Top coaches and experienced runners know that you simply can't train the same way all the time and hope to reach your best results. Instead, you'll run better and reach higher levels by building your training through a series of phases, with each phase building on the previous one.
The beginning of this cycle is what runners refer to as base training. Famed New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard was the first to recommend base training, where the goal is to building an aerobic base before gradually transitioning to more intense training. The goal of base training is to gradually build your aerobic fitness and muscular strength to the point where you are ready for the more difficult, race-oriented training.
In this article I'll talk a bit about the benefits of base training and then discuss how to plan your base training for the most effective results.
More: 7 Experts on the Art of Base Building
4 Benefits of Base Training
Base training has a number of beneficial effects on the body and these benefits generally stay with you for a relatively long period of time. Here are some of the changes brought about by base training:
1. It improves your ability to process oxygen. Endurance sports are dominated by those who can take in and utilize oxygen most effectively. Done properly, base training increases the number and size of the mitochondria in your muscle fibers and allows your muscles to use the oxygen your lungs are bringing in.
2. It increases muscular strength. Base training is relatively easy on your body and does a good job of building functional strength in your running muscles. This helps them prepare for the rigors of the faster, more race oriented training that follows the base building period.
3. Physical and mental regeneration. Hard, race oriented training is tough to do all year round. Attempting to do so often leads to injury and burnout. Taking a couple of months to build a proper base gives you a chance to emphasize gentler, more enjoyable training that builds your physical and mental energy reserves, rather than depleting them.
4. Improved ability to handle and adapt to more specific training. Running with a strong foundation of aerobic training can safely handle and adapt to a larger volume of race-specific training. The better your base, the more you seem to get out of the hard workouts that come later.
More: A Runner's Guide to Base Building
Base Building 101
Hopefully now you're sold on the idea that building a stronger base can make you a better runner, now let's look at some of the specifics of how best to accomplish this goal. Here are the key elements to include in your base training:
Weekly mileage: The biggest aspect of building a base is to simply get out there every day (or as often as you can) and put in the miles. The more you run, the better you'll run, up to the point where you start getting injured or burned out.
More: 4 Rules to Avoid Runner Burnout