We’ve all been there…
About to register for a race, pumped on running, and ready to kick ass and take names.
Suddenly you realize you haven’t run consistently in over 4 months, and begin second guessing yourself as your training plan suddenly looks daunting.
“Who cares,” you accidentally proclaim aloud at your desk, “let’s do this thing!” And with the click of a button, you’ve registered for a race.
It’s only a few days before you realize you’re nowhere near ready for an aggressive training plan.
You need to start by laying your foundation.
Understanding Base Training
Base training, foundational training, whatever you want to call it, these words get thrown around all the time.
While it’s not always exciting — base training is slow, repetitive, and often uninspired — it’s important.
Establishing an aerobic mileage base is essential to staying healthy and strong throughout your training.
But what does “aerobic mileage base” actually mean?
Put simply, base mileage is the foundation you build before training for a particular race. You wouldn’t build a house on sand, and you shouldn’t start an intense training plan without a strong foundation.
It’s your opportunity to build endurance and strength. It’s your starting point before transitioning into race specific training.
And the stronger the starting point, the easier it will be to transition into that training plan.
Without a strong base, you risk injury, and have to fight harder to gain the speed and endurance you’re craving.
The Makings of a Strong Base Building Cycle
In this week’s episode of Trail Talk, I discuss the importance of base building, and the 6 principles to follow when building your foundation.
Listen to the full show here:
For those of you uninterested in the wickedly entertaining audio, I’ve also included the principles below.
6 Principles for Building a Strong Endurance Base
The way I see it, there are 6 main principles that make for a strong base building phase. Principles that if done right, not only keep things interesting, but properly prepare you for the race specific training that follows.
Which is the main goal, after all.
So let’s get to them…
1) Start with where you are now.
Not where you want to be.
- What your training has looked like in the past
- How long you’ve been away from regular running
- What you’ve been doing other than training
These all play into where to start your base building mileage. That being said, most runners are surprised at how quickly they can pick things back up.
Say you training for your first half marathon, then took 6 months off. Unless you’ve done nothing but sit on your butt eating Cheetos the whole time, you aren’t going to start from where you were before the half marathon.
Breaks do mean the loss of strength and endurance, but you wont lose all the muscle memory, mental gains, and your body’s understanding of how to run long distances.
Does that mean you can just get up and run 13.1 miles? No, of course not, but you can likely start at a higher level than before. Before you start building back up your base, figure out where that level is for you now.
2) Be patient and start slow.
If you’re starting a base building program, then you’re probably pumped up for some race or something bigger. That’s great.
Use that energy to keep you focused and consistent, but don’t let the excitement propel you to go too far too fast.
Base building mileage should be run almost exclusively at an easy, conversational pace. Remember, the goal here is to develop and strengthen your aerobic system. The Maffetone Method is a common approach to laying the foundation, where runners use the 180 Formula to predict a max aerobic heart rate, and never exceed that rate.
For many runners, this will feel like you’re running too slowly. That is good. That’s the point.
Be patient with yourself during the first several weeks.
3) Build consistency and discipline.
This is arguably the most important principle of them all.
If you’re coming off minimal running, the absolute best thing you can do before starting an aggressive training plan is to establish consistency. It helps you stay injury free, and creates the mental and physical routine needed for months of official training.
4) Introduce some speed.
Just because you’re focused on aerobic training, doesn’t mean you can’t play around with a little speed work. Especially if it’s been awhile since you last ran fast.
Introducing small amounts of speed work, around once per week, gets the body re-acquainted with pushing hard. It begins to train the muscles for a full, strong stride, and prepares you mentally for the discomfort of speed work. It will also begin to improve your lactic threshold.
Just keep in mind that speed work isn’t the primary focus.
5) Have an end goal in sight, and don’t stay here forever.
My experience is that runners entering a base phase of training fall into one of two camps:
- They can’t wait to get on with the real training, or
- They get comfortable and stay there forever.
Unless you’re a completely casual runner, with no racing plans at all, you don’t want to stay in this base phase of training too long.
Typically 8-12 weeks will be enough. If you’re coming off an injury, or a long break, that could bump up to 16 or 20, but 8-12 is the sweet spot.
Why? Because as we’ve said, base training has a near singular focus on your aerobic base, and doesn’t push or challenge you in ways a more specific program would.
Have an end goal in sight … something to keep you motivated and excited, and something to cut you off after a set amount of time.
5) Have fun.
And finally, have fun.
Training will get serious later, so have fun during the foundational training.
- Run with friends
- Explore new routes
- Join a running club
There are countless ways to make running fun and entertaining, and now’s the time to explore those different options.