Base Training Considerations

Base Training Considerations for Team Arete

AKA How to have fun and run well while preparing for 2017!

By Mary Wright

*Disclaimer: While there is not a single best way to approach anything, these are training concepts adapted from some of the best coaches out there: the coaching legend Arthur Lydiard, Renato Canova, Greg McMillan, my college coach Robert Johnson (of the popular and recommended letsrun.com), and local coaches Greg Brock & Albert deLatorre. They have been put into practice and worked for many runners (myself and many of you included!). But like anything, take it as a guide and tweak the concepts to make them your own. That’s the art and science of running!

Hope you find these tips helpful. If you do not already have one, I highly recommend keeping a training journal (such as Believe Training Journal) as a way to track your training and your physical and mental states. This is helpful throughout your training to keep yourself accountable and also as a way to look back and see which workouts may have helped you run a personal record (PR) or what training changes may have led to an injury.

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The time between seasons is exciting. It’s a chance to recover, adapt, build upon your previous season and build a base in preparation for a new season ahead. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on where you’ve come from and where you want to be in your training. Contrary to popular belief, base training is not simply a lot of long slow miles. Below, I’ll detail some helpful hints that may help you prepare for a successful and healthy 2017 season. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no one size fits all model, so as you take these concepts into consideration, always begin from your current level of fitness, consider the time you plan to carve out for training, and your short and long term goals.

Why Base Training is Important:

Base training is a crucial aspect of not only a successful season, but successful running over the course of your lifetime. If you run the same pace all year round and cycle through the same workouts, chances are you’ll burn out and not improve your performances. It’s essential to take a break from hard intervals on the track, rest that energy system, and allow your body to adapt. This is when the base phase comes in play to allow healthy and well-rounded fitness to blossom in your training life.

While volume is the number one determinant in faster running, simply running lots of slow miles will not get you where you want in your training. In fact, if you only run long slow mileage for 2-3 months during the base phase, you’ll lose muscular readiness to run fast in March, increasing the chance of injury. It’s important that during the base phase you increase your volume to where you feel your comfortable maximum is while simultaneously tapping into the different energy systems. I will get to that later as I lay out an example of what a base phase week may look like.

Although it’s smart to add a bit of uptempo work during base phase, it’s crucial that you’re never running hard. Save that for the track in the Spring! You’re best off running by feel and at your current fitness level. If there’s ever a time to tap into your inner training compass, it’s during base training.

In addition, variation is a crucial part of making base training fun. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it’s not worth it! Explore various surfaces, elevations, new trails. This teaches your body and mind to adapt and also prevents you from going into autopilot, which is so easy to do when we do the same running route every day. Varying your running routes encourages us to be more mindful runners which helps us get in touch with the mental and physical aspects of our training.

Where to Start:

Starting your base depends on where you currently are in your fitness and training. For example, you may be a beginner starting with one 5 mile run a week, or you may be a consistent 40-mile per week runner. Start from where you are. Jumping straight into where you think you should be will only hinder your training and lead to injury. If you are running once a week, add an additional second run for a few weeks before adding a third or a long run. If you are already at a moderate to maximum weekly mileage for yourself, begin incorporating the other aspects of base training which I will discuss below under “A Sample Base Week.”

It’s crucial that you do not add volume and speed at the same time. This is a recipe for injury. Allow yourself a few weeks to get your volume up and at a comfortable place before incorporating some base phase speed. Then keep that speed aspect consistent before adding some additional volume. Tweak the volume and speed aspects so that you always feel within control. You should never feel like you are tapping out during base phase; although, it is common to feel tired as you’ll likely run your highest mileage during these few months. Be sure you are resting and fueling well.

A Sample Base Week Structure:

Here’s an idea of how you might structure your weeks. Remember, you are your ultimate guide, so listen to your body and your intentions first and foremost.

*In the early, base phase, volume and consistency is key. Consider spending 4-5 weeks in the early base phase. It’s smart to gain strength and consistency before adding in moderate workouts. The key in early base phase is to gradually increase mileage and adapt your body to your mileage maximum. Speed is not important. In fact, ditching your watch is a great idea! Plenty of aerobic mileage is essential before heading into more specific training. Take your running during this time nice and easy. After the early base phase, consider structuring your base weeks approximately like detailed below. You can maintain your mileage, but consider dropping your mileage in the first week or two during the transition into these workouts so that you aren’t overdoing it.

SAMPLE BASE WEEK:

Easy medium run: Go out for an easy run based on feel. Medium-long length.

Fartlek: Use these fun, quick workouts to improve turnover, efficiency, and neuromuscular functioning. These should never be “hard” but should instead feel like a moderate effort. If you’re a beginner, try warming up for a mile and then move into 5-6 times 30 seconds at 10k pace incorporated into your regular run. Take 3-4 minutes back to your regular run pace in between each 30 second 10k pace pick-ups. Over the course of several weeks, you can build these up to 4-5 minute pick-ups. Play with different ladders and shorter or longer recoveries. Have fun with these. Fartleks are not intended to be rigid intervals (for example, many coaches tell athletes to “pick up the pace between telephone poles” and then recover until the next one) but rather a fluid and natural way to incorporate moderate speed into your weeks. 

Steady State Run:  Use these runs to maximize your aerobic threshold. These runs are done at approximately your marathon pace (or what you imagine that would be if you’ve never run one!), but over time you can play with going slightly faster or slightly slower than your marathon pace. For example, your first steady state run might be a one mile warm-up followed by 15 minutes at marathon pace. Over the course of several weeks of your base training phase, you might be at a place to run up to 10 miles at marathon pace for your steady state.

Long Run: This staple run has multiple physiological benefits that help you maintain a pace longer and will help you later in the racing season. Consider starting at 60 minutes (or less, if you’re a beginner) and working your way up to 90 minutes or up to two hours if you’re a higher volume seasoned runner. Consider decreasing your long run distance every three to four weeks to give your body time to rest and adapt before bumping it up again the following week.

A Day Off: Take one day off (at least!!) completely each week. It gives you a mental and physical break and time to adapt to your training.

*Optional weekly:

Hills: If you are a hill lover, alternate fartleks & hills every other week. Short hills (15-20 seconds)build muscular strength and are a great option to add later in the base phase (January or February) before heading to the track. They are considered “speed work in disguise” and are a good segue to interval training later on.

Easy Strides: Follow up any easy run with 6-8 easy 100 meter strides.

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If you incorporate any or all of these ideas into the 2-3 months leading into a new season, you will be physically and mentally prepared. Most importantly, remember you are your own best coach. Take into consideration your goals and the other responsibilities you have in your life. Also, allow yourself a lot of flexibility and freedom. Having off days or off weeks where you’re feeling in a funk or you’re purposely giving yourself time off is crucial to loving a long season ahead and a lifelong love of running. Have fun with it and before you know it, you’ll be running and racing with your Arete ladies!

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