Aaron (who thus far is the only commenter on the blog) asked me to outline my training philosophy a little bit. A fair question-I will try to answer without rambling too much.
My running "heroes," if I have any, are most definitely Frank Shorter and Jack Bacheler. Between the two of them, they puzzled out about 95% of training optimumly, and they did it in way back in the late 60s, early 70s without the benefits of labratory testing, knowledge of VO2 anything, and fancy treadmills or recovery devices.
My philosophy mirrors the stuff Bacheler and Shorter (and other runners in the Florida Track Club, I'm sure) figured out for themselves. On being asked, once, why the two-time Olympic medalist never wrote a book on training, Frank Shorter had this to say (forgive me for paraphrasing):
"Why haven't I written a book on training? Because it'd be like a page long, that's why. If you wanna get good, here's what you do: run two workouts a week; one shorter stuff, one longer stuff. Run two hours or 20 miles at a comfortably fast pace on Sundays, whichever of the options (2 hrs or 20 miles) comes first. On the days in between, run twice a day as slow as you need to in order to recover for the next workout, and cover as much distance as you can without getting hurt. Most runners race once a week, but if you don't have a race that weekend, just do a light fartlek instead. Do that for four or five years, and you'll get good."
That pretty much sums up what I believe in, and the way my coach, Peter, trains me. My training week doesn't change all that much during the year. The specific workouts change, of course, but the structure doesn't really change too much. Pretty much year round, I'll run two hard days a week and either a race or a fartlek on the third hard day. In the summer, I tend to hammer my long runs. During peak competitive times, the long runs is just a nice regenerative jog, pretty much. On my easy days, I don't usually run with a watch- because I don't care if I'm running 5:45 pace or 7:45 pace. I run easy on my easy days and it doesn't really matter what the pace is. In workouts, I try to stay controlled and within the parameters of the workout. If the goal for the workout is to hit 4xmile at 5k effort, I do that- I don't go apeshit on the last one like a lot of runners do.
"Long" and "short" workouts change depending on the time of year, of course. In July, my "long" workout might be a 15 mile run with the last 7 or 8 miles pretty hard, cranking the pace down by feel. "Short" might be 4 miles hard on a hilly course. Early in XC, long might be a 10 mile fartlek and short, some 800 meter hills. During late-season outdoor track, "long" could be some 600s at 800 effort, and short some 300s with near-full rest. It all depends on my needs at the time.
Fortunately for me, my coach is a genius at looking at a runner and determining the specific needs of that runner. Six days out from the mile prelims at DIII indoor nationals last winter, Peter had me skip my planned workout of 400s at mile pace and instead do a 10 mile fartlek over a hard, hilly course. I ran over a minute faster than I ever had over that course and felt supremely confident in my fitness. A few days later I ran a few speed-sharpening 400s with a lot of rest and ended up getting 3rd at nationals. The 10-mile fartlek proved to be exactly what I needed- which is probably the other 5% of training that Shorter didn't spell out. You need a coach (or be sufficiently self-aware, which I don't think any high school athlete and maybe 1% of college athletes are) who knows you so well he can determine what you need to run your best. Note, this involves TRUSTING your coach and not constantly asking him "so how come I'm doing this workout? Is it for my lactose threshold? is for for my J03 max? Am I maximizing my anaerobic circuitry?" That kind of stuff will only make you question your training, which makes you question your fitness, which means you'll race like crap.
This turned into an epic post. . . I tend to rant. Allow me to summarize. A good training program should include:
1) Two good workouts a week, staying within the agreed upon limits of the workout. One longer, one shorter (which is determined by context of current training needs)
2) A solid long run- not too short, not too long. If I had to pin it down to a number, I'd say 15% of your weekly mileage if you're 5k and down for events, and no more than 20% of your weekly mileage if you're 10k-above.
3) Easy days at whatever clip you need to run to recover for the next workout
4) Not being retarded. That means eating with common sense, sleeping enough every night, and not being a drunk/druggie
5) Good amount of volume. What's a good amount? How should I know, I don't know you. Figure it out for yourself.
6) SELF AWARENESS. Learn to listen to your body and actually be able to interpret what it's telling you.
7) a good coach. Note, I didn't say "the best coach." I said a good one. Chances are, you won't get a perfect coach. But make an effort to have a good coach-athlete relationship, don't be an asshole to him about workouts, but communicate to him effectively. Peter isn't perfect, but we get along great and I trust him to know what I need. I do disagree with him sometimes, and we talk out those disagreements and compromise on what to do (actually, usually, he explains his views to me and I end up agreeing with his original decision).
Anyway, I hope that helps. There really are no secrets in training, as cliche as that sentiment is. Be consistent, train sensibly hard, and race every race like it's your last one. And most importantly, have fun with it! You should be having a blast when you go running, because if you don't love the sport, you won't be in it very long.