The first point I want to make is that you can summarize this post into the following concept. When doing high level aerobic running, it’s a good idea to finish faster than you started.
Now on to the specifics…
I really like long runs that end faster than they started, getting to that edge where the athlete can feel that they are starting to produce some lactate. The best example of how I like to see runs progress in this way is with the long run. If we assume a 17 mile run, then the first 7 miles or so can be very easy, conversational. With the elite men and women I’ve coached they’re all running together at this point…and at elevation it’s no faster than 6:20-6:30 pace. Then, from 7-10 miles the pace come down a bit, perhaps by 15-30 seconds, depending on who it is. Now we’re at 10 miles and we have 7 miles to go. The next 4 miles are “steady” a pace that they could sustain for for 8-10 miles if they had to, but by no means easy running. So another 10-15 seconds faster than they ran from 7-10. For the final 3 miles, from 14-17, we want to either a) get faster each mile or b) get down another 10-20 seconds and maintain that for the last 3 miles.
Following the 17 miles we’d go right into a General Strength and Mobility (GSM) routine, ideally one of the longer one’s like Lionel Hampton or Grant Green. Obviously they should take their recovery drink at this time as well (it depends on their stomach if they can take it before the GSM or if they wait until afterwards). One final thought on things to do after the run: backwards lunges. Why? It’s a great way to gauge how fatiguing the run was. You can only do this with an athlete who can do 3 x 10 backwards lunges on a line when rested. When you ask them to do it after a long run you are looking for signs of fatigue. Will they wobble a little? Sure. But should they be able to do it? Hopefully. If they fail at this task then they were probably running too hard at the end of the run. And that’s not the end of the world…yet you should either water down the next workout or in some cases move the next workout back a day.
Final thought. In a previous post there was a comment about sprinting all out the last 400m of a long run. I get the rationale – your legs are heavy at the end of the long run, just as they are at the end of a race. But unless you’re a marathoner, the pace that you would run for that 400m is probably slower than you would be running at the end of your race. And the goal is not to have this progression long run be an all out effort, but rather a hard, but controlled effort. If you “go to the well” in a long run you’ll definitely need extra recovery – i.e. you may need an extra easy day to recover – yet you probably won’t make that adjustment in your training. Finally, I’ve had athletes finish a progression long run and then, after 5 minutes of easy jogging, run some 100′s or 150′s at 5k or 3k pace. But that’s only if they feel well.