A million years ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a high school cross country runner in Iowa, articles on training as rare as a good play-by-play performance by Joe Buck. In the 1967 book, The Jim Ryun Story, the author spoke of the Kansas great regularly running workouts of 40 x 440, 18 x 880, ten miles in sixty-two minutes.
At the same time, Peter Snell, the 1960 and 1964 Olympic champion in the 800m, was incorporating 23-mile Sunday runs in the hills of New Zealand, claiming it was a huge factor in his success. I tried, but my ambitions were greater than my talents.
I was never able complete a single one these workouts.
I was desparate for anything to make me better - after races asking competitors what workouts they did, listening clandestinely while rival coaches talked about their interval work. I used Cramergesic before races for a better warmup, ate Kretschmer wheat germ at breakfast, wore two pound weights around my ankles on six mile runs. Anything that might make me better. It was all a waste of time.
Today, the paucity of information has been turned on its head, the internet and social media producing a plethora of successful ideas and theories. You hear Parker Valby talk of X-training and running only 3 days/week, how Graham Blanks does all of his one 100-mile weeks at 6:00 pace or faster, on podcasts the double threshholds of Jakob Ingebrigtssen.
Which one should we incorporate?
High school and collegiate distance runners in the 70's did intervals on the track two to three times every week, cirling the track like Indy cars. Naysayers who say this was crazy should look at times in that era - they're not too shabby. But it also injured many, the constant workload in spikes far too much.
During the late 80's and through the 90's lactate training threshholds were all the rage, names like Joe Vigil and Jack Daniels popping up in every discussion. In the 2000's it was barefoot running shoes and GPS watches. Some trends lasted as long as the toupee on Terry Bradshaw's head - so find the ones which have been around a while - have survived the years.
For me, hill work is crucial, but I can give you many championship runners who don't include them. Weights seem like a game changer yet many African champions have never lifted. Weekly alactic speed work can be the difference in close races, although there are some great ones who don't include this in the training. High mileage weeks sound good, but I know a male Big Ten 10K champion who never did more than 60 miles/week.
What's a coach to think?
My suggestion - continue to learn as much as you can through clinics and books. Get training tips from the myriad of podcasts. Take time to accumulate a broad background of ideas. Then experiment with your athletes during summer and winter training. See how they respond.
Some will handle double threshholds easily. For others it will run them into the ground. Does weekly speed work significantly affect their 200m speed? Or not much at all? How about hill work? Beneficial or not so much? Is a faster tempo on recovery days better or a much slower one? I hated athletes who ran too fast on easy days - but for some - it did help.
No two athletes are the same.
Keep up on technology. I don't know a coach who couldn't use more personalized information on each of their runners. My athletes were asked to take their pulse first thing each morning and record how many hours they slept. But it was such a pain in the butt to get. This information was always a huge factor in what my afternoon's workout would entail.
To know their hours of sleep is crucial. As is the resting pulse in the morning. An accurate assessment of each day's training effort would also be nice. What's the recovery time between hard sessions? How does their body respond to heat? Garmin is an answer to these questions.
But like every training inovation - if you don't use it daily, the tool is a waste of time. To have information at your fingertips and not use it is a coaching sin. The more you know, the better you can better incorporate your philosophy - whether it's high mileage, low mileage, intervals, or lots of cross training and hills.
Ultimately, hard work is the number one ingredient - the key factor in success. But if you can minimize the waste and maximize the improvement - using current technology - you have improved your chances of success without wasting time. A glut of information is a wonderful problem.
You'll never know what it's like to want...but have no access.