There's a quiet renaissance happening in American distance running. At the IAAF World Cross Country Championships this year, the Americans beat the vaunted Kenyans, a team we haven't bested since 1984. In 2012, Galen Rupp became the first American since 1964 to win a medal at 10,000 meters, and at the outdoor track and field world championships, Americans won medals in the men's and women's 800-meter and 1,500-meter races for the first time . . . ever.
What made the difference? Data-based training and nutrition practices from the top U.S. coaches and researchers. Lately these methods have spread from the front of the pack toward the back. "I use the same concepts with the fast runners as I do with the not-so-fast runners," says Greg McMillan, a Flagstaff-based coach who trains athletes of all levels, both pros and beginners. Here are 11 principles you need to know for more efficient training and faster times.
Embrace the slow run.
Interval training has taught us that you need to keep the intensity high to get the maximum benefit from every mile you run. This is a fine strategy for basic fitness, but it will never get you to the front of the pack for a road race. Instead, aim to make 80 percent of your runs easy and 20 percent of them hard. Research indicates that doing most of your running at low intensity, where you can speak comfortably, can improve race times more than running above the ventilatory threshold, where it gets tough to talk. Long, slow runs can be as beneficial as short, fast runs – maximizing blood flow and lowering your resting heart rate – and cause significantly less fatigue. "Those who do more running at low intensity are less tired for the high-intensity sessions and therefore get more benefit from them," says Jonathan Esteve-Lanao, an exercise scientist who specializes in endurance sports.
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