You be the Coach: How Much Base Training is Enough?

Are you familiar with periodization? It’s a geeky term that simply means training should have several different periods leading up to a goal race.

When I explained how to plan a running season, I briefly outlined what it looks like in graph form in this video:

The first phase of most training cycles is what many coaches call base training (also known as fundamental or introductory training).

Base training has two primary goals:

  • Build the aerobic base (i.e., your endurance) with a focus on increasing mileage and long run distances
  • Get the runner ready for more difficult, race-specific training later in the training cycle

Ultimately, base training is preparatory. It’s like learning how to read before taking a standardized test – it’s simply a necessary foundation.

I cover these concepts in much more detail in this article about the Maffetone Method.

Today, I want your opinion on scheduling base training.

Does Base Training “Carry Over?”

Recently Mark sent me an email:

I have a question about base training and the broader training cycle. My goal is to build a strong, solid base of miles for a couple of months before a 10k goal race. I’ll then have 6-8 weeks of highly specific training for that race, then a taper before the race.

Do I need to “re-base” a few months again before targeting a new race a few months after the goal 10k? Or would my “base” carry over into the next cycle?

This is a great question. And the answer can go in quite a few different directions.

I’m purposefully leaving this open-ended because the variety of answers will be much more valuable to Mark and the entire SR community.

So… what do you think?

Leave your response below in the comments. I’ll (try to) respond to as many as I can with my thoughts as well!

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  1. To answer the question properly we would need more info but based on the info given the short answer would be to schedule a recovery week or 2 after the race then take 2-4 weeks to build back up to tour previous intensity and volume all the while looking a year ahead at future races and goals. I built a brace before my first marathon that peaked at 70 miles unfortunately I made a stupid mistake( did two weeks on treadmill due to icy roads then did a fast finish 21 miler on the road jacked my feet up). My taper ended up being 4 weeks and I was well short of my goal for my first marathon at 41yo (3:39:04). Lesions learned and having had a long injury induced taper I took the 4 weeks after the marathon to ramp back up to 50 now with added speed work strength training foam rolling and runners yoga. Will continue this till August and run a 15k and a couple 5k’s. Will ramp up again to 60 mow then start a 18 week training cycle for the Houston marathon in January. I feel I could have got back to 70 mow quickly but adjusted my training for short term speed for shorter races then transistor inch to marathon specific training for my next full. Really really hoping I have a BQ in me for Houston 41yo(3:15:00)

  2. JONATHAN says:

    Does the base transfer, yes. Will the next goal race be comparable in distance? This and factors such as weather in training will be a factor. Try to add variety after the initial 10k to challenge your body and prep for the new goal.

    PS: Congrats Jason on the new arrival, God Bless

  3. In keeping with “periodization”, I usually like to shift my training a bit during this period – replacing hard days with extra Strength work. Since we’re talking about a 10k, you probably do not need more than a week or 10 days for recovery. I would then go back to your pre-10k “training” mileage and supplement with strength work (preferably on the days you would normally be doing your “hard” running). When you are ready to start your next 6-8 week training “block”, simply replace the strength-focus to your workouts (repeats, tempo, etc) – ALWAYS, however, leaving a little bit of time for some sort of strength work post-run (or in a separate workout, if you have time).

    Essentially, my “base” or “off-season” training becomes strength focused (with enough mileage to maintain a healthy “base” while my “in-season” training becomes run-focused (while still maintaining a foundation of strength work to stay balanced).

  4. Without knowing the distance of the second race, it is difficult to predict the right base. If you are moving from the 10K into a marathon, then you might spend more time building your base after the 10K. If you are doing anything from a 5K to a 10-miler, then your base would be sufficient. Ultimately, as long as you don’t take time off, your aerobic capacity shouldn’t diminish, even if you take a week or two of recovery with shorter mileage.

  5. Let me start by congratulating you and your wife on your daughter’s arrival. Wishing you all the best now and forever.
    Now, regarding the question posed by Mark, I believe it carries over to a point. He can’t wait too long to hit back the road after his first race is over, otherwise he’d be starting from scratch. So, since he’s tackling a 10k first, I’d say he can take the following week easy, running a few recovery runs and then the week after he could start training for his next race. For what it’s worth, I ran Paris last April and took two weeks of recovery runs, then got back to base training (about 10 weeks and still on it) before starting a 16-week training for New York. It’s the first time I’ve done this and it’s worked wonders so far.

  6. Mark Du says:

    First I would like to congratulate Jason and his wife on their second child and I have no idea how you find the time to do work on this site with a newborn, so much appreciation for this.

    Second, I want to thank everyone for all the responses to the question posed to Jason on the email and also reveal myself as the person who sent that email. I noticed that everyone in helping answer my question needed more specific information in order to give a better answer, so I’ll add some clarifying details as this is already well after the fact:

    My “couple months of base” was actually January 2015 – April 2015 running 80-105 easy miles per week with every 4th week being the 45 mile “down week” (thanks to guidance) Also I did all the strengthrunning workout routines religiously during this period almost 6 days a week at times.

    My 6-8 weeks of “highly specific” training was April till like last week culminating in the 10k, but running PRs in everything from mile to the half marathon to the 5k throughout that 8 week period…

    Now I’m doing the one or two weeks off everyone seems to recommend and I plan on starting up again after 4th of July or so and hopefully doing a full marathon in late October, so would my base from earlier in the year roll over or carry over?

    I hope this is enough clarifying detail! Sorry Jason if this made the question more complicated for everyone! Thank you all strength running community for the input.

  7. If you’re going to be doing more races of a similar distance, I feel the base training carries over. If you’re moving up to a marathon say, you might want to build more of a base first. That’s my simple thought on the subject.

    Jason, congrats to you and your wife on the new baby! I would love to see you do a post (or guest post?) sometime on running and pregnancy. I’m almost six months pregnant now and it’s hard to keep motivated to do even short runs when I’ve slowed down so much!

  8. My experience with two injuries I faced after I finished my best marathon was one leg ended up twice as strong as the other one due to intensive training towards my goal prior to the race. In fact I got a muscular imbalance without knowing it. My pace was soaring high and I was exhilarated, who would think I was going off the right track?!

    So over a course of marathon, imagine the strides by one leg are 5% longer than the other one, that is a huge issue and too much pressure on one leg than the other. So I got ITBS on the weaker leg (because it could not hold), and Achilles tendinitis on the stronger one (because it overworked).

    These injuries prevented me to continue my post-race training so I lost my fitness and when I got back to training I had to start over. My cardio was good, but I was no longer able to run even 10km easily, it became a struggle, so I had to slow down and build up again from 5km mark. That means I went back to base training, some of it though.

    Conclusion, post-race training has some base training that may not be required as much at the pre-race one, especially for injured people or prone to get injured due to muscular imbalance or other issues. I have seen people who all of a sudden break down close to the race or after it, and I relate that to nutrition. They do not increase their daily intake as they work out harder. Our body does not clearly tell us it is getting so low on reserved nutrients. That is another thing to add to post-race base training/preparation, to replenish our body with all essentials.