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For a mid-level runner (7m - 7m30s per mile over distance) with a couple of marathons under their belt, what's the best way to improve their running?

Should they simply be doing more running or would some sort of gym/strength work be more beneficial or maybe even a yoga class?

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5 Answers

In addition to my earlier answer I think one key is consistency. If you run every day (or 5-6 days a week, every week for a long time), incorporate workouts and do a little extra in your life (weight routine 2 times a week TOPS, low weight, high rep OR diet change OR good sleep) you can get A LOT better.

Weldon Johnson (Co-Founder of www.letsrun.com) wrote an awesome article about how he went from an average college runner to an Olympic Class runner. Consistency is one of his key topics he talks about.

If I were to answer in short I would say:

  • Be consistent
  • Do long runs AND workouts.
  • Find a workout system that works for you. Some swear by Jack Daniels. I did that in college with little to no avail. I graduated college and changed systems to the Oregon system. I dropped A LOT of time off of my PR's within 6 months of doing so.
  • Treat your body well. Sleep, diet well and do some strengthening. Don't go overboard on strength exercises - you're training to run, not be a body builder.
  • Have goals. Have a few races (2-3) a year that are large goals. Taper for these races but not the rest.
  • Take a 1-month mental break a year where you run but not as much and decrease intensity.

Check out www.letsrun.com as well. It's a decent message board about training styles. A lot of people shooting from the hip but you will get some good ideas there from time to time.

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To get to the next level of running you can:

  1. Improve your technique
  2. Improve your conditioning
  3. Improve your muscle strength and neuro-muscular control

Each of these will help you improve your running economy and performance.

This article, Methods of Improving Running Economy by Coach Brett, has a nice discussion of different ways to improve performance including the following summary:

  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

  • Strength Training, Core Strength Training and Plyometric Training

  • Running Analysis and Biomechanics Modification

One study that he references used:

"a combination of heavy weight training (hamstring curl, leg press, parallel squat, leg extension, and heel raise) and endurance training (running) led to an improvement in running economy compared to endurance training alone in well trained triathletes."

Another study used Plyometric Training and found that:

“After 9 weeks, running economy at 18 km/hour improved in the group that performed plyometric training, but remained unchanged in the control group."

And another Core Strength Training study:

.. "a program consisting of 4 core-training sessions per week for 6 weeks led to improved 5K run performance in marathon runners"

From a biomechanical standpoint:

"faster runners tend to have less ground contact time and exhibit a mid-foot strike"

So, if your technique is reasonable, and you already include HIIT, consider adding Strength Training. Once you have a good strength base, then you can add Plyometric Training. (I included links to some lower extremity strengthening and plyometric exercises for running in this answer.)

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Strength work, particularly deadlifts, is very beneficial for sprinters and middle-distance runners. It may help for marathon work as well.

Take care with too much stretching work: mobility/flexibility of some kinds is inversely correlated with some sports performance. For instance, a short, tight Achilles tendon makes for better running economy.

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To race fast you have to run fast. Incorporate 3 things into your workouts:

Track sessions Tempo/Threshold Runs Long runs - some of these should be HARD

You need to buildup leg turnover. Getting on the track 3-4 times a month (maybe more if your body can handle it) will increase leg turnover.
Tempos/Threshold - Do a variety of things here. Paced runs, runs where you cutdown from 7:00 to your goal marathon race pace for the last 3 miles, etc. will help callous your legs for the hard work in races. Do at least one hard run a month. If you run 7:00-7:30, try to build up to 16 miles where you average 6:30 pace or faster for the entire thing.

Another key, vary the season. Maybe in the spring run shorter workouts but faster times. A few onths before the marathon season back off the intensity but do longer intervals.

Jack Daniels is a valid system, but not the only one. You can use the old Oregon system as well. Key is to figure out what works best for you but the basic structure above should work best.

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If you by "improving their running" mean run faster, then I would concentrate on interval training based on Jack Daniels work (also on Wikipedia).

You can find a page that will help you with all the relevant numbers here. E.g. if you run 7:15 per mile, then you should consider training intervals where you run 400m in 1:55 then jog 1 minutes and repeat this 4-6 times. That should improve your running speed pretty drastically over 4-6 weeks.

Good luck!

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I certainly agree that interval training improves your running and actually already included a weekly track session in my training working for intervals between 200m and 1600m depending on the session. –  Nick Holt Aug 31 '11 at 17:33
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