As a runner, the question “why am I doing this workout?” needs an answer every single time. It’s perfectly acceptable for the answer to that question to be “because I just feel like it.” However, if that’s the ONLY answer you find yourself giving, chances are you’re not maximizing your training potential. And if that’s what you want, that’s totally ok! But this post is for those runners who want to, one-day post-COVID, train for races again.
Many runners like the structure of a training plan. Pick a race, design a 10-12 week training plan (or have a coach design it for you), follow that plan to a tee, and crush your race. Rest a few weeks, then do it all over again.
There are no races to crush, so there are no training plans to follow to a tee. So, what’s a runner to do?
The answer is base training. When legendary running guru Arthur Lydiard developed his famous periodized programs, one of his biggest breakthroughs was realizing the importance of base training. He thought of a training cycle as a pyramid, with the goal race being the top. His theory was, to build a bigger pyramid, the base must be as wide as possible.
Lydiard’s runners would first complete a period of high-mileage but low-intensity runs before moving on to strength and race-specific runs. This period of base training can be thought of as doing the training so you can do the training.
Q: How do I base train?
A: Simple, just go for a run. Then go for another run. Then another and another. The key is to keep your runs to conversation pace.
Q: What’s conversation pace?
A: If you’re lucky enough to have a running buddy in your COVID pod, you should be able to comfortably hold a conversation while running. No panting, no gasping for words. If you are stuck running alone, talk to yourself or sing a song! It’ll keep strangers from coming too close. If you really don’t want to talk to yourself, conversation pace translates to around 70% of maximum effort. Basically, it’s a really, really easy run. Looking for a running buddy? Join us at Hugh O’Neills on Wednesday evenings or Bikeeny on Saturday mornings (masks required).
Q: How long does base training last?
A: During a normal training cycle, you should base train from anywhere from 6-16 weeks, but in the COVID-19 era, nothing is normal. Once races return, base training should continue until about 12 weeks before race day (at which time you can move higher up the pyramid).
Q: That’s a little boring, isn’t it?
A: It doesn’t have to be! We all miss the excitement of races but there are so many ways to make those easy base miles more fun. Log the miles with a friend (masks up!), check out a new route, run to a new neighborhood, or run all of the streets in your town (yes, we did that at the beginning of the pandemic. Gotta stay entertained somehow!). And don’t forget to reward yourself. Who hasn’t spent 6 miles entertained by the thought of the delicious donut you are going to eat when you are done?
Q: I mean, you seriously want me to run the same slow, boring runs for more than a month? WHY?
A: Great question, theoretical reader. There are many, many reasons to run at conversation pace, not the least of which is because they’re boring! To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “distance running is 90% physical, and the other half is mental.” Running long and slow teaches the runner to become more patient, more disciplined and more able to handle the physical rigors of running. And let’s be honest, who can’t find a need to translate that into life, too?
Q: Okay, okay, I’ll do it. I’ve been meaning to catch up on some podcasts, so this will-
A: I hate to break it to you, but no headphones. As I told you last month headphones are a no-no.
Q: I hate you.
A: Your mental game will love me.
Q: Okay, so I’ll be mentally strong. Any physical benefits to putting myself through this torture?
A: Another great question. It’s like we’re connected, you and I. Running long and slow trains the cardio-respiratory and muscular systems to efficiently absorb and utilize oxygen while removing waste products such as carbon dioxide. At the cellular level, it increases the size and quantity of mitochondria, which improves muscles’ ability to process oxygen. Conversation pace running adapts tendons, ligaments, joints and bones to the rigors of sustained running while reducing the risk of injury. It promotes-
Q: Okay! I get it!
A: Hey, you asked.
Q: Last question, how long should these runs be?
A: How long do you want to run?
Q: It’s rude to answer a question with a question.
A: My question is your answer. It’s the best part of base training. Fit your runs into your schedule. If you have your sights set on a longer race, say half-marathon or longer, you should aim for one longer run per week. Now would be a great time to start slowly adding to your weekly mileage. If your base mileage is in the 30 miles/week range, when you’re ready to begin a marathon training cycle, you’ll be in great shape.
So, run often and run slow.
But no headphones.