Successful running requires you to find the delicate balance between the amount of stress followed by the right amount of rest or recovery. Stress followed by rest allows your body to recover and become stronger, fitter and faster.
Effective training combines weekly sessions of long endurance runs, strength training for both your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, and speed training to develop your coordination.
Long Slow Distance runs are prolonged training runs at low intensity (50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate). Done at a conversation pace, these runs develop your endurance and stamina. Basically, they get you adapted to being on your feet for an extended period of time. Duration, not speed, is the focus.
Uphill training develops the upper leg muscles, which produce speed; downhill training forces you to run faster and improves your coordination. Tempo runs (done at a steady pace for about 20 minutes) and cruise intervals or accelerations challenge your coordination and leg turnover rate.
Recovery from hard training is important; it is the essence of all sound training programs. Long runs, hills and speed work (individually and together) place the runner on the edge. Rest allows the body to recover, become stronger and stay injury-free. My 10-and-1 training system of running for 10 minutes and walking for one minute is based on this "stress followed by rest" principle. The same idea applies to running hard hill repeats between easy recovery jogs, or doing intense bursts of speed followed by walk breaks. Rest is an important part of your training.
If you continue to overload your body with stressful sessions of long runs, hills or speed, you will eventually become injured. Resting between running sessions—which can mean a day off, an easy run, or cross-training—will help keep you injury-free as well as improve your motivation as you feel yourself becoming stronger.
Your training should peak in mileage, strength and speed for your goal race. Most runners find a build-up of endurance or speed in 10% increments prepares them for the race and keeps them off the injury list. A week before the race, you should back off your training for a week of gentle running leading up to your race day.
Listen to your body, as the pace that feels right is often right! Beware of overtraining, adding too much to your distance or increasing your speed too quickly. Stretch or include some yoga after your runs, as tight muscles are more susceptible to injuries.
If you find yourself running more than two or three kilometres, you're running for more than fitness—you're running for the love of the sport. Use the basic principles above to keep your goal of being an athlete for life.