Coach Mike Mead

December 2009

Building a Base for Running Success

I’ve been grasping for a few years now as a college coach in explaining to my athletes the importance of base mileage and the benefits as it relates to their progression as a runner. They either have a short attention span or lack the discipline to do the work necessary to become a more complete and competitive runner.

Many novice runners tend to ignore the facts and look for short-cuts in getting stronger and faster with a limited among of base miles. A great distance runner needs to spend a few years building a significant base in order to handle the rigors of more intensive training and racing. Yet many talented runners give up too soon, or are not willing to put in the training and miles to get them to the next level of running.

The key to building a base is simply running miles. How many miles? Depending on the competitive distance you are training for has a lot to do with weekly mileage. Obviously, the longer the distance, the more miles you need to log. A common mistake made by inexperienced runners is not running enough base miles for the shorter races like an 800m or mile run.

Basically, folks running the shorter distances need to have a base of at least 40 miles a week and that’s pretty much year round. If you think you only need this kind of mileage for a few weeks out of the year, you’re just fooling yourself. You might be speedy, but without the base miles, you’ll end up with inconsistent results or getting injured on a regular basis.

So based on my minimum mileage for a short-distance runner, if you want to race longer than a mile, you need MORE miles. Well, duhhhhhhh!

Again, I’m writing this for those of you who want to be considered a competitive runner. If you consider yourself a recreational runner, you can still gain some insight from base training. As I stated earlier, building mileage is important. You must have a plan, you must be patient and you must be consistent when it comes to your base training.

Below are some general ideas to guide you to building your base and keep you from getting injured. Allow 12-16 weeks of base training before you get into the more serious speed training and racing periods.

  • In the beginning, start off with alternating an easy run one day and a hard run the next. Never run two hard days in a row and do not take more than two days off consecutively from running during a typical training week. As your base builds, you need to cut your off-days to once per week and this off-day can be substituted with cross-training activities like swimming or biking.
  • Do not increase your mileage in any given week by more than 10-percent. So for the beginners, if you start out with 10 miles in your first seven-day week, you increase your mileage the next week to 11 total miles.
  • Use a “3-1” approach to your training. This “3-1” approach can be used weekly and monthly during your base training. Specifically, for every three days or three weeks of increasing intensity or mileage, you back off a day or week. For example, you run 30 miles one week. You follow it up with 33 miles in week two and 37 miles in week three. Come week four, you cut back to say 28 miles. This way, it gives your body a chance to adapt and prevent from getting injured. Come week five, you would run 31 miles and build the next two weeks.
  • Get in one long run a week. How long? I recommend using mileage as your gauge. I use to tell my athletes to run for so many minutes, but most ran too slow and did not go far enough. A general rule for those training less than a 3K distance is running 6-8 miles. For distances between 3K and 5K, one’s longest run should be between 8-10 miles and for those going 5K to 10K, the long run should be between 11-15 miles. As a reminder, be sure to apply the 10-percent rule mentioned earlier.

When it comes right down to it, one can never run too many miles. The higher the miles, the more you have to attend to details like nutrition, rest and recovery.

If you want to become a serious runner, now is a good time to begin your base training, especially in the South, as a New Year approaches. Good luck!