Base Training – What is it? How do you do it?

Imagine your body is a phone book. Base training is all about turning your body into a thick, robust phone book with so many pages it is almost impossible to tear.

  • Every aerobic training session you complete adds another page to your phone book.
  • Every track session, hard interval session or race you complete takes a page out of your phone book.

Your aim during the base training phase is to make your phone book as thick as possible so that it is robust enough to withstand the harder training sessions that you will need in order to peak for your goal race.


The perfect base training phase includes:
  • Mostly Easy Aerobic Runs
  • A Gradually Increasing Long Run to Build Endurance
  • Maintaining Leg Speed with Farleks and Accelerations
  • Establishing a Stretching and Mobility Routine
  • Strength and Plyometric Training

If you get the right mix of each of these "ingredients" you can put together a perfect base training phase which will set you up for an awesome, injury free, race build up.


What is the goal of base training?

The goal of base training is to improve your aerobic capacity before you start a race-specific training plan which includes the harder anaerobic sessions you need to further develop your speed and strength in the lead up to your goal race.

Base training was made popular by the legendary New Zealand running coach, Arthur Lydiard. At the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games three of Lydiard's athletes, Murray Halberg, Peter Snell and Barry Magee, dominated the distance events on the track, winning six medals between the three of them. Their high-volume and periodised training approach was revolutionary at the time.


What type of runs should you include in your base training phase?
1. Aerobic Runs

The bulk of your training runs should be aerobic, which essentially means that you are running at a low heart rate. It can also be thought of as running at an intensity which would allow you to carry out a conversation.

During aerobic runs:

  • You burn fat as your main source of energy.
  • You don't put as much stress on your body as anaerobic training
  • You don't need as much recovery time between training sessions

This means you are less likely to suffer from injury or illness while the bulk of your training is aerobic.

2. Fartleks and Accelerations

You should also include some fartleks and accelerations during your base training phase.

During this phase the fartleks or accelerations should range anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, with a long recovery period between each interval. Your pace should vary from between 5km race pace and half marathon race pace depending on the length of the interval and the amount of recovery time.

A lot of runners get injured when they add speedwork to their training program. These relatively gentle base-phase fartleks help prepare your body for the harder workouts that come after the base phase.


Stretching and mobility work

The base training phase is a great period in which to develop some "body maintenance" routines. During this base period your total running volume shouldn't be all consuming, so there will be time to add some stretching, rolling, and mobility exercises to your training plan. Once you learn some easy routines and feel the benefits, it will be much easier to carry them through into your race build up phase.

A great routine to get started on NOW is my 3 minute morning stretching ritual. This simple 3 minute routine stretches your lower back, hips, glutes, knees, calves and quads, and it also helps to mobilise or "loosen up" your sciatic nerve which runs from your lower back all the way down to the soles of your feet.

Strength and Plyometric Training

Strength training helps you to recruit more muscle fibres, which develops stronger muscles and ultimately helps you to run faster.

Plyometric training or "jumping exercises" isolate and exaggerate the jumping element in running which means they improve running performance in a way that running itself does not.