And Running, Running
June 3, 2009 9:11 PM   Subscribe

What can an experienced runner do to improve her speed during the off-season?

I've been running daily for about five years now, participating in four years of high school cross country and track. To give a brief idea of my experience, I've raced just about every distance available to me below a half-marathon (800m/1600m/3200m/4k/5k/10k/15k) multiple times. I've peaked at about 60 miles per week during training, my longest run being 18 miles. My most recent mile (1600m) PR came in around 5:22, championing the previous year's record of about 5:40.

However, my off-seasons have left me feeling unproductive. With a pessimistic perspective, it seems my only real gain in speed came from a depression-induced loss of around ten pounds this past year. I've attempted to follow some online training plans during the break between cross country and track, and I've tried to create my own. After about a week of enthusiasm, usually they reveal themselves as over-ambitious. Other times, I begin to question my ability to create a workout that's beneficial to my goal, and thus discredit whatever plan I've been following. I feel like I can follow a rigorous schedule- I just need to know that it's actually helping me.

I'm a runner that thrives on distance, as long days (9-15 miles) are the only workouts that leave me feeling tired but stronger later in the week. However, despite improvements in endurance, it seems that it doesn't translate well to shorter, in-season races. It seems like my body isn't well suited for faster races and I tend to do poorly as the distance begins to drop (where I can do a 5:22 mile, I'm quite sure my fastest 400 was around a 65). My top-end speed is something I feel might be key to improving overall. I'm familiar with tempo runs and do them frequently (6:40-7:20 miles for varying distances), and I incorporate occasional hill workouts during the week, but these seem help little in that sense.

I have a good diet, I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables while avoiding anything processed or greasy (no fast food, no soda, little packaged food). I do not have a strength training plan, mostly due to feeling rather lost when designing one (I feel like I can't tell what is superfluous and what will actually benefit me).

At this point I'm not quite sure what to do. I've always been fast in comparison to my team but always below the range where my accomplishments are recognized.

How can I make this off season productive? Runners, what have you found that has made the most difference in your ability? (Articles, workouts, books, rituals welcome)

Thanks much to everyone!
posted by pyrom to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Run Less, Run Faster. They use Actual Science to show how they obtained and refined their methodology. In short: take rest days, reduce your mileage, take rest days, start doing speed intervals, and take rest days. If you're not doing speed intervals, you're missing out on a big component of speed improvement.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:56 PM on June 3, 2009

Have you tried HIIT? I've heard really good things about it improving speed in particular, though also endurance.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:01 PM on June 3, 2009

I'm going to pose this question to one of my best buds, who is an ultra marathoner. Will follow up when I get a response from her.
posted by xiaolongbao at 1:37 AM on June 4, 2009

yeh speed intervals and sprints.
posted by edtut at 1:37 AM on June 4, 2009

Resistance training?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:03 AM on June 4, 2009

Hills don't *feel* like they do anything right away, but they help. Don't just do the same ol' hill though. Find a good hill of about a half mile, then do random intervals on it. As far down as you go, that's how far you've gotta go up at 80%-90%. Do that once a week.
posted by notsnot at 4:00 AM on June 4, 2009

If you're not already doing so, I'd be throwing in a day of track work. I tend to get faster when I'm doing at least one day of track work (repeats of anywhere from 400m - 2000m), one tempo run, and one long run per week.

From the sounds of it, you could use some sprint-specific training to get your speed up. I don't know much about that but I'm sure there's some good info about that available online.
posted by PFL at 7:18 AM on June 4, 2009

To quote my ultra marathoner friend:

"in regards to off season speed...well, its the off season for a reason, lol, but to stay fresh, keep some of your runs short and quick. i'm the same as the girl asking the question, thrive on distance (like 20mi days which are not conducive to speed...), but after almost all my "easy" runs i throw in 6-10 x 100m hill "sprints" ie: like 1 block of a slight incline and just stride up it quickly. soooo easy to do and actually will keep your legs fresh. also, i make sure my shorter runs are close to tempo pace once or twice a week. take a 4-6miler out at close to what would be half marathon pace, or about :30 slower than 5k pace and try to pick it up towards the end. not quite a full tempo run so you don't have to recover from it but gets you about a 5k worth of work. and if you're not a fan of lifting, at least do consistent core work, all the time, every season."

Hope this helps.
posted by xiaolongbao at 9:16 AM on June 4, 2009

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