8 Fundamentals of Run Base Training

This is the first article in our series on the latest refinement of the TriForce run training program (version 2.0).  It outlines the general principles we use for base training for the run.  Next we’ll discuss run volume in the base period.



First off, let’s focus on what we don’t do with our run training.   We don’t start today at the maximum your body can handle then increase 10% / week.   We don’t do all your running at your “goal pace.” We don’t draw a straight line from the long run you can do today to the long run you need to do on race day and fill in the blanks.

Here is what we do:

1.Condition Ourselves First.  If you haven’t been running consistently at least 3 times / week for a couple of months then you’re going to need to start off with some preparation & conditioning, which basically means 6 weeks of doing much lighter training than you think you could handle.  Why?  Because our connective tissues takes much longer than your muscular and cardio system to get strong.  If you start by pushing at the limit of what your lungs and muscles can handle, then something is going to give (ankle, knee, achilles tendon, etc).  You’ll also be pushing forward with your training in a position of weakness— your body is always going to be playing catch-up.   By conditioning yourself first, you’ll be hitting each new level of training from a position of strength.

2. Start A Full Level Below The Max You Can Handle.  During base training, we’re always working at “the least we can do to constantly improve,” NOT the most we can do without breaking down.   Again, we want to be progressing through our training in a position of strength.  The last 5 weeks before your taper is the training that counts the most– if you want to push your limits, that’s the time.

3. Get Tired From The Overall Training Load, Not From Any Single Workout.  One of the worst things you can do and one of the easiest ways to suffer a setback (injury or overreaching) is to constantly push your long runs further and further or making your “hard runs” harder and harder.  Many people I coach feel slightly insulted by the fact that I try to “hold them back” in their workouts when we first start.  Some people listen to my warnings and others don’t (the ones that typically end up with tendinitis or other minor problems).  However, once the training load has caught up to them they never complain that the workouts are too easy!   

4. Run (Almost) Every Day.  The way most people will get faster is by running more miles, not by going crazy with their long runs or by hitting the track to increase their speed.   The best way to do this is to run 6-7 days per week, even if it’s just for 15 minutes at an easy pace.  Yes, even 15 minute easy runs work– I’ve seen it in my own training and with other team members.

5. Run In Your Easy & Steady Zones.  Not counting our weekly hill repeats, you’ll be doing the vast majority of your base training in your steady and easy zones.  Easy is a very easy jog where you can talk virtually the same as if you were just walking.  Steady is “slightly increased respiration”- quite easy to hold a conversation, but your speech will be interrupted by pauses once in a while for breathing.  (Don’t worry- we’ll test your heart zones within a few weeks of starting the program so you won’t have to guess).  For most people this will seem much too easy at first since they are accustomed to running at their tempo (“a little hard”), threshold (10k pace).  But keep running at this lower intensity and your body will feel much better, you’ll make valuable aerobic adaptations, and you’ll start to get quite fast at low heart rates (maybe even as fast as you used to be at much higher heart rates).   Depending on the athlete and their goal race, we’ll start gradually working in more and more tempo and threshold work, but early in the season we’ll always do a block of almost all easy and steady running.

6. Run On Soft Surfaces As Much As Possible.  If the goal is to do lots and lots of running, a major issue is dealing with all the impact.  Even if your muscles and lungs could run 50 miles a week, your knees and ankles might only be able to take 25 miles / week of pounding on the roads.  But if you do a good proportion of your running on sand, soft trails, grass, or treadmill you’ll be able to run much more.  I personally have started doing most of my long runs on the well groomed grass at the Pleasanton, CA Sports Park.  Look for me running my 2 mile loops on Saturdays.   And my personal favorite place to run in the world is the deep sand at Ocean Beach in SF going up to the dunes of Fort Funston and beyond.

7. Run/ Walk.   Old school thinking is to consider walking during a run a failure or a sign of weakness.  The new school considers walking a tool to get faster.  Mixing walks into your training runs will let you run more with less strain, which will make you faster, which is what counts!  I personally walk 30 steps or so after every half mile during all my longer runs (and many of my little runs too).  I set my Garmin “auto lap” for a half mile.  After a half mile of running it beeps at me and gives me my half mile time.  I walk for 30 steps, hit the lap button, and repeat.

8. Smart Speed Work – Hills & Strides.   Even in base training we’ll have you run pretty hard once a week to keep your mind and body from getting bored.  Running fast on an oval track is rough on the legs (not as rough as what we used to do at Bishop McDevitt High School — running 60 second 1/4 mile repeats around cones set up in the parking lot).  That’s why we do our speed work on hills– you can run at a high intensity with much less impact on the legs.  Do the workout on a treadmill or look for a hill with a mild grade- don’t run on a hill where you want to “get up on your toes”– we want to be running with a similar technique/ gait that we use on the flats.   Our “standard” workout will be to do threshold paced intervals for about 6-8 minutes with 3 minutes or so recovery.    Depending on what outdoor hill you have available, you might have to modify the workout somewhat (the hill we practice on at Google is perfect– you can zig zag or spiral up the hill for a mile or .75 miles then walk / jog straight down in 3 minutes).    Another way to safely run quickly is by doing strides after some of your runs.  A stride consists of running fast for 20-30 steps, stopping before you get tired, then walking to catch your breath before doing the next one.

Stay tuned for our next update in the series on base training– running volume.

About Coady

Lucky to be coaching some really awesome & fun people!
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