Base Building – What it is and Why it’s Important

If you follow me on IG (@elizabeth_healthy_life), you know I’m hard at work building a mileage base. Because I took a 4.5 month break from running, I had to start very small – 15 minute easy paced runs. Yes, 15 minutes! Below are pictures from my base building so far (green lines are on the days that I ran). You’ll notice that I’m very intentional about when I run and when I rest. Most of my runs have been 15 – 40 minutes, with the exception of a few 60 – 75 minute runs on the weekends. Building slowly but surely!

What is base building? Base building is laying the foundation for any structured training, whether you’re training for a 5k or marathon. These miles are easy paced, aerobic miles that prepare your body for the harder efforts that come with training for a race. Think of it like a house – you have to have a foundation. And if your house’s foundation is cracked or isn’t there, then your house is in trouble! Same goes for running. Ideally, you have at least a few hundred base miles logged before starting distance training.

What happens if I don’t build a base? There will be a significant increase for potential injury and burnout, and it’s likely you won’t make much progress if you were to jump right into speed workouts. If you are new to running or haven’t been running much in the past few months and jump right into formal training, you’re in trouble. Build a base!

How do you know when you’ve built your base? Well, that depends on a few things – how experienced you are as a runner, how many miles you’ve been running weekly in the past 3 months, and what your previous training load has looked like. Ideally, you have a few hundred miles of base logged before starting any structured training. (Yes, building a base takes time so plan ahead!). Again, it depends on your running history so if you have a coach it’s best to speak with them because they know you personally. If you don’t have a coach, be conservative with your base building. Take cutback weeks every 3-4 weeks, slowly increase duration or mileage by 5-minute intervals or no more than 10% a week, and if you think you may be overdoing it, chances are you are.

When should you start doing long or hard workouts again? “Long” is a tricky word…long as in 20 miles or long as in over an hour? I’ll go with the latter. You may be up to a long run (60+ minutes) after a few weeks of base building or it may take longer than a few weeks to get there. (And that’s fine. Take your time and there’s absolutely no reason to rush your base building). It depends on the person and their running history. I’d say after you have run a few 45 minute easy paced runs in consecutive weeks, followed by a cutback week, then you can move onto 50 or 60 minutes for a long run. As for hard workouts, again, that depends what “hard” means. I’d introduce fartleks first (like 1 min on, 1 min off) after maybe at least 6 weeks of base building. But again, this depends on you and your running history.

How do you balance building your base while still keeping strength training in the routine? If running and ultimately becoming a stronger runner is your goal, then your strength training should reflect that. Prioritize hip strengthening exercises in addition to core and glute strengthening and you’re well on your way. Keep your focus on these.

How do you know if you’re running slow enough on slow days? Your pace should be easy – aka really slow and aerobic. You can think of it as a conversational pace or a pace where you’d easily hold a conversation with a friend or sing a song. Personally, I like to go off effort and heart rate. I’ve run enough miles in my life to know what pace is slow enough to keep my HR pretty low, so I just go off feel. If my breathing feels labored, I slow down.

Optimal number of training days per week? Whether you’re building a base or formally training for a specific distance, you should always have at least one rest day a week. If you’re new to running, I would start with multiple rest days a week.

Please leave any questions below about base building and comment what stage of running are you in! Are you base building, structured training, or recovering? Happy running 🙂

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