Building a BIG Base
I thought Springtime would be a good time to speak on a topic that not only has some good research to back it up but is also an area which I have experienced from both sides, as a Coach and a runner myself. Today, I’d like to discuss the importance of building your running base properly.
How do we get faster as “citizen” athletes? Well, if you are newer to running, just extending your mileage a bit will usually get you faster. If you’ve been running for a while and have a decent base (15-20 miles /week for a year or more), then adding speed training and hill repeats can definitely help you get even faster by helping your body build power and strength as well as adding to overall fitness. (NOW, I said speed and hill repeats not speed and hill RACES… meaning you should be in a controlled effort level on these and you should stop when you feel you could have done one or two more). However, the aforementioned will work only until you have maxed out the benefits that they can provide with your given 15-20 mile per week base. Consequently, in order to gain even more speed, you’ll need to back off the intensity of those and add more base mileage.
If you have already tapped out on this technique and leveled off, then the question becomes, “how do I go faster?” The answer is by building a bigger base! This can be tricky as some people don’t have the time to build a bigger base and when they start to do it, they get injured. This is mostly because they cheat the process. However, there should be no “cutting corners;” in order to build a bigger base, several things should be in place to limit the chance of injury. There are the following:
1) You need to increase the total weekly mileage but do so in an incremental way in order to avoid putting more stress on the body than it can handle.
2) You need to ensure your joints and supporting muscles are strong enough to handle the extra load (which probably requires strength training).
3) As you increase total weekly mileage, you must ensure that you are not adding other stresses to the body (like additional speed, hills, limiting proper nutrition, lacking proper sleep to name a few).
4) You need to make sure you have proper mobility and strength to handle the extra demands.
Often, people increase the total weekly mileage by adding more speed or keeping speed up while they increase mileage, but this can be too much total load. The rule is (and has been for as long as I can remember): never increase weekly mileage by more that 10%. I’d argue 5% is even safer, especially if you tend to run faster than you should on certain runs. When people add more mileage and speed, they can push their body right over the edge. Therefore, patience is very important as is ample time. Best practice would be to start in early spring building your weekly mileage up slowly by just getting in the additional mileage but not necessarily doing it with fast running. This can be especially helpful by taking the pressure off us north-landers to always run fast since, early in the year, the temperatures and road conditions don’t always lend themselves to speed work, but they are fine for quality base building.
While building up your base, keep paces conversational and heart rates in level 2 and just build weekly mileage up 5-10% per week. Maybe add a mile or so to your weekly long run and a 0.5 mile to mile to a mid-week run. Once you get the long runs up to 10-14 miles and your mid-week run up to 7-8 miles, then you can nudge up the other 2-3 runs. If you’re a 15-20 mile per week, nudge it up to 25-30 and if you’re a 20-25 mile per week runner, nudge it up to 30-40 mile per week. You can hopefully see the logical progression. For most club type runners, moving your 10-15 miles per week up to 20-25 will add big benefits. Keep in mind, however, that getting up to 40-50 miles per week will be a maximum level of fitness base before you see diminishing returns with additional mileage. At that mileage, you may also see a higher chance of injury. This, in my opinion, is because the frequency of your running and the mileage are large enough to expose any issues you have with strength in supporting joints and muscles, nutritional weaknesses, unsatisfactory sleep, etc… Basically, if you have body mechanics or recovery issues, they will be truly amplified at these levels. This limits the amount of base you can build on. Therefore, in order to handle the stress on your body for 35-60 miles per week, you probably need to hit the weight room once per week, figure out how to optimize your nutrition, and maximize sleep and recovery.
Once you’ve figured those pieces out, you can then push performance even further. As you increase your mileage, you will see greater gains from tempo runs, speed workouts, hill repeats, and even longer runs not to mention high mileage weeks successively. This is a process. The key is to nudge the mileage up in the spring while ensuring you are addressing the aforementioned supporting pieces. In order to see how each piece impacts your body, it is important to keep quality training logs. This will not only help you learn more about your body, but it can help a professional coach or health professional pinpoint areas that need to be addressed so you can get closer to achieving your potential.
The last piece is finding a nice balance between the above plan and your life. If you have too many kid, family, or business commitments, then the amount of extra time required to get safely to 30-40 miles per week may not be available to you. If you have tried before and always seem to get injured, I’d suggest you find the optimum mileage that allows you to put all the pieces into play and maximize the speed and fitness and you stay with it. I’d also encourage you to pick goals that fit with the proper base mileage. For instance, maybe marathons CAN be finished with your current base but not at a faster speed. Maybe, if you do wish to go faster, half marathons or 10Ks are a better fit. Either way, remember to pay attention to building a solid base! Ensure you have the correct supporting mix of sleep, mobility, nutrition, and strength training, and pay attention to controlling how much load you add. IF you have trouble doing this, then seek out a coach to help you build the best plan for you. Running fast and healthy can be tons of fun and motivating :)
Article originally published in the Alpine Runners February 2019 newsletter.