Improve General Fitness and Performance Potential with Proper Base Training

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s trail running antics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

There’s more to base training than the popular belief that it’s all about running “easy mileage.” Base Training is a period of training that prioritizes increasing general aerobic fitness while strengthening the cardiovascular system. It was pioneered in the 1960s by New Zealand’s legendary distance running coach, Arthur Lydiard, sometimes referred to as the “Father of Modern Distance Running.” Through trial and error, Lydiard realized that after roughly 6 weeks of race-specific training, an athlete’s performance would plateau.

So, instead of training his athletes year-round with event-specific running, Lydiard implemented a base training phase for several months in which he focused on improving his athletes’ general aerobic fitness with high mileage, steady runs, fartleks, and strides. Lydiard’s runners were running moderate – not easy – during their base training. To this day elite track, road, cross country and trail runners use variations of Lydiard’s base building techniques to increase their general fitness and performance potential. Listed below are my top three techniques to get the most out of your base-building phase.

PRO TIP: What the heck is a “fartlek?” It means “speed play” in Swedish and is continuous distance running combined with interval training. Fartlek training is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.

The author on a break after cross country skiing in the Pyrenees mountains at Val d’Azun ski station in France.

Improve Running Economy With Strides

Strides are an essential part of base training for trail runners because they help maintain running economy and speed with little physical effort. Although short strides may not seem useful for trail runners who race 100 miles in the mountains, better running economy translates to less energy spent with each stride, which benefits runners at all distances. Add 6 to10 100-meter strides at the end of a normal run two times per week to keep good form and general speed year-round. Additionally, there’s less risk of fatigue and injury as compared to interval speed-work.

Maintain Running Fitness with Steady State and Fartlek Runs

Steady running and fartleks provide quality efforts without training race-specific. One can perform a moderate 30 minute run on flat or uphill, and fartlek workouts, such as alternating between 3 minutes easy and 1 minute faster during a normal run. These workouts can be performed one or two times per week. They should be moderately taxing to provide the necessary stimulus to improve running fitness over time.

Cross Train for Cardiovascular Adaptations and a Bigger Aerobic Engine

A strong aerobic system is essential for distance running, and it can be achieved in many ways besides running. Cross country skiing, biking, swimming, and aqua jogging are all effective ways to build a stronger aerobic system without pounding on the legs. Replace 1 to 2 easy runs per week with a cross training session to save your legs and still get the aerobic benefits.

The author racing at the 2018 Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Poland. Photo by Magdalena Bogdan.