I love reading iRunFar, especially right now while I'm not running or training for long races, I'm living vicariously through their race reports. They also have informative articles about improving endurance performance. This post, though, might change the way I train more than anything else I've read there.
In the article, Stephanie Howe, an elite runner for The North Face, and also a coach herself, discusses the benefits of maximal strength training for runners. That's right, the kind of strength training you see the guys with ALL the muscles doing at the gym. No, but really: she has science to back it up. The research section of the post is enlightening.
She cites several studies indicating maximal strength training can improve endurance, speed, and time to exhaustion. Howe's point is that not only can it benefit endurance athletes, but that it is the most beneficial type of strength training; more so especially than the light-weight, high-rep, core-and-legs-only type many runners engage in. The kind I do.
If there's so much research out there about this, why don't more runners know about it? For one, I think because it's kind of counterintuitive. You would think that doing a type of strength training that mimics your sport would help you the most in your sport. After all, we don't usually need to bench-press anything during an ultra. And if some runners do know this to be true, why don't we know more runners who do it? Are the kinds of people who like to run really long distances not the kind of people who enjoy power cleans and box jumping? I don't know.
My husband does maximal strength training, on a military-oriented plan similar to CrossFit: several sets of heavy-weight, low-rep lifts and plyometrics. And he does it in our garage, where we have steadily accumulated enough equipment to make it look truly gym-like. He's been trying to get me to join him for a while, and on occasion, I have (probably on occasions where my only excuse would sound really lame. I mean it's in our garage, it's not like I have to get dressed and drive across town). Sometimes I enjoy the workouts, but hate the way I feel the next day--dead-legged and unable to hold the blow dryer up long enough to do my hair.
But if I stuck with it long enough to stop feeling so awful after each workout, and I saw some results in my running, I could see myself learning to love it. It does keep things interesting--the plan is different every day, unlike my normal sets of squats and ab exercises. It's worth a try!