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All about that base: the basics of building a running foundation

All about that base: building a running foundationAlmost every training plan assumes that the runner has a “base”. Your base is exactly what it sounds like – it’s your current fitness level. You cannot go from running zero miles per week to training for a marathon. Base building is the work that comes in between zero mileage weeks and training – it’s pre-training, if you will.

Proper base building is a prerequisite for a successful training cycle. Base building increases your endurance, strengthens your muscles, and ensures your body is ready for tougher workouts. Having an adequate base may also lower your risk of injury.

Some training plans call for a base of 10 or 20 weekly miles before you start a training plan. But base building is about more than weekly mileage totals – it matters how you run those miles, too.

For beginners:

If you’re training for your first race, experts suggest focusing on speed or endurance, not both the first time around.

For example, if you’re training for your first half marathon, it’s best to concentrate on endurance. Look at your half marathon training plan to see what distance long run you begin with. If it’s 8 miles and you can only run 4 miles now, work your way 7 miles continuously before the plan starts. Do one long run each week, increasing the distance by a half mile or a mile each week. In addition, do two or three shorter mid-week runs.

For runners coming back from injuries:

For experienced runners coming back from a hiatus due to injury, being conservative is the name of the game for base training. You don’t want to do too much too soon and risk re-injury.

  • Keep weekly mileage low. If you only missed a few weeks of running, cut your typical weekly mileage in half. If you were out for months, don’t have any set goals for total mileage, just listen to your body.
  • Don’t do speedwork. Resist the urge to pick up the pace at first. Run at a slow, easy pace during your first few weeks back (take walk breaks when needed). If you feel OK after a few weeks, gradually start increasing your speed.

For runners in the off-season:

It’s not uncommon for seasoned racers to take a break from intense training in the early summer months or during the holidays. Most big races are held in the spring and fall, so using the time immediately after those races to recover is key. After you’ve recovered from your race, it’s important to maintain a base if you plan on resuming training again a few months later.

  • Be patient. Ideally, base building should last between 6 weeks and 4 months.
  • Start easy. In the beginning of your base building training, most of your runs should be done at a conversational pace. Add in one speed workout around the 3-week mark and another faster paced run around the 8-week mark if you’re up for it.
  • Keep the long run. Do one long run each week just like you would during training. Remember that “long” is relative. If the rest of your workouts are 3-milers, a 5-miler would be a long run.
  • Follow the 10 percent rule. Don’t increase your weekly mileage or the distance of your long run by more than 10 percent each week.

Base building is also the perfect time to add crosstraining or strength training to your routine.

 Written by Jen Matz. 

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