Some training strategies, such as speedwork or tempo runs, seem written in stone – learn the basics, apply them as directed, reap the results. But when you hit a rut, reach a plateau, or just get tired of the same old stuff, it's time to improvise.
Elite runners adjust the tried-and-true techniques to suit their personalities and particular needs. Here's how to do the same, netting you better fitness, faster finishes and more fun.
Stride more often
Elite tweak "Like most runners I do 50- to 60-metre strides before a race," says Commonwealth silver medallist Jo Pavey. These help to ‘sharpen' the athlete before an event, but Pavey also does strides after steady training runs. "This enhances neuromuscular coordination, leading to improvements in general running efficiency and competitive ability." Gradual acceleration and deceleration will help to avoid injury.
Your move After a training run, try 4 x 60m split into three 20m sections. Accelerate for 20m, cruise fast for 20m and then decelerate for 20m.
Elite tweak Coach Greg McMillan (mcmillanrunning.com) recommends repeats that total approximate goal race distance at goal race pace. This works your VO2 max and lactate threshold. If you're running a 10K, try three lots of two miles at goal pace, with five minutes' recovery in between. "The mental effort is similar to a 10K," says McMillan. "Get out quickly, feeling comfortable on the first repeat, suffering in the middle, then needing to keep your brain engaged to finish."
Your move Break your race distance into three to five equal segments and run at goal pace, recovering in between each. Marathon runners should top out at four segments of four miles.
Pick up the pace
Elite tweak Progression runs, which start comfortably and get faster, train you to hold onto speed when you're tired. "They also achieve a greater awareness of feedback signals from your body," says Pavey, whose training week often includes two progression runs, one specifically planned and the other tacked onto her weekly long run as and when it's needed.
Your move Turn a tempo session into a progression run. After a 10- to 20-minute warm-up, run for 20 to 60 minutes, starting 20 to 30 seconds slower than tempo pace, increasing 10 seconds per mile every five to 15 minutes.
Kick some grass
Elite tweak The Journal of Applied Physiology reports that running on softer surfaces can lead to up to 29 per cent more leg stiffness, making workouts on grass a great way to strengthen tendons and ligaments while building up stabiliser muscles. You won't be able to run as fast as you otherwise would, so take the opportunity of some turf-bound repeats to really focus on technique and control.
Your move Run hard on grass for a predetermined time rather than distance. For instance, if you could do 1200m repeats on the road or track in 5:30, simply run for the same time on grass.