Q&A with Coach 16: Can base training go on for too long?

One of my favorite aspects of coaching is when I work with runners who have long-term goals. And when training is planned long-term, the results can be extraordinary:

Long-Term Progress

Since I know what’s coming up in 3 months, 6 months, and even 9 months, I can build not only an effective training cycle, but plan a long-term approach to all of your running goals.

Even if runners aren’t sure of what races to run, I help them plan their seasons with strategic goal race selection and scheduling tune-up races.

This big-picture strategy has been enormously helpful for my athletes because we’re not making short-sighted decisions, like rushing workouts, mileage, or long runs to prepare for a race.

Instead, we spend the right amount of time in each training phase, plan strategic rest and recovery, and make sure we’re ready to race on the big day.

When running is planned well, it goes something like this:

Principle of Progression

Each jump up on the graph represents a training stress – more mileage, harder workouts, or perhaps more challenging long runs – and each dip in the line represents rest and recovery.

It’s a “two steps forward, one step back” approach that I’ve used with thousands of runners with great success.

But what happens when you stay in a single training phase for a really long time?

That brings us to Episode 16 of Q&A with Coach.

Is there such a thing as too long of a base phase?

Now that fall is here, many runners are in the middle of their running season, approaching a series of fall races in the coming months.

But today’s question is for those runners who don’t have any races planned. If no races are planned and you stay in a single phase of training for a long time, is that a bad thing?

First, I think it’s helpful to define our terms:

Training cycle: this is simply the duration of your training program. For most runners, it’s somewhere between 12-20 weeks.

Base phasethe first part of a training cycle, the goal in this period is building endurance and preparing the body for harder workouts later in the training cycle.

Competition phase: the middle part of a training cycle, the goal in this period is to refine your fitness so you’re closer to your race goals. Workouts become more specific to the race you’re training for and therefore, more difficult.

This is also when most races are run. If you’re training for a shorter race like the 5k or 10k, you can race more frequently as you get closer to the goal or “A” race.

Taper / Peaking phase: this is the final part of a training cycle when mileage decreases and intensity is maintained so you can run at your best during your goal race.

Now that we understand the different phases of training that make up most training plans, can we stay in a single phase for too long?

That’s exactly what Francis wanted to know. His question is:

Run Question

For the answer, watch episode 16 of Q&A with Coach:

Show notes:

  • :30 – What exactly IS base training?
  • 1:25 – Dad joke 🙁
  • 1:45 – How long should base training be?
  • 2:10 – The drawbacks of base training
  • 2:45 – How to maintain neuromuscular fitness
  • 3:30 – The #1 reason to keep base training the right length
  • 4:25 – How to be comfortable being uncomfortable
  • 5:25 – My personal struggles with “perpetual base training”
  • 6:20 – How to plan an effective season

Thanks Francis for a great question – and good luck with your running!

Do you have any questions about running? Find me on Twitter and ask with the hashtag #RunQuestion!

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Comments

  1. Roman Furberg says:

    I feel there is some kind of a contradiction here: If I just want to run for fun/ love of running and just want to feel comfortable or just to participate in fun races without much consideration for a specific finish time and finish the race without any pain or major discomfort, then maybe Base training can go on forever.

  2. Do you have anything to give to casual runners? Most of the time I encounter runners who just “feel” to run, but not compete. I wanted to know what an expert think about this, and would that help them in any way?

  3. I’m not sure there is actually a contradiction or just another outcome that is a little different to this particular topic. I think Jason’s comments are directed towards people who want to improve their ability to run faster. There is no problem in having a different goal, such as those you have outlined – it’s just a different target audience. The principles Jason outlines are very sound and fit well within the Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demand (SAID) theory. In short, figure out what you want out of your running, train for that and be happy 🙂 There are so many benefits to running! If people feel to run but not compete, that’s great! Enjoy each and every run, but don’t expect to make gains like you would if you were training for a particular event.