As is pretty obvious (and we've talked about before) making sure you have a training plan is critical when getting ready for a race. Typically when people think about training for a race there are only two options considered: long runs and sprints. And for most distance runners pounding pavement is the only thing considered. Sprints and long runs are certainly the building blocks, there is SO much more that can (and should) go into building a running plan.
While its true that just about everything can fall into either "long run" or "sprint", lets take a look at the nuance here so you can build a better training plan for yourself.
Even if you are only interested in distance races, sprints should be an integral part of your workout routine. Sprinting will help you learn how to recruit all (or "more" to be technically accurate) of your muscles during your race. It also helps prepare you for that final push towards the end of your race when you can see the finish line.
This is where many distance runners start with just going out and running 100 meters a few times. But as much as you might not want to hear this...if you're not a sprinter, you should start with hill sprints. Once you do get to flat sprints you're going to want to start small and build out a progression (i.e. 5x60m, 5x80m, 5x100m or similar). The exact progression will depend a lot on where you are starting from and what you're trying to get ready for.
Hill Sprinting is great for you as we've already documented. They practically force you to have a good running form and proper hip extension. You certainly want to start out easy with this. Find a hill that you can run for just 10-12 seconds and repeat that 4 or 5 times. You can progress it from there as you build up endurance. Also consider finding hills with different slopes to train on. Steeper slopes will build more lower body strength, whereas the more gentle slopes will be easier to do speed work on.
Well clearly for distance runners, this is what its all about...for some reason non-runners always want to know how many miles did you run. Of course if you've had a good week, its a fun question to answer too.
Chances are the "middle distance run" is going to be the bread and butter of your workout routine. These help build your base and depending on your pace can actually be used as a "rest" day. Even if you are training for a short race, everyone can benefit from this type of run.
And this is the one workout of the week you actually brag a bit about (just don't be that guy or girl...you know the one). Personally I try to always have my long run on Sunday morning..some people do more than one a week. The long run is probably most important for the marathoner (and ultras) as we are trying to built up the bodies ability to take the pounding of going that far and also train the body how to provide energy to the muscles over that duration. Long runs should be done at an easy pace. The goal is to cover the distance, not break a record during training.
For those not familiar, tempo runs are a relatively high speed run for a long duration. Generally these types of exercises are given in terms of time instead of distance. The pace can vary a lot depending on your goals. If you are new to it though start with a short time (10 minutes) and a pace that is comfortable, but still a harder run. You want your breathing to be elevated, but not labored. These type of exercises work best as a progression, but most likely you won't need to go past 70-80 minutes in any given session.
Now for the fun :) Once you've worked all the basics above you can "mix in" aspects to enhance your training. Again what you mix in and how often will depend a lot on where you are in your cycle, and what it is you are training for.
These are probably my favorite thing to add to a long run or a middle distance run. At pre-defined points you want to gradually increase your pace and hold that faster pace for up to a minute. For example if you were doing a 10 mile run at an easy pace, you might speed up to 80% of your max for 30 seconds every mile and then come back down to the easy pace. This really helps you get ready for moving your "easy" pace to a faster pace over time.
Everybody who did cross country in high school knows all about strides. After you've finished you middle distance run for the day, strides are a series of short fast runs. Typically 100 to 200 meters at a fast (but not sprint) pace. This help prepare you for that end of the race push since you are practicing running fast when you are already a bit tired.
There are some people out there who call this a tempo run, but I just use the generic name of "increasing pace" so as not to confuse with the tempo runs mentioned above. This is a run where you start very easy and increase your pace until you hit your "race pace" around 2/3rds of the way through, hold that pace a few minutes, and then gradually slow down as you finish. These are typically more time based than distance based.
There are of course lots of other things you can do in your running workouts, but hopefully this has you thinking a little more beyond just pounding pavement. Some other things to consider are splitting a workout, instead of a 10 mile run, do a 6 miler in the morning and 4 miler in the evening. You can also vary up the number of sets and reps you do of your shorter distance sprints.
Also make sure to include recovery periods regardless of if that means a day off or just a VERY easy run.