No Race? Work on Your Base

Thu, 16 Feb. 2012 - 6:27 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Through the colder weather can reduce training and put competition on the back burner for many runners, the approach of the new year can also be a time for renewed resolve; many people promise themselves they will achieve greater gains in fitness going forward. Distance runners know that this starts with a solid mileage base. Rather than accept that your weekly mileage simply is what it has always been, know that there are ways to safely build to previously unattained mileage levels, using the first months of the new year as an effective preseason to increase your base. It’s possible to enter the spring racing season fresh, injury-free, and faster and stronger than ever.
For runners with at least a few years’ experience, it’s feasible to try increasing your mileage base in the preseason by adding a modest amount of new miles two to four days at a time. Don’t feel compelled to up your mileage for a whole week. Whatever your daily norm over the past several months, try adding 10 to 20% to it for two to four days, followed by a return to the previous levels for two to four days. You should run at this lower level until you feel the old “snap” back in the legs, then try increasing again for several days. If your 40-mile week ordinarily looks like this:
Su        5
M         5
Tu         6
W        10
Th        X
F          8
Sa        6
You might try leading off the following week with:
Su        6
M         6
Tu         7
W        12
Then return to the regular end-of-week mileage amounts. Depending on how you feel, you could ramp up again at the top of the third week, or continue with the lower amounts through Monday of the third week, then insert another increased-mileage block for three to four days.
The key is to run relaxed when you are bumping up your mileage to previously unattained levels. Do not increase the intensity of these base-building runs simultaneously. Also avoid intense anaerobic work and races during this initial ramp-up. You’ll find with each subsequent season, the length of the high-mileage blocks will increase. And this interseasonal, long-term thinking is what will show you the most gains. Eventually you will be able to achieve several weeks in a row at the new, higher mileage volume. Don’t push the pace: the faster running will come to you as your body readies for it. Let the monotony work for you. The increased number of leg muscle capillaries, a higher density of oxygen processing mitochondria, more red blood cells, and other gradual cardiovascular changes will lay the groundwork for the strength that will sustain you over the long haul of your entire running career.
A lot of the runs during this base building should feel unnecessarily slow. Remember, you are trying above all else to avoid interfering with recovery. This is not to say that tempo runs at 10K race pace and occasional short striders for speed maintenance should be eliminated entirely. But running too fast too often will at best ensure you are overly fatigued when racing season arrives, and at worst force an injury that will put you off the roads for an extended period. Instead, for your daily runs, try for 60 to 65% of maximal heart rate.
Finally, on days when you plan to run at the high end of your aerobic threshold, do so by setting out extremely slowly and maintaining the slow pace for longer than you feel you should. To find your pace, learn to rely on perceived effort, not minutes-per-mile or other external factors. As professional running coach John Kellogg, MAT, writes in Chapter 9 of Run Strong, “A good high-end run should feel like one of those outings that begins as a planned easy day but then spontaneously progresses into a memorably awesome, fast run because you begin to get a floating, weightless feeling.” The pace establishes itself, taking you along for the ride. The amount of time you accumulate before struggling contributes more to your aerobic development than the time spent fighting on after the struggle begins.
(Run Strong ed. by Kevin Beck, 2005, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, "Revving the Cardiovascular Engine" by John Kellogg, MAT,  pp. 176-182)

(RUNNING & FITNEWS® September/October 2005 • Volume 23, Number 5)

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