Base Is Ace
The cancellation of pretty much the entire spring racing season has left athletes with a wide range of emotions around their running; confusion, sadness, relief, just to name a few. And it’s also left many of you feeling a little lost in terms of how to train, with no goal races on the horizon. While we’re able to run outdoors for the time being, the situation we all find ourselves is fluid, and we want to remind all of you to adhere to government regulations.
For those of you with goal races postponed to the fall, the first instinct may be to simply extend your buildup by several months. The thinking being, if you’re in good shape now, imagine how much better you’ll be if you just keep hammering out the training all the way through to the fall. However, at a certain point the body and mind will stop adapting to the specific training needed to be race ready, and you will run the risk of boredom, or worse burnout or injury. Instead of heading down that road, the best thing to do is take a step back—take more rest and recovery, remind ourselves why we love this sport, and address our weaknesses, all with the intention of setting ourselves up for success when the world is in a place to hold mass participation races again.
We all love racing and everything that comes along with it; the sense of purpose, the feeling of achievement, the reminder that we can do hard things are some that come to mind. With all the good feels we get from racing it’s easy to fall into the habit of constantly having something on the calendar. But there is such a thing as too much racing. From an athlete development standpoint, it is beneficial to have longer periods of time without any racing. With no races on the schedule for the foreseeable future, we are being presented with the unique opportunity to take a step back and put in the foundation of training that’s going to make us all better athletes in the months and years to come.
As coaches, here at M2M, we are all well versed in periodization, but sometimes fail to put it to practice in a traditional sense because of all the racing our athletes are keen to do. Spending half the year with your training focused toward one race may seem like way too much to most of us. And it is, if you’re doing the same training week in and week out. But from a training theory standpoint, 5-6 months is an appropriate amount of time to make sure athletes are getting in all of the key phases of training in a traditional periodized training plan for endurance athletes:
- The Preparatory (base building/laying the foundation) Phase
- The Precompetition (meat & potatoes) Phase
- The Taper (finishing touches) Phase
- The Competition (RACE!) Phase
- The Transition (recovery and rebuild) Phase
The most neglected of these training phases for most runners are the Transition phase and the Preparatory phase, and they also happen to be the most important given the current state of the world.
The Transition phase involves taking some down time, resting up, refocusing and addressing some of the weaknesses we’ve developed (both physical and mental) over the course of a buildup. Although it may feel strange to be in this phase right now, because there was no peak race this season, we should never neglect the importance of recovery. There are well documented physiological benefits from extended periods of recovery that are hard to see in the short term. The psychological component of rest is also often overlooked and can be an equally important part of the Transition phase. It’s difficult to be “on” both physically and mentally all year, and without some planned breaks from the regular training routine burnout is just around the corner. We’ve always recommended athletes take at least a week completely off from running between seasons, even if they are feeling great. Then you should take at least 2 weeks to get back into a regular routine of training. That doesn’t mean you have to sit on the couch during the Transition Phase. But it does mean getting over the fear of losing fitness that often causes athletes to rush back into training too soon. Trust us, there is plenty of time, especially now, before getting ready to launch into a big block of training again. Queue the next, and equally as important phase, The Preparatory phase – laying the base for future success.
At its core, the Preparatory phase is all about building up the volume of easy/aerobic running, without much structure or intensity (especially specific and structured workouts). The goal is to strengthen our general muscular and skeletal systems and increase cardiovascular endurance to help your body withstand the more specific and higher intensity training phases that lead into the racing season. This phase of training was made famous by Arthur Lydiard, when he had a group of middle distance runners (800m and 1 mile race distances) in Auckland, New Zealand run 100+ miles per week during the winter months, 5-6months out from their racing season. The concept seemed crazy at the time. Middle distance runners were used to doing intervals, on the track, all year long. But it proved to be an effective component of training for Lydiards athletes, as they went on to be world beaters in the middle distance events.If you’re interested in learning more about Arthur Lydiard and his small band of athletes from New Zealand, who dominated middle distance running in the 1960’s and 70’s, check out this short doc
I’ve noticed many athletes the past few weeks are not motivated to do the specific high intensity workouts but still want to get out the door to run. That’s what base building is all about! So how do you base build properly?
Here are some basic principles we like to stick to:
- Start your first week at no more than 75% of the volume of your peak week from your previous training block
- Increase volume by no more than 15% per week
- Keep the easy days easy: for a 2:30 marathoner that means ~45sec/km slower than marathon race pace, for a 3:30 marathon that means ~30sec/km slower than marathon race pace.
We get it, the Preparatory (base building) phase may sound kind of boring to some of you —- just running easy volume all the time. But, it also doesn’t have to be boring! Without as much structure there’s plenty of opportunity to get creative with your training during this phase. We’re looking at this time period as an opportunity to build a foundation that most recreational athletes haven’t given themselves the chance to do.
If you’re looking for ways to spice up your running right now here are some things we recommend:
- Leave the watch at home and just run
- Challenge yourself to run for a set amount of time, without having your watch to guide you
- Explore new routes in your city. Here in Ottawa, the typical running paths are pretty busy right now, so I’m trying to explore new parts of town. Hint: check out the Carleton University campus, it’s a ghost town, and quite hilly!
- Hit the hills
- Hit the trails
- If you’re feeling fresh and frisky, throw in some fartlek once a week.
The start of a base training phase should also be looked at as a good opportunity to revisit some other elements of your training that are going to make you a better athlete; strength & mobility training, strides, form drills, and nutrition are good starting places. More from us, on these aspects of your training in the coming weeks.