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The Importance of Base-Building for Marathon Training

Posted Apr 02 2013 6:44am

Growing up I remember my mom working hard cleaning the house before the housekeeper came to clean the house. Yep, she cleaned before the housekeeper came to clean. She didn't want anyone to come into a dirty house. I can understand the logic, but it kind of defeated the purpose of the housekeeper. Well, it goes without saying, we didn't keep housekeepers very long. We laugh about it now when we get together as a family and reminisce.

Many runners have a similar syndrome. I call it "Cart-Before-the-Horse-itis." I've worked with a few who have experienced the syndrome. They'll complain about this pain or that. This injury or that. I'm thinking to myself..."your marathon training doesn't kick in until 2 or 3 months down the road. What are you doing to feel like this?" 

With a little probing, I discover that they're doing self-prescribed hard runs (speed work and long runs). When I probe a little deeper, I discover that they're doing this in order to see what they're capable of doing before their training officially kicks in. It's a confidence thing. They want to know they can handle the workouts before they do the workouts. 

Okay, I can understand that, but the problems is that without a proper base and without a proper progression of increased intensity over the period of the "real" training plan, these runners up their chance of injury exponentially not to mention the head-games that can occur this early in the game. 

Between major endurance races, like a spring and a fall marathon, runners shouldn't be doing intense speed work like intervals, hill repeats and tempo runs. Nor should they be doing extremely long runs or logging high mileage weeks before official training begins.

Running is not unlike other sports that have periodization or "seasons." Like football, soccer, basketball, or hockey, there's a pre-season, in-season, post-season, and off-season to running. 

If you recently ran or are about to run a spring marathon and you plan to run a fall marathon, then it's best to think of yourself in "Off-Season" or "Recovery" for about 4 weeks after that spring race. Take the first week completely off. During weeks 2, 3, and 4 you can begin doing some light running but nothing intense (pace or distance). This will give your body time to truly heal and rebuild from your spring race.

After the fourth week, you can move into your "Pre-Season" or "Base-Building" phase and start building back your weekly mileage base, but gradually. This will help you condition your body to being back on the road or the trail. During the "Pre-Season" time, work your total weekly mileage back up to 20-25 miles for at least a month prior to the start of your official training. 

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