The Off Season and Base Training – Don’t Lose Touch With All of Your Speed

“I’m just building my base right now.” How many times have you heard this, or maybe you’ve been the one saying it? Probably countless times.

runner on trails

The off season is also a great time to hit up some hill work...strength there translates to speed later!


Runners who are consistent are constantly building a ‘base’; yes those who log more miles per week are probably building a bigger one, though not always. There is something to be argued in the way if one runner is running a high volume but doing only easy runs as not being as ‘fit’ as another runner who could be doing less miles but hitting a higher quality load with weekly workouts. But that’s getting a bit off topic.

Building a base is usually the term runners use for between season training. (Or if they are getting back after a long running hiatus) Here the focus is to set a strong cardiovascular foundation by upping the miles. Then, when the season’s ‘real’ training begins they will overlay this foundation with the faster workouts, intervals, and speed. It’s a sound theory and what I’d recommend; you shouldn’t be nailing 400 repeats in January if you’re not going to be racing until the outdoor track season.

Runners DO need a high aerobic capacity as you draw off of that, and the metaphor of laying a foundation and laying the speedwork on top of that works well. We’ll think of that base as the cake and the 400′s can be your icing…yum.

But when you’re doing that base building you don’t want to completely neglect those faster twitch muscle fibers completely. If all you do for months and months are slow miles, come time to hit the track and even tempo work you’re going to feel like one rusty nail! You still want your muscles to have recent memories of what it feels like to run quick; so, even during these ‘base building’ times you want to give them reminders. Don’t completely lose touch with a faster tempo.

So while you’re upping the miles (and do this safely people, we know we don’t go from doing 20 miles one week to 40 the next) still play around with various speeds. Don’t get stuck in the ‘easy/slow’ mode. One day do a tempo run; since it’s so early don’t stress about the times but go for effort and it shouldn’t be all-out. Base building puts a lot of focus on the long run; every couple of weeks push the middle miles of that or make it into a fartlek run. Then, pick two days (not after a tempo or harder long run) and finish with some strides. Again, they don’t have to be the kind where you spike up and hammer it, but get that turnover going.

Have fun with the off season because here structure isn’t all that important…run some fartleks that don’t have set parameters and you could even make them up on the fly. Run hard because it feels good, recover for a bit, and then do it again. Play around with it and to sound like a cliche have fun. That’s why we do this running thing after all, right?

girl in ice cream

It's not cake...but you get the idea. ;)


So build that cake ‘base’ but even during the off-season don’t forget to add a little bit of icing as well…I mean no one wants a cake without any icing, that’s the best part!

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Even if you’re not doing any kind of traditional racing seasons (cross country/track) try mixing up those runs if you’re not doing much outside of easy running. The thing is that the body is a master at adapting and go too long with running one speed and you’ll get stuck in a rut.
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1) When you think of base building, what comes to mind?

2) Do you play around with your long runs, or typically do them all as relaxed runs?

3) For workouts, do you have them pre-planned or come up with them on the fly?

4) Haven’t asked this before but do you count your weekly mileage? Where do you like to keep the weekly totals?

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19 Comments

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19 Responses to The Off Season and Base Training – Don’t Lose Touch With All of Your Speed

  1. hehe. I’m totally in the “base building” phase right now…and I guess its all slow right now too, but not by choice :-P . It’s definitely important not to do all your runs at the same slow pace when you’re fully healthy though!! I like to still have two “workout” days a week when I’m “base building”…except that instead of track sessions, they’re tempos and fartleks. I also probably SHOULD do more of my LR’s at a relaxed pace but I have a lot of trouble restraining myself so more often than not they end up as progression runs haha.

    • haha…power to us forced into ‘base phase’!! haha…although u’re one step ahead of me and at least running. (bad pun…i kno) but even on the elliptical i’m getting the cardio and intervals. :)

  2. I love base building because I am a total volume girl. :-)
    I just now am starting to track weekly volume.

  3. Great post!! What’s weird is that here there IS no off season! Cross country is still going on and will do until track season begins! Aaaand that leads right through the summer back into XC again! Its tough to find time to fit in base training when you’ve got races year round! I’m going to have a proper look though at my race schedule for this year and find some time to recharge and work on my base! :)

    • glad u like the post! ya, cross and track are back to back but sometimes coaches/teams sort of train thru the really early meets. u’re doing AWESOME on the racing girl…keep it up, but avoid tree! :P

  4. When I think of base building, I think of injuries and summer and winter. When I’m coming back from injury, I focus on slow, easy runs for a while before bringing anything fast in! When I’m in the offseason and injured, I do like to throw in some simple fartleks and tempos and strides every now and then. I can’t wait to be able to do them again!!

  5. i use daily mile to track my miles. so easy. and love the cake and icing picture, right now i’m in the cake baking stage. doing a lot of long slow runs that include pick ups that go something like “i think i pick it up enough to chick this dude that won’t let me pass him and is bothering me” or “lets see how long it takes me to get to that light post”. you know, real official training methods.

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  7. Ahh, reading this makes me feel even better about all that winter training advice I gave my athletes – not only building their mileage but also including some hills, tempo runs, and strides. It’s always good to have reassurance that you are saying the right things. :-)

    Personally I ALWAYS keep track of my weekly mileage. Actually pretty obsessive with doing so. Right now I write it down in my weekly planner and then usually eventually transfer it to an Excel file where I have the past few years stored.

    • haha…i think there’s a little OCD in all of us. ;) and sounds like u and i are on the same page as far as base building…good luck to ur team, i can’t wait to see/hear how they do come race season!

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