If you want to avoid plateauing then try incorporating these different training techniques into your schedule …
A suitable option for beginners who may not yet have the stamina to run without stopping. Rather than stopping entirely after 15 minutes, try sustained exercise for 30 minutes, alternating between a jog and a brisk walk at a ratio of four-minute run, one-minute walk. Run/walk is also good for more advanced runners training for their first marathon, where the long runs are all about time spent on your feet rather than speed.
Long, steady runs are fine for improving your base endurance, but to cap this with some speed, you need to turn to interval training: intervals of quick running, interspersed with slow recovery periods. The quick intervals can be measured by time or by distance. A typical example of an interval session would be: 6 x 800m (or 2∫ minutes) fast with two-minute recovery jogs in between. Intervals help to build speed endurance, meaning you'll be able to run quicker for longer even when you begin to tire.
A Swedish word meaning "speed play", this is similar to interval training but without the measured intervals. It's a session made up of random periods of fast and slow running, the duration and intensity of which is up to you. For example, you may choose to sprint to the nearest lamppost, then jog to the post office at the end of the street before running at two-thirds pace to the park, followed by a slow run home – and so on. The advantage of fartlek is you don't have to keep an eye on your watch or know the distances you are running.
Designed to build aerobic capacity these sessions train you to increase your lactate threshold – the point at which lactic acid starts to gather in your legs. Lactic acid is responsible for the burning, heavy-legged feeling you get during intense exercise, and the longer you can put it off the better. Threshold runs are performed at a steady but challenging pace (60-80% of your maximum effort) and you should not be able to hold a conversation with the person you're running with. Try and build one of these sessions into your weekly schedule; it should be 20-35 minutes in length.
Change where you run
Not only is running the same old routes on the same old surface pretty boring – it's a surefire way to get injured through muscular imbalances. Varying your terrain is good both for the mind and body, engages different muscle groups, exerts different levels of impact on your joints and makes you a more robust runner.
▶ Asphalt: firmer training surfaces absorb less energy, meaning you'll get more power when pushing off the ground. However, hard roads are tough on shins and knees over time.
▶ Synthetic track: more cushioned than road running – a springy surface that encourages you to go quicker, so perfect for speed work or sprinting drills. But make sure you change directions when running bends to avoid overcompensation on one side.
▶ Trail: running on rural tracks and loose earth lowers the risk of injuries such as IT band syndrome (a painful tightening of the tendon that runs down the outside of your thigh). And, let's face it, running in the countryside or even the park is more uplifting than in the city.
▶ Grass: the softest surface you can run on. Far less strenuous on the joints and bones, but you'll have to work harder to run at the same speed as on hard surfaces.
▶ Sand: run in bare feet as opposed to trainers. It's great for encouraging you to land on your midfoot, as you naturally will without shoes. The instability of the surface will also work your stabiliser muscles harder, leading to stronger legs.