Return to base
Cut intensity and focus on logging long slow miles to boost your performance
‘Slow and steady’ isn’t guaranteed to win you the race, but it can be an excellent philosophy by which to train. The runners I coach go through base training twice a year: once in winter and again in summer, they dial down on 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 capillarisation (meaning a more extensive network of blood vessels bringing oxygen and nutrients to your muscles), 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 spring racing season.
DO IT NOW Elite athletes tend to begin their base period following a one- to four-week break at the end of their season. (After their ‘active rest’!) But if you’re not recovering from a big marathon – or running to pay the bills – you can begin your base period at any time.
PLAN IT OUT A base period can last four weeks – or four months. One month is about the minimum time I’d recommend in order 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 per cent of their in-season load. I generally suggest following high mileage weeks with scaled-back weeks of 10-15 miles less. (Good principle, but we don’t do that many miles of course!) Do no more than two consecutive high-mileage weeks. If you feel fatigued, don’t be afraid to back off by 20- 30 per cent for a week or two to recover.
TAKE IT EASY During your base training, lose the interval sessions. (Like we do in winter). Initially, 90-95 per cent of your weekly mileage should consist of easy aerobic runs and one long run. During these sessions, your pace should be conversational, and the
effort should not exceed 60-80 per cent of your maximum heart rate – which is well below your lactate threshold.
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 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 per cent of your max – you will continue to increase strength without burning out. (As we haven’t had a planned approach to base building in the past, I have kept a lactate threshold element going throughout the winter (i.e., laps), but if we were going to adopt a planned approach, these could be dropped for the start of the period.)
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 improve your body’s ability to burn fat, and get you accustomed to time on your feet. (A base time of 90 minutes will prepare you well for races up to 7 miles, but unless we want to do 90-minute sessions in the evenings it WILL mean weekend training. For racing up to 20k, long sessions should go up to 25k / 3 hours. Once you’re up to the target distance, it only needs to be done every 2 or 3 weeks.)
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