Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Building a "ridiculous base"

The topic of base training has been on my mind a lot lately. For this season 2010, I want to focus on the half-iron distance with a minimum of two such races. I also want to do another marathon. Such a race calendar requires a strong base of fitness. But what does it mean "to have a strong base?" You'll often hear things like "oh he ran faster because he had the stronger base." Is this correct? Well maybe... but probably not. I don't think base fitness has much to do with speed, performance, or race results. Base fitness is like the foundation of a building. A strong foundation is an absolute requirement for a tall skyscraper but no one would ever confuse the foundation with the building itself. So what is base training then?

My personal definition of "fitness base"
It's the ability to endure repeated bouts of training and racing. Note my definition doesn't speak of speed or performance. It's mostly about surviving or getting through it -- day in, day out.

Base training thus is the process one goes through to achieve the base necessary for their target race or season. In my experience, many athletes tend to either do too much base or too little. When just starting out, I think most individuals will run at a pace and for a distance that is higher/faster/longer than appropriate for base training. This tends to lead to injuries, burnout, and just a string of bad news.

Enter base training
Base training can solve the aforementioned problem by reducing intensity and increasing frequency. I recently saw one article about doing 30 runs in 30 days (FYI - this is an advanced training approach and not for all) to build a huge base. It's a good read and it sort of sparked some fresh ideas for my own training. A solid base will help you get through a rigorous training season, avoid injuries, and do race after race with quick recoveries in between. While, advanced athletes may be able to get away with a "30 day" base, typically much longer base periods (with more rest) are required for everyone else.

The base training trap
After a couple of months of proper base training you might find yourself actually enjoying training now that you're injury free and that you can complete a workout and not be destroyed the next day. Great news! Just don't get caught in the base training trap of doing this forever. Guess what happens during your race when you train exclusively with base training? (Hint: Reread my definition). Exactly - you end up "just surviving" the race. This goes back to my previous analogy with buildings... the base is not fitness but rather the foundation for fitness. After weeks or months of base training, athletes get used to the slower speeds and intensities and have difficulty (physical or mental) reaching their previous medium or high intensity zones. I see it all the time in marathon runners who run the same pace for a 5K, 10K, or marathon. People seem to lose perception of the various exercises zones / intensities. They become extremely efficient at that one pace and are uncomfortable with anything else, especially with the higher intensity workouts that will actually develop the fitness they are looking for.

So as you go about and build your own "ridiculous base" (I know I will), keep in mind that this is only the first step. What you do after those initial "30 days" or X months will be what actually gets you to your goals. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you're looking for help achieving your goals.


  1. What 'zone' or intensity should base training be done in? normal intensity, or even lower?

    (I know we can split hairs over the definition of 'zones' all day)

  2. Base training should be done in a variety of different zones. It's not all "low intensity". The exact blend of zones will depend on what you've been doing up until this point and what your goals are for the rest of the season.