|Run hard, eat less|
I have had two distinct stages of training in my life. In high school and college I averaged 80 to 90 mpw and ran a high 14ís 5k, sub 4:20 mile and 1:55 800. I then took a decade off where I did little to no running and lifted a lot of weights. Started up running again after the layoff and was 35 pounds over my running weight in my peak years, with more muscle and a higher body fat percentage. Now average 50 to 60 mpw and run low 17ís 5kís.
While these two periods were very different in terms of performance and mileage, my biggest improvements in both periods came from the same things. I made the initial error of focusing mostly on increasing mileage as a guide line for improvement. Donít get me wrong, mileage is vital and the basis for all improvment, but I feel like I put too much emphasis on running the miles without focusing on proper nutrition/weight loss and workout intensity:
-Weight loss: Dropping 5 to 10 pounds from the weight I would otherwise be at if I ran my normal mileage and ate as I felt like (i.e. no real plan or diet goals and not depriving myself of junk/alcohol) almost immediately resulted in me making a huge jump in performance in both college and after my layoff. The idea that mileage alone will keep you at your ideal weight is flawed. As someone that loves to eat and thinks about food a lot, it is difficult for me to cut back on calories. That being said, feeling hungry and cutting out as much processed food as possible makes a big difference. You wonít necessarily feel more fit, but your training paces and race times will drop. While the weight loss angle seems obvious in hindsight, I think youíd be surprised at how much and how quickly it can improve your times (assuming youíre not already stick thin).
-Intensity: Find the right balance of mileage versus intensity. Iíll preface this by saying that Iím not the obsessive/compulsive distance running type that struggles to take an off day. I tend to prefer harder efforts versus long, slow aerobic runs. I was at one time convinced that I needed to scale back my intensity in order to increase my mileage. In that mode itís easy to follow a training plan and do the typical 2-3 hard days per week and long run without giving much thought to whether or not you are really pushing yourself. Be careful about reducing the intensity of workouts TOO much as you increase mileage. For me, the easiest ways to make sure I maintained proper intensity were to (1) run with guys that were much better than me and try to hang on (even if I faded), (2) run workouts at a pace that felt TOO hard and see how long I can last, (3) challenge myself to run hard on days where I felt like running hard, even if it was scheduled as an easy day and (4) be courageous enough to have a monumental blow up and come back and do it again the next day, week, whatever.
To summarize, get your mileage to a reasonable level for sustained improvement (probably at least 50 to 60 mpw), stop eating to hunger and make do with less and every now and then increase the intensity of your workouts above what you think youíre capable of.
Got my serum ferritin tested and discovered I was iron-depleted. Started supplementing and took three minutes off my 10k PR within six months. But I was stupid enough to try to run "through" mono, and then came back too quickly afterwards. Let that be a lesson to you kiddos, because there are many coaches who are ignorant to anything outside of simply giving you a daily schedule (mine sure was). Diet, sleep, proper stretching and strengthening, RESTING on rest days, and alleviating total allostatic life stress load are extremely important, probably equally or more important than the training itself in terms of warding off staleness, injury, or worse.
|George or something else|
Running 15:50's junior year in HS on 50 MPW.
Bumped mileage up to 70 MPW for senior year and hit 14:45. No other changes - just upped the mileage considerably, particularly over the summer months before XC season.
Stopped doing any workout that wouldn't let me "live to fight again tomorrow". Pushed my body way too hard for years, and was constantly trying to take 2 steps forward several workouts per week, only to lose it all by being too beat up and on the edge. Once I relaxed and just took 1 step forward with a hard workout every few weeks, that's when the breakthrough came.
With maturity comes patience, and confidence, I guess.
It's been alluded to by earlier posters, but I'll reiterate, especially for post-collegiate, solo runners, that recalibrating workouts to race lengths and realistic time goals was the game-changer for me, at 33. I'll evangelize about this all day.
Letting go of the 5:00-minute mile and its fractional counterparts (the 3:45 1200; the 2:30 800; the 1:15 400) as my work-out gold standard and orienting workout paces with my actual goals made the summer and fall of 2012 my most enjoyable year for training and my best ever for racing.
For any runner in his or her early 30s who is wondering why improvements are hard to come by anymore, I would highly recommend longer workouts - more repeats; much shorter rest - with more controlled paces for each repeat. You won't feel like you're flying - because you're not. But you will get stronger and, hence, faster.
~ 15 x 400 with 100-meter jog rest (broken up into sets if need be) but at a strong, sustainable pace, not a pissing-contest sprint. (Since these are 500-meter repeats run continuously, you'll start at different points on the track; let go of the tyranny of the starting and finish lines.)
~ 6 x 1200 with 200m jog recovery, starting on opposite corners, using your last good race as basis for pace
~ 10 x 1000 at goal race pace with 200m jog recovery
These are like Ripken workouts: no single outstanding moment, and no specific stat you would brag about on these boards, but the cumulative effort should be total. I think you can and should still end these workouts feeling about done - I mean wobbly and depleted - but the important thing is getting through them: no more bagging out because the early pace was too hot. And then, despite your fatigue, you jog the h@ll home for your cool-down.
That was my breakthrough; it led to a 4-minute PR in the half and a minute PR in the 10k.