The term base building running or base training for runners gets thrown around a lot, but I’ve come to realize that many of you don’t really know what this means. Luckily for you, I’ve got over 12 years of coaching experience to help break this down in a way that makes sense and get you on the right plan.
Welcome to the world of base building, the unsung hero of running training that paves the way for enduring success.
In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the art and science of base building, unlocking the secrets that will have your next training cycle feeling better than ever.
What exactly is base building, and why does it hold the key to unlocking your full potential as a runner? We’ll explore the intricacies of this often-overlooked phase of training, offering insights that will reshape the way you approach your runs.
Whether you’re aiming for a personal best, contemplating your first ultramarathon, or simply seeking to elevate your overall fitness, the principles of base building are universal.
All right, let’s go!
What is Base Building for Runners?
At its core, base building is a strategic and gradual approach to training that emphasizes the development of endurance, strength, and overall fitness before delving into more specific and intense workouts.
It serves as the preparatory phase that readies your body for the challenges ahead, creating a strong foundation that can withstand the rigors of more advanced training. (AKA your race specific training.)
Base building isn’t just about logging miles; it’s about laying the groundwork for sustained performance.
By focusing on aerobic conditioning, muscular endurance, and overall health, runners can enhance their ability to handle higher training volumes and intensities in the subsequent phases of their training.
This deliberate and patient approach minimizes the risk of injury while maximizing the potential for long-term improvement.
How Long Does It Take to Build a Base?
The time it takes to build an aerobic base can vary widely depending on individual factors such as fitness level, running experience, age, and genetic predisposition. Generally, the process of building a solid aerobic base is considered a gradual process that’s going to require patience.
An aerobic base refers to the foundation of cardiovascular fitness essential for optimal athletic performance, especially in endurance sports like running.
For novice runners or those returning after a break, it might take a few months to establish a foundational aerobic base. This initial phase often involves low to moderate-intensity workouts, focusing on gradually increasing weekly mileage and duration.
How Long Should Base Building Be?
Ideally for those new to running, I like to see 12-16 weeks of base building before contemplating something like a half marathon or longer.
Runners who maintain a consistent routine year round, may simply be focused on a maintenance running plan for 6 to 8 weeks in between races. This is going to keep their base strong and provide time to work on things like strength training or other neglected areas.
Training Cycle Review
Periodized training is one of the most common ways that we move through training. You probably don’t realize that a lot of your training plans try to build in a little bit of base work.
Then you move in to a preparation phase, race specific phase and finally in to peaking then taper for race day.
Here’s a great visual to help you think about how training should go. The length of each phase is going to vary based upon the specific goal, your level of fitness and racing experience.
How Many Miles in Base Phase?
Just like how long is it going to take for adaptation so you can get out there to marathon train and enjoy fast running, it’s going to depend on what you’ve been doing previously.
For experienced runners, if you’ve recently done a marathon training cycle then I would look at your peak week mileage and back it down 15-30%. Again this will depend on what else you are doing and goals.
For new runners, the focus is simply on slowly increasing your time on feet. This is where a program like Couch to 10K can really help give you specific guidance. You may be looking at just a few 30 minute runs per week or already have enough experience to also include a 60 minute run.
What Are The Benefits of Base Building for Runners
I know we all want to get right to the sexy stuff of signing up for a race and collecting that bling. But truly for improving your overall health and fitness, base training is a key part of the process.
Here’s some of what we hope to accomplish during the base work:
Improved Aerobic Capacity
This is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during exercise. Building a base involves improving the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to deliver oxygen to the muscles.
Well-established aerobic fitness provides a solid foundation for introducing higher-intensity workouts in later training phases.
Aerobic base building enhances the muscles’ ability to sustain activity over an extended period without fatigue. This is crucial for long-distance running where sustained effort is required.
The slow and steady progression of base training allows the body to adapt gradually to increased training loads, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.
Nothing is going to slow progress down faster than getting injured and then needing to rest. It also makes your motivation take a massive nose dive.
Better Mitochondrial Density
Mitochondria are the energy-producing structures within cells. Aerobic training stimulates the growth and efficiency of mitochondria, enhancing the body’s ability to generate energy aerobically.
Efficient Fuel Utilization
Base training helps the body become more efficient in utilizing fats for energy, sparing glycogen (stored carbohydrates) for later stages of prolonged exercise. This is beneficial for longer races where glycogen depletion can be a limiting factor.
Strength Focused Workouts
For many runners, base building is the time where they can do a lot more specific strength work outs. Truly focusing on the hips, glutes and core in ways that are going to help you become faster, stronger and more resilient.
Should You Focus on Your Weak Areas?
A few years ago, it came to me with startling clarity…or through another bout of IT Band pain that I had become exceptionally good at moving my body in a forward motion for hours without stopping.
I had become exceptionally bad and doing most other movements, the result being muscle imbalances, pain, time off and serious frustration.
So I did what most Type A runners do and I swung the other direction! I would become a machine at ferreting out my weaknesses and beating them in to submission with repetition after repetition!!
Result: New injuries, burn out, too tired to run.
