All runners can benefit from base building. How long it takes to build (or reinforce) that strong base is very individual and based on a multitude of factors. But it shouldn’t be overlooked by even the most experienced of athletes.
Base building is a critical time of any runner’s training program. Adult, youth, Olympic — it doesn’t matter. All athletes benefit from base building. I don’t know one coach that would disagree.
Naturally, that’s where we’re starting our cross country conditioning. I want to set my kids up for success heading into this season, and I also want them to understand why we’re doing certain types of workouts along the way. I decided I’d give them a little Running 101 this summer, each week focused on a different topic. I thought you might be interested, too, so today, since this week we kick off summer conditioning, I’m starting off with base building.
Running 101: Base Building [It’s All About That Base]
What is base building?
Base building, in the simplest of terms, is easy running to build aerobic fitness. It largely consists of adding pre-calculated mileage over the course of a few weeks at a conversational pace to build strength and stamina. It is the foundation of all periods of upcoming training throughout the training cycle.
Why is base building important?
The building phase is important because it prepares the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems (bones, muscles, ligaments, heart, lungs) for the rigors of race training later on.
Each component of training within a timeframe (cycle) is designed to build upon the previous strength the body has acquired through training. Building a base will allow you to capitalize on that and peak at the right time in the cycle. Strengthening many body systems will allow you to run injury-free and feeling your best.
How do we build our base?
Base building doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience. But the rewards later on in the season or training cycle are great. Building a solid base will allow you to become a faster, stronger runner, with less opportunity for injury when it counts.
Early on in the training cycle, building a base can help us get comfortable with a warm-up routine and post-run stretch. These will carry through the training cycle. It’s all a part of the base building process.
How long does it take to build a base?
How long it takes to build a running base depends on many factors but two important ones are: how long you’ve been running consistently recently, and how many years you’ve been running consistently overall. There are many other factors coaches take into consideration when determining how long your base building phase will be, and it can also be dependent on the race itself. Typically, it can take between six and ten weeks to build a solid base of running at any given time for any given runner.
What happens during base building?
There are a lot of changes that occur inside the body during the base phase of endurance training. Without getting too sciency (though I’m happy to do that later on if you’d like more information on this topic), our bones and ligaments strengthen, our heart becomes more efficient, our blood cells can carry more oxygen throughout our bodies, and we’re able to sustain more mileage with the same or less effort than when we started.
Once those adaptations occur, we can start fine-tuning and specifying what we want our bodies to do through the rest of the training cycle.
Will we do hard workouts during base phase?
This is a specific question for my cross country team, but I’ve gotten this question from adults in the past so I thought I’d address it.
The answer is both yes and no. Sometimes terrain dictates a harder workout, simply based on where you run (hills? flat? track?). And then there are times that it’s nice to get some leg turnover with strides or hill surges. But by and large, aerobic endurance is the goal during base building. In addition to getting into that pre- and post- run routine, it’s also a great time to learn proper form and pacing so that when it’s time to do the challenging workouts, our bodies are primed and ready to go.
But I’ve been running all [winter, spring, track season, insert whatever amount of time here] — do I still need to build a base?
YES. A THOUSAND TIMES, YES.
ALL runners can benefit from base building. High school athletes coming off of track season. Runners who holed up and ran on a treadmill all winter. Ultramarathoners who just ran 100 miles a few months ago. Just because you’ve run before does not mean you have a strong, foundational base to build on right away.
Doing too much, too soon will set you up for injury or burnout. This includes going from zero workouts to five several-mile runs per week. Or adding in speed work without taking adequate time to recover from other sports. Even just by varying the terrain, we expect some ouchies, soreness, and fatigue. What we don’t want is any runner to experience injury or burnout.
So yes, building a base is important for every runner!
There were a few more points that were specific to my team that I left out but the bottom line here is that all runners can benefit from base building. How long it takes to build (or reinforce) that strong base is very individual and based on a multitude of factors. But it shouldn’t be overlooked by even the most experienced of athletes.
What are your thoughts on base building? Do you do it? Do you have your athletes do it?
What’s your favorite part of training?