My collegiate runners go through base training twice a year. For three months during the summer and for the month of December, they scale back the intensity and run lots of long, slow miles. This repetitive, low-intensity activity forges a strong foundation that will support the hard work of training and racing to come. That foundation consists of increased blood volume, improved glycogen storage, greater capillarization, and stronger connective tissue. It's amazing how fit and healthy runners are when they emerge from a base period. Follow these steps to ensure that you, too, are fortified for the coming season. (Search: Smart foods for runners)
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Time It Right
Elite athletes tend to begin their base period following a one-to four-week break at the end of their season. But if you're not coming off a big marathon or running to pay the bills—or support your alma mater—you can begin your base period at any time.
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Plan It Out
A base period can last four weeks—or four months. One month is about the minimum time I'd recommend in which to reap significant physiological gains. My athletes complete a six-week base period between the end of cross-country and the beginning of indoor track. Their weekly base mileage can be as much as 120 percent of their in-season load. I generally suggest following high-mileage weeks with scaled-back weeks of 10 to 15 miles less. Do no more than two consecutive high-mileage weeks. If you feel fatigued, don't be afraid to back off by 20 to 30 percent for a week or two to recover.
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Take It Easy...
During base training, lose the interval sessions. Initially, 90 to 95 percent of your weekly mileage should consist of easy aerobic runs and the long run. Your pace should be conversational, and the effort should not exceed 60 to 80 percent of your max heart rate—well below your lactate threshold.
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... Then Turn It Up
The primary emphasis of base building is on aerobic mileage. However, once you reach week three of base time, running an occasional lactate-threshold workout like a tempo, rolling hill, or marathon-pace run will improve both your strength and running efficiency. Six to eight weeks in, add a second threshold workout. If you keep the effort controlled—under 90 percent of your max—you will continue to increase strength without burning out.
Stick It Out
Get your long run up to 90 minutes as early in the base training as possible. Run at least that long every two or three weekends. This will further increase capillarization, improve your body's ability to burn fat, and keep you accustomed to time on your feet.
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Increase mileage and improve efficiency
|Mileage||Key Weekly Workouts
|Week 1||60 - 70||90-minute weekend long run|
|Week 2||70 - 80||6 to 8 x 100-meter strides twice a week; weekend long run|
|Week 3||65 - 75||25-minute tempo run; long run|
|Week 4||70 - 80||3 to 4 x 2 miles at 10 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace; long run|
|Week 5||65 - 75||10 to 15 x 1000 meters at tempo pace with 60 seconds recovery; long run|
|Week 6||75 - 85||2 to 3 x 3 miles at 10 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace; long run|
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