Base Phase – More Than Just Running

Everybody wants to wake up and have it be race day.  You’re excited, you’re fit, you’re rested, and you (probably) don’t have to go to work before or after running.  Oh, and you get to go to the crapper not once, not twice, but up to seven (thousand) times before you feel juuuuuuuuuust right … then one more time for good measure.  But it’s NOT race day and before you’re super fit for your race you’ve got to run those quality race-specific workouts … and before you run those workouts, you need a nice solid aerobic base.  Ready to run yourself into the ground? Not so fast …
You may be familiar with the pyramid model when it comes to nutrition: lots of grains, cereal, pasta; plenty of fruits and veggies; some dairy, meat, and poultry; and finally just a safe small serving of the good stuff – salt, fats, and sweets.  Same thing goes for building a proper running plan.  A strong aerobic base is needed before stressing your body with more intense race-specific workouts, intervals, and being fully prepared for the good stuff – racing.  Distance running is primarily an aerobic activity.  Even in races as short as one mile, the ability to run fast is largely dependent on aerobic fitness.  Having a larger aerobic capacity (limit of stress or activity using primarily oxygen) than your competitors means you can run a faster pace before each of you relies more and more on your less-efficient time-limited non-oxygen fueled (anaerobic) system.  Or, you will be able to maintain the same pace for a longer amount of time before needing to be fueled anaerobically.  In short, stressing the aerobic system (running a ton) is a great way to build that system.  So, everybody just start running 200 miles/week right?  Wrong!  We don’t have the time or the durability (we’ll get injured!) to do so week in and week out during our base phase.  We need the most bang for our buck so we’re fit leading into those mid season workouts … oh yeah, we also don’t want to go crazy.  Below are  my running and non-running tips to have a smart and somewhat-more-fun-than-banging-your-head-with-a-hammer base phase.
There is no doubt that the base phase is when we increase our mileage volume and decrease the intensity.  This does mean a lot of running.  Everybody has different running backgrounds, God-given mechanics, and durability.  There are no magic numbers that can simply be prescribed to everybody running a 5k, marathon, or anything in between.  It’s really easy to feel macho and build to run as much as your body can possibly handle.  The problem with this approach is that you won’t really know your limit until you’re past it and injured or burned out.  I’ve run better marathons building to ~80-90 miles/week and feeling good than build ups of pounding out 100+ miles/week.  I like to run as much as I can and still feel good – physically and mentally.  This doesn’t mean feeling great and fresh everyday, but being able to turn over and cut down a run once in a while is all you might need … AND it’s a great aerobic stimulus that breaks up the monotony of running high mileage.  Mentally, you don’t want to be hating life and the run you HAVE to endure when you wake up – listen to your body and mind when you’re hitting the sweet spot of effective mileage.  My wife knows I’m usually a bit crabby when taking time off and not running as much …. and a total full blown jerk-idiot-face lacking any kind of energy to be a respectable human being when I run too much.  Learn from my mistakes … don’t be a jerk-idiot-face.
That’s the beauty of the base phase – no formal workouts to stress out about (mentally or physically).  If you feel good, cut it down to a quick sustainable pace (10k – half marathon pace? who knows, go on feel!) … if you feel like crap, relax.  The extra stress I put on the legs while building mileage and the long run helps regulate not feeling good everyday – it’s usually about once a week or so – feel great and cut it down.  On a side note, this weekend’s #TwitterRoadRace will hopefully serve this purpose to get the legs moving a bit in the middle of my long run – it’s something to pencil-in on the calendar and break up the week-after-week of plugging mileage.  The other stimulus that’s great to do during base phase are strides.  I usually do 8x100m stride build-ups (build up to top speed, maintain for ~30 meters, coast) twice a week.  These keep your fast-twitch muscles and mechanics engaged but don’t stress your system to constitute any kind of recovery the next day.
The non-running aspect of the base phase can be doing a bit more core work and running drills to maintain and strengthen proper mechanics.  Especially when you’re training with a group, this can be easy to engage in with others since you might not have as many track, interval, or tempo workouts together.  As referenced earlier, our brain and mental state is also being trained through base phase.  Living in the Midwest constitutes great running / racing in the fall and spring while the humid summers and harsh winters naturally are when I fit in my base phases each year.  Our bodies are adaptable – that first chilly 20F degree day somehow feels a lot worse than late in winter battling (-20)F degree wind chills and snow drifts.  Everybody does things differently and I run outside in every condition 99% of the time, but if running inside watching SportsCenter is what my brain needs today, just do it.  At the same time our bodies like change.  Schedule a long run and drive to a different location to get on that cool trail or a friend’s route once in a while.  If you’re always running alone – schedule a run with others.  If you’re always running with the same people – run alone.  Mentally (and physically), humans want their work broken up.  I take no shame in my new plan of taking off one day every week – physically I’ll recover – but do you know how much easier it is to run hard and in 5 inches of snow during the week when I know I have a totally free-and-clear-sleep-in-with-my-family-and-dink-around run-free day on the weekend??
I’ll leave you with a quote from London Marathon race director and former 10,000m world record holder David Bedford – “Running is a lot like life. Only 10 percent of it is exciting. 90 percent of it is slog and drudge.”  Kind of depressing isn’t it?  What I’ve found is that making the most with what you have and finding the fun in the 90% leads to even higher highs and more excitement in that 10%.  Is it race day yet?
Cliff Notes:
  • Base phase is a time to run more – longer long runs, build mileage, build aerobic capacity
  • More isn’t always better – find the sweet spot to stay effective but fun
  • If you feel good, cut down and stress the aerobic system – nothing anaerobic
  • Keep your mechanics tuned up – strides, core, good form
  • Change things up … don’t go crazy

2 thoughts on “Base Phase – More Than Just Running”

  1. Tmpeccable timing for posting this blog! Past few weeks I know its time to build a base but how exactly again? For the first time in a few years I'm not specifically training for a race. I do it to myself thinking that I need to be training for "something". I have a group of friends who always seem be training for a big something, so I tend to do the same. I should know better and I do, but luckily for me you reminded me of the significance of this base building phase. I have this new found motivation and feeling of "Let freedom ring!" Run how I feel, get in the miles and still run a race here or there to break things up. And note to self, if I feel jerk-face-idiot creeping up, I'll back off before it's too late. Thanks again.

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