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Are we there yet?

Many runners struggle with the concept of doing only "easy" running in the base building phase and quickly get bored with doing all their runs at easy pace. Others fear that the easy pace running will somehow make them "slower". Sometimes just knowing the why of base building is enough to make the long journey tolerable.

Why do we do base building in the first place? The primary goal is to establish an endurance base that's consistent with the event you're training for. The total weekly mileage and the longest run of the week both need to increase in incremental fashion until you've built enough aerobic endurance to not only complete your event but perhaps also to compete in the event. So how physiologically are we able to build our endurance?

Endurance is built as your various systems adapt. The most obvious of these is your cardiorespiratory system. Your heart will increase in size and strength, your body will make more capillaries to carry the blood to and from the exercising muscles, and you'll increase your total blood volume. Meanwhile your muscle fibers will get bigger, and will add in more of the little cellular organs that generate the fuel (ATP) needed for their contraction. These little organs known as mitochondria, make this precious ATP from the stores of glycogen (carbohydrate) and fat you have stored nearby. If you have more of the mitochondria making ATP, your muscles can work harder and faster and not run out of fuel. This stimulus to mitochondrial development happens best when the muscles are worked in an aerobic (think "easy pace") fashion. In response to training, your muscles become better at storing glygogen and fat -- which comes in darn handy in the late stages of an endurance event! Your tendons, bones and ligaments are a bit slower than some of the other systems in adapting and often don't give you much more than very subtle cues of an impending injury until too late. For this reason, it's best to take the base building process slowly.

OK... so if I have to do only easy pace running in my base building phase how can I fight this boredom? Here are a few tricks to try:

  1. Do your run on a route you've not used before, or perhaps run your usual loop in the opposite direction
  2. Try to find some trails nearby and experiment with a little trail running -- if you're not used to trails, it helps to slow down a little to make sure of your footing.
  3. Introduce a friend to running - invite them to join you on a short run and keep your pace conversational. Show them what a great feeling it is to go for a run.
  4. Throw a few hills into the mix. Hill running is a great form of strength training. One or maybe two hilly runs a week works well for most people.
  5. Play "match the pace" and see how close you can come to the pace you're supposed to run. If you do this in a group - you can up the ante and say that the post-run treat (insert beverage of choice here) is bought by the person who was furthest from their target pace!
  6. Whatever your method - the base building process needs to focus on base building and doing the easy aerobic paces that will best stimulate the physiological changes you're trying to accomplish. The aerobic engine you build in this phase will really shine when it comes time to switch gears and start the sharpening phase. Patience... it pays off!

Visualize your success -- and get there by training SMART

To your success on race day! - Coach Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS


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