Base Training for Runners

This page focuses on how runners can build a solid mileage base thatwill enable faster and longer speed workouts, such as tempo runs and fartleks and better racing. Without a solid base, there is no way a runner can complete any other workout described on this site. Base training develops the necessary muscle fibers, cardiovascular capacity, and blood capillaries that give the body the ability to run hard workouts.

Runners must complete at least two months of base training befor
e entering into the world of speed workouts. By the way, I highly recommend that you buy a good pair of running shoes before trying to build a training base. If you try to train on old shoes you are putting yourself at high risk for injuries.

How Many Miles To Run

The number of miles that a competitive runner should put in varies with age and talent. Generally, 30-50 miles is a good goal for most competitive runners. Of course, runners with more experience should try to run as many miles as they can; it seems the most elite athletes regularly hit 100 miles a week. For high school runners, I think that, on average, freshmen should put in anywhere from 20-30 miles a week, sophomores 30-40, juniors 40-50, and seniors should try to hit consistent 50+ mile weeks.

Keep in mind that higher mileage for base training is not always better. If you run 70 miles a week, but have to take a bunch of days off for injury problems, you’ll be in worse shape than someone who ran 50 miles a week with no breaks. Mileage totals are a personal thing, which are dependent on the body’s ability to adapt to intense training. Therefore, the best advice I can offer you is to experiment. By the way, to determine the mileage of your running routes, use the Runner’s Resource pedometer map. It’s a great tool to figure out exactly how far you are running.

Some Helpful Hints

Here are a few things I’ve discovered about trying to build a training base:

  1. Don’t push it. If you develop some minor pain from your training runs, take one or two days off. I’ve had my bouts with achilles tendonitis, heel pain, and knee pain. However, I’ve discovered that usually when I feel pain, and immediately take two days off, I feel fine afterward. Remember, it’s better to miss a day or two of training than an entire month. Another good tip for base training is that runners should generally try to take at least one day off per week. I usually take Sunday off, which gets me ready to start the week again on Monday.

  2. Try to run twice a day. I know this is hard to used to, but hammering out 50+ mile weeks is a lot easier when you run twice on one or two days during the week. Keep in mind that you probably get more aerobic benefit from one 8 miler than two 4 milers, but the two 4 milers are a lot easier on your body.

  3. Keep a running log. A log not only helps you keep track of your miles, but it will
    also provide you with motivation on days you don’t feel like running; there is nothing worse than the guilt associated with marking “0 miles” for a training day.

  4. Keep yourself hydrated. This is especially important if you are training during the summer as the hot and muggy weather will drain the fluids out of your body. To see how important water is, visit my
    water page. A runner must ensure that he or she is drinking water to get the most out of training runs.

  5. Go to a running camp. While most camps are pretty expensive, I think that they are
    worth it. These camps usually bring in great guest speakers who share all sorts of running tips and information. Camps are also a great way to meet other runners and find training partners.

How Fast Should Training Runs Be?

This varies with age and talent. A good rule for training pace is to run slow enough that you could carry on a conversation if there was someone running with you. For most runners this would be around 6:30-8:00 mile pace. A recent study from the University of Wisconsin found that the optimal pace for male runners is 7:13 per mile, and, for females, 9:08 per mile. Therefore, if you feel comfortable trying to run these paces, it might be the best way to maximize running efficiency.

Speed Workouts

When you have developed a sufficient training base, completing speed workouts such as tempo runs, fartleks, hill workouts, long runs and track intervals are all important to ensure the best performance in races. A beginning runner should only run two these workouts a week, and a competitive runner should limit them to three times per week. For example, a good week for a competitive runner would be a tempo run on Monday, hill workout on Thursday, and long run on Sunday.

One important note: do not start speed workouts too early! It is absolutely essential that you run at least two months of base training before any other workout. You must give your body the strength and necessary tools to handle the rigors of speed workouts. Jumping into tempos or fartleks too soon can lead to over-training and cause serious injuries that will prevent you from running for a long time.

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