The more active you are during youth, the naturally higher your threshold will be. Most of the top athletes in the world come from rural areas where they lead a more active lifestyle than children in the United States. Aerobic running, along with more activity in general, will help prepare kids for long-term success in running.
Watch the best athletes in the world and they will share a common trait: economical movement across the ground. If you can’t move well, you can’t move fast. Teach the nervous system to move quickly. Sometimes a background in other sports can provide a good base for nervous system development. Many of the best distance runners have come out of soccer, ballet, gymnastics and basketball. Henry Rono and Said Aouita were soccer players first and Joaquim Cruz played basketball.
Another way to learn to move with better economy is to practice light proprioceptive drills 3-4 x weekly. These drills can greatly enhance the body’s ability to get better at movement specific to running. We use very light movement drills from sprint guru Dan Pfaff.
There are many ways to strengthen the body including weights, plyometrics or natural resistance such as hills, which we use. By being stronger, not only will you prevent injuries but you will recover better from hard workouts.
Train the opposite ends of the spectrum and save specific work for later. Train the aerobic system to be better developed in the future but also train muscles for speed in an alactic way. Use easy aerobic running with many 60-80 minute easy runs. Instead of hard specific work, concentrate on raising anaerobic threshold with 20-40 minute fast runs. Use hard intervals very sparingly. Save the specific work until you are older and both systems in the body are more fully developed. Develop bases in both speed and endurance. Wait until more fully mature to develop event specific endurance through specific interval training. Better to develop speed or capacity for speed through short hills and aerobic endurance through long runs and continuous intense runs than to overdo the anaerobic work. Essentially, with younger athletes, you are building the infrastructure to become a better endurance athlete in the future through very general aerobic training for you organic system and the alactic system for your muscles.
Train your mind to be fearless. Learn from failure but don’t dwell. Get back up from defeat quickly and confidently. It is important to take educated risks in racing and training. Getting out of your comfort zone and taking risks in your environment and in racing tactics can help change your mind frame to become a better athlete.
Train your mind to endure. A large part of distance running is having mental strength when the body is fatigued. Physiologically, by always adding a little bit more volume and a little bit more intensity the body will gradually become more fatigue resistant and subsequently the mind will follow.