Build your Base to Improve your Race
Many runners hit a plateau at some point in their racing careers. They train hard, but stop setting PRs. This is true in any distance from a 5k to the marathon. Unless you do something different, you can’t expect to get faster using the same plan. It may be time to switch things up, and re-evaluate your training. I’m at this place right now, and am changing my plan.
Today is my 34th birthday. It’s shocking to think I’ve been running for 20 years! For the past several, I’ve focused primarily on the half marathon. I’ve gotten faster, but am stuck around 1:35 (1:34:06 to be exact). I’m running the Lake Minnetonka Half in May, and want to hit 1:30. To do so, I need something different. I consulted a friend (and former professional runner) for some coaching, and he had two revelations for me:
Build a Stronger Running Base
I was running 20-25 miles per week. Not bad, but not enough to hit my goal. He suggested I spend a few weeks ramping up to 35 miles, and use that as the base from which to build. Since the most weekly miles I had previously run at the peak of training was barely 35, it seemed excessive. Here’s why it’s critical!
The base phase is primarily focused on building your aerobic capacity. Aerobic training is training done while “living in air.” Literally, this means in the presence of oxygen. It’s slow and takes time. The process by which your muscles get oxygen from your blood is being upgraded. This is important if you want to go to that next level and get faster. A stronger base also helps reduce lactate formation and improve the rate of lactate removal.
Additionally, you teach your body to burn fat – the main source of energy on longer runs. Building your base teaches the body not to use glycogen stores as quickly. Less glycogen usage is more efficient. (An added benefit is that you continue to burn fat even after you’re done running.)
Shorter Long Runs
“Coach” also stressed the importance of a proportional long run. Enhancing your aerobic fitness at the cellular level happens at two time thresholds: 30 minutes and 90 minutes. Much more than 90 minutes and you’re doing structural damage to your muscles, in addition to zapping your fuel stores. This is why you might feel like death for a few days after a long run.
According to the Hanson’s Marathon method, your long run should only constitute 25 – 33% of total weekly miles. Using this benchmark, I should have only been doing a max of 8 miles as a long run (at 25 miles a week). My new goal of 50 miles a week should allow me to hit a 12 – 17 mile long run, without totally destroying myself.
When you are setting up your next training plan, try increasing your total weekly mileage, and use the 25-33% ratio to construct your long run. Once you build a stronger base, you will be able to handle the higher mileage at a faster pace.
This is why you should build your base to improve your race. Anaerobic training (speed work) will come next!
Question: Have you hit a plateau with your racing? What might you need to do differently to set a new PR?