Well, it's getting to that time of year again. I thought I'd share my ideas on base-building; I should warn you, though, I don't delieve in coloring my ideas with fancy scientific terms. I know the science behind my ideas, I know they're grounded in experience, results, and research. However, I will leave the science aspect of things out of this article for the most part. If you'd like to know it, shoot me an email or something. Now, on to the base-building:
Like most of us, my idea of "base building" is colored by my first experience with it; namely, my high school track coach, Kevin McGrath, and the instructions he gave me prior to my first ever "base-training" during the summer before my junior year. Up until that point, I laughed at the idea of running during the off season (which was strictly for frisbee and hiking). In typical McGrath style, he told me everything I needed to know to get started in a few abrupt sentences. "Hey, McGrath- what should I do to get ready for a good XC season next fall?" I asked after track season was over.
"Run every day at a decent pace--not too fast not too slow. Once a week, do a shorter, fast run. 'Couple days later, do your long run-- just a couple miles more than normal. After all the other runs, do strides. Situps and pushups a couple times a week are fine."
"That's it?" I asked, sure at the time that it had to be more complicated than that.
"Did I stutter? Jesus Christ, are you deaf too, 4-eyes?"
This is often the way training instructions went with Kevin. I'm not complaining; I was just as cruel to him. It's how we communicate.
Anyway, for a runner with only a few years of experience (high schoolers and new runners) that's pretty much all you need to know about base training. For a developing runner, just getting out there and running most every day is going to bring improvements. You don't need to get more complicated than that. However, most high school kids (I was not one of these) try to race all the time in the summer. Running up-tempo if you feel good is a good thing, but you shouldn't being doing anything really intense in the summer. For a developing high schooler who might race 5k at most, the effort-level that corresponds with "marathon pace" doesn't really mean much, but that's about the effort level we're looking for on the summer tempos. Basically, better to err on the slow side than err on the fast side. During a summer tempo, you should be under control-- running quick but more importantly RELAXED. Again, for high schoolers who develop quickly (making their 5k PRs from XC irrelevant) a good rule of thumb is to add 1:00 to your mile PR and do 3-4 mile tempos NO FASTER than that pace. Since almost all high schoolers run the mile, it's a good frame of reference. Your typical 4:30 high school miler for a summer tempo run might do a two mile warmup, then 3 miles going 5:45, 5:40, 5:30, then jogging a two mile cool down. The rest of the week is just reasonably easy running with a good set of strides after. Maybe once a week throw on your spikes and do your strides at the track, just to keep used to it. Just keep it relaxed and be honest with yourself. If you're a high schooler or have less than 3-4 years experience training year round, you can stop here. That's about all you need to know to build a good base for XC.
Now, if you've been in the game a little longer, you need something a little (but not that much!) more advanced. This is because 1) you're not growing as much anymore, and you won't necessarily improve as much year to year just from maturation and 2) after a while, the same stimulus doesn't provoke the same stress/adaptation response, so you have to switch it up a little. A great start for all moderately experienced runners is George Malley's Summer of Malmo plan/philosophy. (http://pih.bc.ca/summerofmalmo.html) A lot of my own ideas for training in general and summer training in particular are lifted unapologetically from Malmo's posts on letsrun. More important than Malmo's specific instructions are his ideas: being CONSISTENT and RELAXED when you're training hard. Yes, the summer is the time to intelligently push the envelope with mileage. But doing one week of 90 miles then taking three days off and having a 40 mile week is not as good as two 70 mile weeks in a row.
In general, I am against rigid structure in the summer. There's little reason to go and take what should be an enjoyable, relaxing training season with no immediate racing goals and turn it into some inflexible, rigid schedule. I think in general, if you train entirely by feel, you end up training a little better than usual. However, because most of us are inexperienced with training by feel, we screw up- we do four workouts in a week or three tempos in a row because we "feel good" then eat serious shit by the end of the summer. So, like all things, we must compromise between structure and ab libbing. Here are the 3 key days in a base-period's week: 1) the tempo run, 3-7 miles 2) the longer repeats/fartlek OR pure sprint work 3) the long run. Fill in the rest of the days with easy runs and a good set of strides. You also might find it helpful to replace strides one day with 5-15 steep hill sprints ala Canova, Hudson, Jenkins, et alia. For serious college runners doing 60+ a week, I recommend doubles as much as you can handle. Everyone is different though- some people prefer singles, and that's fine too. However, doubling is a better way to get in more mileage and recover better than just running once a day. In the summer, I like to try to get in one run before the sun's been up too long and my other one at sundown to avoid the worst heat of the day. Work around your schedule. Here's how two weeks in the middle of summer (once you've built up your mileage and quality over the course of a few weeks) might look for a runner with 4-5 years experience, running 70+ miles a week:
1- 2 easy runs, strides
2- hilly tempo (3-8 miles at 1-1:30min/mile slower than mile PR)
3- 2 easy runs, strides
4- 2 easy runs, hill sprints (PM run can be mod if you feel good)
5- longer repeats/fartlek (ex- 5xmile around threshold pace, 2min rest or 10x3min on, 1 min off), etc
6-1 easy run
7- Hilly Long Run- 15-20% of weekly mileage. Run steady towards the end if you feel good.
8- 2 easy runs, strides
9- flat tempo 3-8 miles, same effort- if you did a short tempo the week before, go longer this time.
10- 2 easy runs, strides
11- 2 easy runs (PM mod if you feel good), hill sprints or OFF (take a day off per month; it won't kill you)
12- pure sprint work (ex- warmup, 5-10x60-150 meters nearly flat out with FULL REST. If you have a GENTLE downhill to use, that can help. Focus on GOOD FORM and RELAX)
13- 1 easy run, hill sprints if you took Thursday off
14- Hilly Long Run- same as last week.
There you go. It's a balanced approach with a fair bit of quality, but nothing crazy and plenty of rest in between hard efforts. While in the season you might push it a little more, in the summer, if you don't feel 100% ready to do a tempo or something, just push it back a day- who cares? It's the summer! If it's Tuesday and you have a tempo scheduled but you can only do it at noon and it's 103 degrees in the shade, who cares if you push it back to a more convenient day? Don't be rigid, don't be inflexible. Don't get caught up in hitting mileage figures- the only different between 59 and 60 miles is in your head. The schedule I typed up is just an example. It should be changed to accomodate your situation. If you ever have any doubts during the summer, I have the same answer for you: err on the side of caution. Better to do 10mpw week less and be healthy, better to do 15 sec/mile slower on your tempos and be fresh, etc. It's important to remember the extra stuff too- do your drills, stretch, drink a lot of water, do your core work, etc. Summer is a good time to do all the "nitty gritty."
That's pretty much it, I would think. Base training is really a very simple concept, but sometimes it's helpful to have things spelled out. As always, feel free to ask any questions you might have. And remember- don't waste good time. The run executed today is better than a carefully planned sequence of runs intending to start tomorrow.