Maybe you’ve heard other runners or coaches throw around the term “base training” but what is it? And why is it so important? The easiest way to think about base training is as the foundation of a house (the house being your body and energy systems). A strong foundation enables the house to be built; keeps the house level, stable, and ready to maintain in the future, the same way base training gets your muscles and energy systems primed to stay injury free and efficient going into a heavier training block.
Base training is a period (usually 4 to 12 weeks) of moderate to high volume running performed at both an easy and moderate effort done before transitioning into a specific training cycle with heavier, faster work. We’ve touched on the topic of easy running and all of the benefits involved with that pace, so keep those benefits in mind for the bulk of your base mileage. Besides conversational pace though, your base phase should also include some faster running such as fartlek sessions, hills and the occasional steady state run (a pace typically between marathon and threshold pace) as well as weekly or bi-weekly long runs.
The aforementioned workouts improve your endurance, your aerobic capacity, your leg turn over and your running economy while strengthening your ligaments and muscles, all of which gets you primed and ready for the stress associated with race specific training. Of course, we all respond differently to training stress. Each athlete should be assessed individually during the implementation of each of these workouts as stress reaction and fitness gained will vary from runner to runner.
This is also a great time to start your cross training regimen! Specifically core and stability exercises to reduce the risk of injury when moving into race specific training. You could write an entire book on cross training for runners, but a good place to start is with the core and glutes: Planks, Pushups, Clamshells, and Pistol Squats are a staple of Upper Left Distance Training athletes and a good starting point for most. If you need variation, I find Competitor to be an invaluable and trusted source for beneficial cross training routines.
Execute your base phase properly, and you will be ready to safely tackle your speed workouts like a pro!