Base Building Running Plan
One of your big questions is what should a base building running plan look like. As any good running coach will tell you there are a lot of variables from your current fitness level, to time, to what you want to do!
I’ll start off by giving you an example base building schedule for someone with experience and then we can dive in to each piece for you to best put together your 6-8 week plan.
Base Building Training Schedule for Beginners
If you’re new to running then I absolutely wouldn’t put all the things in week 1. Shoot I don’t do that for experienced athletes.
So instead, your plan is going to be more focused on general fitness, allowing your body to better progress:
Sun: Optional Easy Run, body weight strength training
Mon: Rest Day
Tue: Easy run 3+ miles based on fitness (optional hill repeats at the end)
Wed: Full body strength training (body weight focused)
Thu: Easy run 3+ miles
Fri: Rest (easy yoga or mobility day)
Sat: Long Run
Base Training Runs Have a Purpose
2-3 per week for new runners
4-5 for experienced distance runners
Again the number of base runs is going to vary based upon your goals and the other types of training that are included in your week. Those currently focused on heavy lifting to build muscle, may be experienced, but still choose to stick to 3 runs to have enough energy for each workout.
Think back to the weeks 1-3 of a new training plan where the focus is easy runs, maybe some short hill workouts. Remember there is a REASON for keeping everything easy right now.
- Generally no speed work when you’re focused on rebuilding a base
- Easy pace is the focus of most runs (use this perceived exertion chart if you aren’t sure what easy means or you can also practice using Heart Rate Zones)
- Long run being usually half of your goal distance or less when starting out
- Running strides once a week after a month or two of running are a fun way to introduce speed.
Half marathoners might find 8-10 miles is their sweet spot for weekend long runs that feel easy and maintain endurance.
Much like LHR training, the goal of this phase in running is to build your anaerobic base. We want your body to consistently feel strong and that the same pace is requiring less effort over time.
At the end of this phase, you should be ready to add hills, speed workouts and tempo runs per a structured training plan.
Cross Training During Base Building
2-3 sessions per week
Incorporating cross training is going to allow you to work different muscles that may be neglected. Or for those newer to running it will provide some lower impact options to continue building fitness with less injury risk while your body adapts..
- Great time to test out some free online fitness programs
- Increases your stamina in different ways by engaging other muscles
- Utilizes new muscles
- Do whatever you enjoy! Swimming, stair master, biking, skiing, snowshoeing (this is on my list!). It’s all going to benefit your running in the long term.
Strength Training Is A MUST in Base Training
2-3 sessions per week, often on the same day as a short run or cross training session. Here are a few different options and the benefits:
Unfortunately distance running can eat away at muscle mass, which is why many runners find themselves in the odd place of being fit and yet a bit fluffy. Heavier weights are going to help build the muscles that burn the fat, that keep us strong and get the “bodies” many runners desire.
Try 2 sessions a week of just a few exercises:
- chest press
- shoulder press
- tricep pull downs
- core workout
High rep weight training can benefit endurance runners because this is in effect another form of endurance. It’s going to help you continue to pump your arms when tired during the final miles of a race and maintain good form.
Usually best as a full body workout, checkout this post with ideas for the most beneficial upper body moves. For a full body workout, include things like: Shoulder flys, tricep dips on a bench, push ups, bicep curls, IT Band Lunge Matrix + core.
Need more ideas?What is base building? Find out how to do it right this winter #runchat Click To Tweet
Flexibility and Mobility
Not only will you be surprised at the strength you can build, but you’ll improve your breathing and learn how to work through discomfort, which will benefit you on the run.
You can either do an athletic yoga workout or go with a restorative session, in fact it would be best to do both!
You’ll also get a ton of mental training benefits from slowing down.
Treadmill Training Notes
Personally I love treadmill runs, so if icy roads or crazy summer temps push you indoors that’s ok!
For easy runs vary between 0 and 1%, for hill workouts it’s going to vary depending on what you are used to, but generally 3-4% for long inclines and 5-6% for quick hill springs.
You might feel like the treadmill is easier or harder than running outside. Some of this is mental and some of it is the consistent pacing provided by a treadmill, which many newer runners aren’t used to.
For easy runs, play with the pace until you find a speed that feels comfortable (defined as something you could hold, it’s not forcing you to breathe too hard and yet not so slow you could file your nails).
Foot Strength Workouts
Though we spend hours finding the perfect running shoe, we rarely spend any time thinking about how the strength in our feet or ankles can impact our running performance. One of the major claims made my barefoot runners is that creating this foot strength would allow for better stabilization and reduce injuries.
Luckily there is no need to go barefoot to realize some great power, speed and injury proof gains from working on those feet.
- Prevention of plantar fasciitis and shin splints
- Reduction of muscle imbalances from only running forward
- Creating additional power when pushing off
I know this can seem like a lot. It’s why people get running coaches! I’ve got a team of 12 here to help if you need it because we believe that running should be both fun and something you can do injury free.
Embrace the process, celebrate the small victories, and trust that the foundation you’re building today will support the runner you aspire to become tomorrow.
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