Monthly Archives: December 2022

Marathon Training: Base Building

Marathon training has a lot of moving parts. Running, stretching, strength training, fueling, recovering, balancing training with family and work. That’s why it also has seasons. It’s impossible to train everything all at once. So, just like football or competitive swimming, there is an a preseason, an in-season, a post season and an off-season. Base building is that preseason.

base buliding

Preseason is typically six to eight weeks. It begins with gradually increasing weekly miles towards a target determined by your training plan or coach. It consists of easy miles that prepare your body for harder workouts to come.

Base building miles prepare your body for the long haul of a marathon by teaching it lots of things. One big one is motor programming. Muscles learn what order to contract in, how many fibers to contract and how much oxygen and blood that takes. Once our body knows how to run, we need to stress it with more stimulus to see change or improvement. That’s where the build of base phase comes in.

As we push our bodies to run more miles, become more efficient and develop fitness, our stroke volume can increase. Improved stroke volume means more blood is ejected from the heart with each beat and therefore carries more oxygen to hard working muscles. This ties into an improvement in VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process in one minute. The higher VO2 goes, the better off you are. Other benefits include higher mitochrondrial density. Base building also teaches your body to use fat as fuel and makes you an overall more efficient runner.

While you shouldn’t be doing any very intense or very long workouts during this preseason, it is the perfect time to throw in fartleks, hill work and some shorter tempo runs once a week to break up the miles. It is also a good time to strength train, cross-train and have fun.

Although base building should be fun and seems simple, it is an invaluable part of marathon training. Skipping it can be dangerous. Running hard frequently right out of the gate might give you a confidence boost, but it also looks for trouble. Diving into race pace, long tempo and speed workouts before your body is ready asks for burnout, frustration and potential injury.

Coach Meredith

Workout of the Month: Flexible Fartlek

The word fartlek is Swedish and means speed play.  That sounds fun!  And these runs or workouts are fun.  That’s the point.  You’re spending time at race or faster than race pace without the suffering of standard speed workouts.  Team ECRP loves having these sessions on their training calendar and here’s why you will, too.fartlek

Fartlek workouts have tons of benefits.  They will help you get faster and improve endurance capacity while getting better at closing the finish of a race.  You’ll also increase your mental toughness and ability to feel your paces.  Heck, it’s even defined as “a system of training for distance runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance psychological aspects of conditioning.”  So what’s the big deal and how do all of those things happen?

Fartlek work is different from a typical steady state long run because, as mentioned above, it includes short sections of faster running.  It’s also different from standard interval work because you continue to run while you’re resting or recovering.  This unstructured-ness means there’s no end to the fun you can have.  These mixed up ons and offs also keep your heart rate higher for the duration of the workout and that means improved fitness.

Option one for building a workout is to use landmarks.  Pick a road with light posts and pick it up for two on, two off.  Change the pattern throughout the session or each time you run that route to continue challenging both your body and mind.  A second option is to run faster when you feel like it and slower when you don’t.  Hills can also provide a good place for increasing and decreasing effort at irregular intervals.  A hilly road with regular light posts is a fartlek paradise.

Fartlek workouts are also useful at any time during a training cycle.  Since they’re so adjustable the intensity is easy to change.  The variability means you can ramp up speeds while decreasing jog time for race prep but reverse that pattern for maintenance or recovery.  To work on closing speed throw in some faster pick ups towards the end of your session.  When you’re in a rut or want to have some fun on a group run, take off for a low pressure, flexible fartlek.

Coach Meredith

Off-Track Speed Work

Speed work is an important part of a solid training plan.  It helps you build strength, cardiovascular capacity and increases both speed and turnover.  So, of course, there’s no better place to do it than on the track, right?  Not always.  Here’s how off-track speed work can make all the speed work

But wait, isn’t that what tracks are for?  Yes, the track is a wonderful place to run fast.  Just don’t do it too often unless you’re going to race there.  The constant left turns can create extra torque on your inside leg, the surface might not be the same as what you’ll find on race day and it can be boring.  By choosing off-track speed work instead, you’ll reap some major physical and mental benefits.

Running hard away from the track’s smooth, steady surface makes muscles work on both sides of your body.  You learn to balance in all directions and deal with the variety a road or trail presents while strengthening your hips, ankles, core and legs.  Conquering race-like conditions during training goes a long way to helping you succeed after toeing the line.

To get started with off-track speed work find a place where it’s safe to run fast.  Ideally that will be a road, paved trail, park or sidewalk where you aren’t battling distractions from traffic or other outdoor recreation activities.  Hills are a great spot for challenging speed workouts and can be lots of fun.  Mark a one/two/three mile loop around your neighborhood to use as benchmarks for progress.  When you can cover the same distance faster with less effort, you’ll know your fitness is improving.

Remember, the track is always there when you’re in a jam.  If you don’t have somewhere safe to go instead or are working with a group, it can be the perfect spot.  But to get the most out of those fast sessions, opt for off-track speed work as often as possible.

Coach Meredith