Saturday, January 19, 2008

Build an Awesome Running Base

Another thing that I'm doing this off-season is working on my base.  


Every runner of some experience knows that you need to have a base.  But have you ever wondered what is a base?  If we can understand what a base is and why we need it, then we might be able to figure out what it will take to make it better. 

From my actual running experience and reading what others have written; what I came up with is this: a running base is a level of bodily adaptations over time consistent with the intended duration and intensity of the running activity. 

The more consistently we run, the easier it gets. The body adapts. Many running articles are written about how the body grows new muscular fibers, creates new passages ways in the lungs, increases its red blood cells, and etc. when we start to run consistently. I don't want to repeat that same material here; but, let me just say that the body adapts over time to the rising level of challenge we allow it to endure. 

The body adapts and grows during the period of rest or recovery.  After exercise, the soreness we feel in our muscles are actually the result of old muscles being torn apart.  During our rest, new muscles are built to replace those which were torn.  The new muscles are rebuilt stronger to withstand the level of stress we had put it through.  In this way, adaptation happens in a stress-and-recover cycle. This is why we need to have hard runs and easy runs and rest days.  The novice mistake I made when I started running was to not allow enough rest, or to run too hard for too many consecutive days.  

Here's what has been happening in my running.  After the Angeles Crest 100 mile race in September of last year, I took a two week break and resumed training.  Soon, I was working harder and going slower. I was over-trained and had worked myself into the ground. At that point, I decided that I was just going to take it easy and work on my base and core strength.  

So, I begun a methodical way of increasing mileage slowly. I begun with 30 miles per week until I regained my strength.  Then, I went from 60 miles per week and built it up all the way to about 90 miles. I learned to run slower on my easy runs. I would purposely not wear a watch when I did my easy runs and just go by feel. I had enough running experience to gauge what an easy run feels like. To me, an easy run is that which I can recover from relatively easily.  Then, I would wear a watch on Saturday long runs and use that as my fitness test or gauge.

As I started this regiment. I started pondering what building a base means and what happens to the body while doing it. From what I had read and from my pondering I came up with my own formulation which I presented above. I asked myself: if building a base means bodily adaptation through stress-and-recover cycles, then what happens if I shortened the stress-and-recover cycles, thereby making it more frequent; but making the runs easier so it was faster to recover from.  Would my body then grow and adapt faster? I decided to try it out.

So, when I felt better recovered from my hard season; I started running in the mornings and evenings. I would try to make the runs at about 12 hours apart; so, if I ran at 7:00 am then I would run again at 7:00 pm. In the mornings, I would usually go a little harder because I would feel fresher from a whole night of sleep, then the evening runs would be slower and sometimes even a run/walk. If I don't feel fresh, even in the mornings, then I just run really easily. Soon, I learned how hard to run in the mornings so that I would recover enough and be able to run again in the evenings. Before the long runs on Saturday mornings, I would sometimes skip the Friday night run and rest. 

I started this regiment with runs lasting 5 miles.  Then I went to 6 miles and 7 miles. When running twice a day, mileage really adds up fast. With 5 miles per run, I logged about 60 miles per week. Then, with 6 and 7 miles, I went to 70+ and 90+ miles per week. After doing this for about a month, my long runs were getting much faster while feeling less tired afterwards.  I had not done any speed work whatsoever, just lots of easy runs.  I think my increased core strength also helped with my speed, but I was feeling much stronger overall and had more energy.  

Was this working?  Did my increased frequency of stress-and-recover cycles help to build a better base faster? It has been three months since I started this; and the highest mileage I built up to was 93 miles per week. Wow, that sounds like a lot; but, remember that most of those miles were easy to very easy miles. Actually, I don't have an objective way to gauge if this is working or not.  However, I feel like my fitness is as good, or better, as ever.  Also, what feels easy on my runs has become faster and faster. I would guess that I went from 8:30 pace to about 7:00 pace in my easy runs in the three months.  Just last Saturday, I ran at about 7:00 pace up a two and a half mile incline which we do on Saturday long runs.  I knew this incline very well and had done it many times before; but I had never done it so fast, especially at the end of the run. With zero speed work, where did this come from?  Stronger core?  Yes, that helps with cadence, but I had more energy than ever. Lighter weight?  No, I actually gained a few pounds.  

I think this is working.  

Furthermore, this week, I was tapering in preparation for the Calico 50k. I scaled back the runs to 5 miles and only once a day.  I felt, from run to run, that I had not run for a long time.  I was still running every day, yet it felt like I had taken a few days off between runs.  I think this means that my body was adapting to the twice a day runs, and going back to once a day actually felt weird. Adaptation is happening.

Thinking back, if I were to give advice for a fellow runner. I would not recommend starting the runs at 5 miles. But, instead, I would say to take your normal once a day run and chop it in half. So, if you had 6 miles to run for a day, then run 3 miles in the morning and run 3 miles at night. Then, work on increasing the length of the runs gradually.  Adding no more than 15% per week. Also, remember to run easy.

Additionally, I try to follow a post-run regiment to give my body the best chance of recovery. I try to eat a balance of proteins and carbohydrates within 30 minutes after the run. This fuel is needed by the body to rebuild. Proper nutrition is another topic I like to talk about in a future post. I also take a mid day nap lasting about an hour and a half. Sleep also helps the body to recover. 

Another benefit of running twice daily is the increased metabolism. For most of us, our metabolic machine of youth went off-line at about age 35. We used to be able to eat and not gain weight, but no longer. Exercising twice daily will actually help increase our basel metabolic rate, so that we are burning more calories even sitting still.  

I feel like I'm off to a great start for the 2008 season.  I didn't put on off-season weight and I'm faster now than I was at peak form last season.  With adding speed work and hill work as the season wears on, I think I'm gonna get even faster.   

Bottom line: I'm gonna have a lot of fun this year.

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