Coach Mike Mead

Build Your Foundation - February 2004

One common question that I get asked by runners fairly regular is, “How do I get faster?” The answer to that question is not that easy for me to respond to since I usually do not know the individual runner’s training and racing history. Since I do know the history of my Clayton State runners, I can deal with their speed training much easier.

But in general, to build speed, you need to build base. One simple illustration that I like to use relates to building a house. A good builder will prepare a solid, thick foundation to build the structure on. This assures that the house will stand tall and sturdy for years. For runners (this includes sprinters, too!), distance running is the equivalent to a solid foundation. Most inexperienced runners, like poor homebuilders, skimp on preparing a proper foundation. The thinner foundation leads to cracks that weaken the structure and result in all kinds of problems.

So if you want to get faster this year, now is the time to lay your foundation. The months of February and March are a perfect time to get in that all important distance running, particularly those of you planning to run the Peachtree on July 4th. The weather may be cold, but your body can work more efficiently in the cooler temperatures. And you can run longer without overheating, but remember to still hydrate.

A typical week this time of year for our Clayton State runners racing an 800m up to a 5K includes three-medium distance runs and one long run per week. Depending on experience, the remaining days include recovery runs, some speed training, form work and/or rest days. A medium distance run ranges from 6-9 miles, or 45 to 60 minutes if you go strictly by time. The long run covers 10-15 miles, or 65 to 90 minutes.

Just like a foundation for a house, time is needed for the cement to cure so that it will be strong. The once a week long run serves as the runner’s curing agent. Without it, your foundation will not be rock solid. Another helpful “curing agent” for runners is the effort put into the medium and long runs. Starting out, you want to get in the distance or time, but as you get stronger you need to push the pace on those days you feel good.

Too many times, inexperienced runners get bogged down with the same pace whether it is their medium-distance or their long runs. Contrary to the many “running gurus” who preach about LSD (long, slow distance), runners need to vary the pace of their medium and long runs.

During my formative years of running, I tended to be like the poor homebuilder mentioned above. I cut corners in my training (foundation building), particularly on the distance runs. I got away with it in high school because I had some leg speed to compensate for my lack of distance. One summer, one of my local high school rivals got mentioned in his hometown paper for running 1,000 miles that summer. I made fun of the guy later that fall because I regularly beat him with about a third of his summer mileage. But in some regards, he got the last-laugh. Late in the season, I usually came up short in the big meets. That’s when my inadequate distance base came to hurt me. Looking back, my weak foundation kept me from being an All-America runner in college.

Runners need to build an adequate base before they can proceed to the speed-phase of their training. Depending on the distance you intend to race will determine the amount of base training. The longer the racing distance, the longer your distance run. Even 800m runners need long runs of 10 to 12 miles once a week to handle the speed intensity of their training and racing later in the season.

So before you prepare for speed training, be sure you’ve built an adequate foundation to do the training. To paraphrase a popular movie line, “Build a solid foundation and the speed will come.”