If you’ve spent any length of time in the running world, you are probably familiar with the term “base building,” though you might not fully understand what it is or why it’s so important. Base building is a period of time, typically anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks, that you spend developing your overall fitness by strengthening the joints, muscles and cardiovascular system. It is an important part of preparing for a new training program, or introducing the body to running if you are a beginner.
Depending on how many races you are planning to run in a year, you may cycle through several base building periods. Although this is a great time to enjoy some rest, leisurely runs with friends, extra high fives from your teammates along the Waterfront Trail and indulge in a few more post-run beers, it’s also an important time to be creating a strong running foundation. Like a pyramid, if you start building on top of a solid base then you are more likely to stay standing - aka: not get injured! For experienced runners, about 6 weeks of base building effort is typically sufficient, but for new runners we recommend aiming for 8-12 weeks.
Now to be clear, base building is more than just easy running and beers! A base building plan should address the same systems as a regular training cycle: endurance (aerobic capacity), strength (muscular endurance), and running economy (neuromuscular coordination). The major difference is that a base build plan is lower in overall volume and intensity than a typical training plan. For example, long runs and intervals start off shorter and build gradually. Incorporating additional hill sprints and strides is recommended and remembering that running is FUN is essential. You want to keep lactate build-up to a minimum, so that you are building these essential systems (endurance, strength, economy) without putting unnecessary stress on them - they will be stressed enough once your training cycle begins.
Base building is also the perfect time of year to integrate a strength program into your schedule, as with less running volume your body can handle the additional load. It is widely accepted that cross training (enjoying multiple forms of movement and fitness, such as running, strength training, yoga or pilates, hiking, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc.) is one of the best ways to avoid injury. No single part of our body works independently - every system, organ and muscle is connected, and requires new challenges and changes to stay sharp. Integrating new forms of movement and strength work into your routine will help build muscle fibres that can become neglected if you are using running as your only form of activity, making you a better runner and reducing your chance of injury.
We recommend keeping these key components in mind when you are creating an effective base building plan:
- Gradually increase your weekly mileage and your long run.
- Don’t neglect your speed work! Keep most of it at, or slightly below, your lactate threshold and add slightly faster runs every 10 to 14 days.
- Add strides or hill sprints into your runs two to three times a week.
- Incorporate cross training to help make you a more efficient and resilient runner.
- High-five all of the friends; drink all of the beers.
If you create a plan that focuses on these elements, you can expect to have a successful training season. When base building wraps up, you can be confident that you’ve already built a solid foundation - now it’s time to get stronger, move faster and crush your next season of races!