Every runners benefits from revisiting the basics … in this case — Base building.

The popularity of running has exploded.  With that has come an increase in injuries associated with running.  Although we have covered many of the causes of various runner’s maladies, a very common cause is simply that you are overtraining.

Overtraining puts many runners in a rut.

  • You’re not improving your VO2 max
  • You’re not improving your distance
  • Your best pace isn’t imroving
  • The stress is going to break you down

Research has shown that most runners run at the same pace for each run… it’s sort of a medium pace.  It’s beyond a pace at which you can have an easy conversation, but it’s not in your VO2 Max zone where you’re feeling some pain.  For those who follow your heart rate zones… you are in a high zone 3 or low zone 4 state.

Running Base BuildingWhy does your progress stagnate?  You’re putting down the miles, but you’re not improving.

Heart Rate Training Basics

When you are running your heart rate elevates.  Without running with a heart rate monitor we all underestimate how fast our heart is beating.  Some run by intensity.  That’s fine, but you might believe you are in zone 2, yet you are in a low zone 4 state.  I’ve been in zone 4 before and been able to have a conversation that felt pretty easy.  Why is this so important?

When you are in Zone 2 or 3 your body is burning fat for energy. It is also has available all the oxygen it needs.  Your body will eventually switch over the burning glucose … but in an aerobic manner because the amount of oxygen present is high enough.   Your body’s most efficient way to get energy is to burn fat… your body prefers that.  This is premise of Aerobic Metabolism.  But fat can only be used up to a certain level of activity.

When you rev your body into Zone 4 you are now making energy from Anaerobic pathways. Your body is forced to create even more energy because of your exertion (Zone 4).   Your oxygen demands rise dramatically. As your pace increases, your oxygen supply doesn’t keep up with your bodies demand, and your body will now use glucose for energy, but it will not have enough oxygen so you will entering into an anaerobic state.  When you use glucose in an anaerobic state you do not get as much energy from each glucose molecule, and you build up products like lactic acid in your muscles.  This alters the cell’s ability to carry on that activity for too long, your muscles will tire out, feel sore, swell and your ability to run at this pace is limited.

How Does Base Building Change This?

The basics of base building involves heart rate training. It means that for the first few months of your training you are concentrating on improving the way your body stores, and converts energy… using aerobic metabolism.  You will actually build more machinery within your cells to handle the energy request from the muscles and you will be able to manufacture more energy when it is needed.  You can only accomplish this effectively by base training.

Base training involves long slow runs where your heart rate stays in Zone 2 or very low zone 3.  These are aerobic zones and you should theoretically be able to run forever in these zones as long as fat and glucose are available.  The waste that your muscles cells generates during aerobic metabolism is CO2, which your lungs can exhale.   This is a very efficient process.

When you continue your base building (Zone 2) runs your body will actually make more mitochondria (energy factories) in response to your training.  Overtime you will find that your pace will improve, yet you will be able to stay within Zone 2 at these increased speeds.  Initially you will find that you need to walk up many hills or slow down often to keep yourself in Zone 2.  This is important work so stay with it.  Forget about your pace, set your watch to show your heart rate zone, or your heart rate, and adjust the intensity of your run according to your heart rate.  Each week you will notice that your pace is slowly improving, yet you can stay in zone 2.

When you have finished a base building program your body is now far more efficient at creating and utilizing energy stores. Once your base building is completed .. a process that takes 2-3 months, then you can start your tempo runs, progression runs, Fartleks etc.  These are all anaerobic runs.  Running in an anaerobic state also has an important role in the overall training of a runner, but ignoring base building and not starting off with the basics will leave you in a rut.  You will be at a certain pace, and you will stay there.   You should continue your base training by including a Zone 2 run in your weekly schedule on an ongoing basis.  This will continue to improve your running efficiency and it will minimize your risk of injury as you train.

Train wisely

Recovery is a weapon

Be Better Than You Were Yesterday.