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Back to Base(ics)

I joined about twenty club members last Saturday for an 8 am club run in Guilderland. Unfortunately, I managed to hit the only patch of black ice on the entire route. As I found myself suddenly looking up at the sky, my thoughts (other than something unprintable) cycled between “man, I hope I haven’t broken anything” and “why me?” Ironically, after running outdoors without incident throughout the winter, I had wiped out on one of the first days of spring. Thanks to equal parts luck and Rock Tape, I recovered in time to run well in the next day’s Delmar Dash.

However, this event got me thinking about more typical spring running injuries that we’re beginning to see in our customers recently. These are not unforeseen injuries inflicted by twisting an ankle, slipping on the ice, or getting attacked by amorous wildlife; rather, these are predictable things we do to ourselves in our desire to reach new running goals quickly.

I get it. You’ve been cooped up, the crocuses are blooming, and one of these days you might be able to wear shorts. Still, if you are too aggressive when upping mileage and intensity, you’re risking injury. How much mileage and other types of training have you done in the last two or three months –– what’s your base? (No judgment!) The amount of running that you did during the winter will determine how quickly you can move into more specialized training.

When running coaches discuss “base,” they mean a gradual building up of bodily readiness for greater exertion before specialized training begins. Most sources talk about running at a conversational pace (at maybe 50% to 70% effort) and stress that buildup needs to be gradual. A few, such as 1996 Olympic women’s marathoner Jenny Spangler, also recommend a few quality sessions during base-building to help prepare the body for speedwork. If you’re new to running or you fell off the wagon somewhere around the eggnog and tinsel, you should just get on your shoes and concentrate on enjoying your runs and adding mileage gradually. Running with friends, as I’ve found through our club runs and running programs, is motivating and can keep you at the right pace and on the right track. Building a good base takes some time (six to twelve weeks) but can pay off quickly later.

The big question, however, is this: how much mileage should you add each week as you are building your base? A good rule of thumb is to add ten percent of your previous week’s total to your upcoming week’s mileage. For example, if you ran twenty miles this week, then next week your maximum total should be twenty-two miles. Oddly, as New York Times author Gina Kolata pointed out in a recent article,

( there is really no scientific basis for this rule other than it seems to work. As with all training, your personal experience should trump adding mileage for mileage’s sake.

A good way of making sure that you are not going overboard is to follow the suggestion of legendary coach Jack Daniels, who recommends increasing mileage only once every three weeks –– in stair steps. This allows you to assess how your body is tolerating the new mileage and also allows your body to adapt to the new stresses that additional mileage brings. You will find what works for you. I, for instance, like to add mileage for a couple of weeks and then back off and dip below my previous mileage. I found that this allows my body to recover and adapt to my new mileage totals. What you DON’T want to do is keep adding ten percent infinitely –– unless you soon want to find yourself running twenty-four hours a day. Find a mileage level that works for the life and goals you’ve got and then find other ways to shake up your training once you have a firm foundation.

When you are adding mileage during your base phase of training, be sure to keep a log of what you’ve done –– miles, times, weather conditions, and subjective assessments of the effort you put into your workout. If you wear a Garmin, their website does a lot of this for you. Analyzing your log is a great thing to do on your rest days, especially if you resist the concept of “down time.” (Guilty as charged.)

We can all train better if we train smarter, using and assessing running log data to evaluate our seasonal starting point. How do you add mileage during your base phase of training and how do you log your workouts?


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