Do you run the same routes and distances every week? I hope not, especially, if your goal is to improve your running. It’s important to change things up and challenge your body in new ways. The body learns to run the same old stuff very efficiently. Once it does this, you stop getting gains in your running.
Most training programs include a couple of easy runs, one speed work, and then a long run on the weekend. This is pretty much true regardless of distance.
Having a couple of easy days is important for your body to recover and I don’t think you need to mess with these. Easy days should be at conversation pace. The distance depends on the distance of the race you’re training for and if you’re not training for an event, it would be based upon the distance you like to run on the weekends.
Speed work is a wonderful way to work on your leg turnover even if your focus is not speed but endurance. Being able to move your feet quickly is helpful for steep descents and technical terrain. There are many different types of speed work including intervals, ladders, and tempo runs.
Interval runs consist of a specific distance of a mile or less run at a 90% effort and then either a 200 meter or 400 meter cool down. Then you repeat them. The number of repeats again is tied to the distance of your long run on the weekend.
Ladders are when you increase the distance with each interval. You still have the 200 or 400 meter rest, but the first interval would be 400, the second would be 800, the third one mile, and the fourth a mile and a half. You can create a pyramid by coming back down, one mile, 800 and 400 with the mile and half being the apex.
Tempo runs are when you run a 800 to one mile warm up (actually you should be running a warm up with all speed work) and then run 4 or 5 miles at about 80% effort or race pace.
Of course these are just a few examples, and if you google you will find a ton more. When doing speed work make sure you are not putting it back to back with another hard workout such as a long run. Speed work is hard on your body and it needs an easy run or rest day to follow.
Another way to mix up speed work is not to run speed at all, but hills. You can find a long gradual climb of a few miles or you can do hill repeats (gag). With hill repeats, your rest is on the downhill. So run hard up and then slow down, repeat.
Long runs are another essential part of training, but there are options here as well. You can add in Fartleks. Fartlek means, “speed play.” What you do is pick a point in front of you during a long run. It doesn’t have to be very far out. And then run it hard. You can do this as many times as you’d like and change up the distance each time. This is also good for those who get bored during long runs.
Change up your route for your long runs too. Add some hills, some trails, or run through a park or two. If you run through a park with a playground you can stop and do some pull ups or go down the slide (why not?).
My final suggestion to mix it up and prevent that stagnation is to throw in some other exercises every mile or so during a long run. Stop and do some pushups, burpees, or jumping jacks. Run with high knees or butt kicks.
Changing things up forces your body to adapt in new ways. This means it gets stronger, which is what you want.