2 years ago. She asked Weatherford, the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Olympic Committee's training facility in Chula Vista, California, if he could devise a program that would give her more leg endurance and quickness.
Weatherford said he wasn't sure, acknowledging to Drossin that he had never worked with a distance runner before. "But let me think about it, and do some research," he said.
Weatherford returned with several ideas worth testing, and the two have been working together ever since. "We started with core strength, and progressed to explosive leg plyometrics, always focusing on the basics, and doing quality sessions, not quantity. Runners already do enough quantity," he says. "In her first plyometrics workouts, Deena hit the ground like this big, flat-footed person, but we kept emphasizing, 'Get your feet up fast. Get your feet up fast.'"
Drossin did jump roping, skipping drills, box jumps, and even high-knee sprints through the "rope ladder" that you often see at football training camps. And then she ran the London Marathon last April in 2:21:16, a personal record by more than 5 minutes and a new American record. "I really felt a difference in London," says Drossin. "I've noticed a considerable change in my running mechanics. My feet are spending less time on the ground, and I've increased my stride frequency. At London, my legs did not fatigue at all during or after the marathon."
What you should do: You could always train with your local high school football team while they work out with the rope ladder. But if that's too intimidating, here's a simple alternative: Instead of running strides at the end of several easy runs a week, do a "fast-feet" drill. Run just 15 to 20 yards with the shortest, quickest stride you can manage. You don't have to lift your knees high; just lift them fast, and move forward a few inches with each stride. Pump your arms vigorously as well. Rest, then repeat six to eight times. Once or twice a week, you can also do 5 minutes of single-leg hops, two-legged bounding, and high-knee skipping, all on a soft surface such as grass or packed dirt.