The Long Run: Building The Base

Photo: Scott Draper

One of America’s top ultramarathoners shares his expert advice!

The New Year often ushers in a call to get back to training, and base building is a critical phase of training that prevents injuries, prepares the body for future training loads and ensures top performance for upcoming events. Here is my advice for optimal base training.

* Don’t get down on yourself if you’ve gained weight over the holidays. Your body will remember what it’s supposed to do to get in shape; fitness can come back quicker than you think.

* Most base-building phases should be six to 12 weeks, depending on your training background and plan for the season. Don’t rush this important phase, as it takes a minimum of six to eight weeks for the physiological response to this training to take full effect on the aerobic and musculoskeletal systems.

* Use mileage or time (in minutes) to measure your training volume. Use these percentages in determining your beginning training volume: Start with weekly mileage or minutes that’s 60 to 80 percent of a typical easy week from your previous training cycle. Use the higher end of this range if you’re a more experienced runner. After one to two weeks at this volume, increase the volume by 10 to 15 percent every week, with a recovery week after every two or three weeks.

* During base building, incorporate two or three days of cross-training or time off to allow the body to adapt to the stresses of running. This is very important for all runners, but especially those who are injury prone.

* Some find it helpful to incorporate doubles—running twice a day—one to two times a week to build base mileage instead of cramming the day’s total miles into one run. Doubles should include a recovery period of six to 10 hours between runs.

* Running by feel is often the easiest way to judge intensity during base training, but as a general rule most training volume should be performed at 50 to 70 percent of maximum effort or max heart rate. Focus on technique so you develop efficient running form.

* Strides should be incorporated to work on running economy and technique at faster speeds. Once or twice per week, complete one set of six to 12, 20-30-second strides at 90 percent max speed, or slightly less than all-out sprint. Jog easy for two to three minutes between strides. I like to do these in the middle of a run and mix the terrain so some strides are done on flats, uphills and downhills.

* After four to eight weeks of base training, incorporate a higher intensity effort once per week. A short tempo or threshold run at 75 to 80 percent of max effort/heart rate and slightly below lactate threshold (usually 10K-15K race pace) can be done in one continuous segment of 15 to 25 minutes, or broken into five-minute segments with a one-minute recovery of easy running in between. Be sure to do 15 to 20 minutes of easy jogging at 50 to 65 percent of max effort before. The tempo portion can be increased by five minutes each week and, on recovery weeks, should be half of the amount done on non-recovery weeks.

* Finally, make sure you place a priority on incorporating strength—core, lower body, mid back—flexibility, yoga, Pilates and other supplementary training two to four times per week. Extra time should be spent strengthening and balancing the body to prevent injuries and improve performance.

This piece first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Competitor magazine.

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About The Author:

Based in Boulder, Colo., Scott Jurek is a seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile trail run. Have a question for Scott? Ask him here!

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