Every runner will benefit from revisiting the basics of training. In this case, we are going to review Base building. Some of the fastest runners of our time train at a very slow pace. Unfortunately, most beginner or intermediate runners run too fast, too often.
The popularity of running has exploded. With that increase in running popularity has come an increase in injuries associated with running. Strava and Garmin watches have not helped. Strava allows runners and cyclists to post their run or ride onto a social platform. That breeds competitiveness. That drives you to run fast than you should. Having your watch with you can end up pushing you too hard too. Many sports scientists agree that many overuse running injuries are merely a training error. Give me a few minutes… and hopefully, you will understand why slower is often better. Again, the elite marathon champions of our time complete the majority of their training at a plodding pace.
Although we have covered many of the causes of various runner’s maladies, a prevalent reason is that you are overtraining.
Overtraining puts many runners in a rut.
- You’re not improving your VO2 max
- You’re not improving your distance
- You feel fatigued and can’t shake that feeling.
- Your best pace isn’t improving
- The stress is going to break you down.
Research has shown that most runners run at the same pace for each run… it’s typically a medium pace. Each of us has that certain rhythm. A speed that we run when we are not actively trying to control how fast we run. It’s often 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 a low zone 4 state.
Why does your progress stagnate? You’re putting down the miles, but you’re not improving. The goal of training is to allow your body to perform the same amount of work or effort with less energy, or less oxygen. You want your heart rate to drop but be able to maintain the same pace. You want to be able to slowly increase your speed without increasing your heart rate. Pushing yourself at a high heart rate is not going to improve your running efficieny. Running too hard will exhaust you, fatigue you and set you up for an injury that might take a very long time to recover.
Base building involves getting your body ready, improving its efficiency and ability to put down a certain distance, at a certain pace, all the while using less oxygen and less energy. Understanding the basics of base building is critical.
Heart Rate Training Basics
When you are running your heart rate elevates. Running without a heart rate monitor, most of us will underestimate how fast our heart is beating. Some people 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 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 the 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 enter 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 involve 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 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 generate 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 make more mitochondria (energy factories) in response to your training. Over time 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 essential 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 you have completed the base building process which can take 2-3 months, then you can start your tempo runs, progression runs, and Fartleks. These are all anaerobic runs. Running in an anaerobic state also has an essential 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.
Recovery is a weapon
Be Better Than You Were Yesterday.
Nick Weaver says
I’ve heard different things about either zone 2 or zone 3 when discussing aerobic training. Ive always assumed zone 2 was considered easy or even warm up while zone 3 was aerobic. I know these zones differ from person to person but, I’ve recorded heart rates higher than 200 on half marathon runs. Can I assume being that I’m 32 and former D1 athlete, my aerobic state is around 150-165? My Garmin says these rates put me into threshold. However, running at 140 BPM I can barely shuffle my feet. I literally have to jog and walk. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Howard J. Luks, MD says
Zone 2 is aerobic … And in professional cyclists, etc it is the zone where your lactate is measured and it does not rise above baseline. It is a ride/run on Type 1 muscle fibers that use fat/fatty acids as fuel. In zone 3 you start to use glycolysis in type 2 muscle fibers. That will raise your lactate. In highly trained athletes, much of that lactate can shunt back to the Type 1 muscle fibers to be used as fuel… but once the capacity of type 1 fibers is exhausted then lactate will rise even further and now you are zone 4 and beyond.
Different trainers might use different definitions of HR zones… there is a difference between HR zones and training zones.
Back to you :-) There is a saying… train slow to run fast. Even the world’s best runners train on long slow, low HR runs. They actually do very little speed work. Most beginner, intermediate runners run too fast, too often. Base building can take 8-12 months in some folks. But it is worth the effort. Simply fun where you are at less around 70% of your max HR or lower. If your rate rises above that you walk until you recover. Same with hills. Eventually, you will run at a faster pace, and a lower HR. Your new goal for PRs is to try and fun a faster pace with a lower HR.
You can mix in some speed work on long slow runs… nothing wrong with that… either sprints or threshold miles.
The best trained athletes can run/ride with the lowest heart rates.
Hope that helps