Back in the 1960’s, legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard introduced the world to a concept he called base training. Base training is the first phase of a larger training concept called periodization training, which involves a sequence or cycle of training blocks culminating in a single peak performance.
Lydiard believed that during base training runners should keep their intensity at moderate levels while gradually increasing their mileage. The goal is to increase aerobic capacity, expand capillary growth around muscle cells for efficient oxygen delivery, and prepare the body for more strenuous running.
Another legendary coach, Jack Daniel’s, suggests base training for new runners and runners who are coming back after a running break of some weeks or months. In Daniel’s Running Formula he describes this type of easy running as 59 to 74 percent of VO2max or about 65 to 78 percent of maximum heart rate. Daniels’ believes that along with increased fitness, one of the key benefits to base building at an easy pace is building up resistance to injury.
I have found base training to be both enjoyable and difficult at times. Running at an easy pace is always nice, but the increasing mileage becomes difficult both physically and mentally. The mileage increase is like a slow burn that sneaks up on you over a time, and the mental discipline and concentration it takes to run for hours is substantial.
Base training builds cardiac output, aerobic capacity, strengthens ligaments and muscles, builds endurance, and boosts confidence. It is a necessary phase of training for runners who want to conquer the marathon, or run at their peak performance. However, not every athlete needs periodization in their training. Many year-round runners will function better by following a more general approach to running.
Coach Gregg MacMillan says there is a common misconception surrounding Lydiard’s training pyramid. Each phase is not strictly one-dimensional, it’s the general focus that’s most important. So, base training might incorporate a few strides or strength days, but the overall approach still centers on building up endurance at an easy pace.
In fact, the effectiveness of strict linear periodization is up for debate. David Martin and Peter Coe, argue that strength, speed, stamina, and endurance are better developed in harmony. They also argue that sudden shifts in training approach are likely to cause injury. Perhaps most concerning is that linear periodization is focused on peak performance, and that places all of a runner’s eggs in one race day basket.
Regardless of where you stand on the linear vs. non-linear periodization debate, base building is an important step for new and returning runners. It takes time and patience to build your running fitness.
Running Science, Owen Anderson
Daniels Running Formula, Jack Daniels
YOU (Only Faster), Greg McMillan
Better Training for Distance Runners, Martin and Coe
Build Your Running Body, Magill, Schwartz, and Breyer