3 Key Elements of Base Training for Runners

3 Key Elements of Base Training for Runners

Keep these three neuromuscular elements in mind to supercharge your aerobic runs.

Although “long slow distance” (LSD) has become synonymous with base training for runners, this comprises only part of what you need to do to prepare for higher intensity training and racing later in the season. A well-rounded base training program should integrate those staple LSD runs at “conversational pace,” along with short sprints to develop neuromuscular speed and drills to develop good form.

Long Slow Distance (LSD)

Regardless of your training phase, the bulk of your training should be comprised of endurance runs in your aerobic zones. However, during base training, you’ll want to really emphasize building the distance or duration of these endurance runs. Depending upon your starting fitness level, an ‘endurance run’ can be anywhere from 20 minutes up to a few hours or longer—the point is that you remain in an aerobic zone.

In other words, do these runs at a pace that is conversational. The effort should be comfortable enough that you could hold an ongoing conversation with a training partner. To stay relaxed and keep it conversational, focus on breathing through your nose. If you use a heart rate monitor, this intensity will correspond to Zone 2 in the seven-zone system.

The purpose of these workouts is to develop the ability to better metabolize fat and spare glycogen as a long duration energy source (glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate in the muscles and liver). Designate one of these runs each week as your “long run.” As your base training progresses, gradually increase the distance or duration of this long run. Shorter runs at this conversational pace can incorporate the two additional elements of base training described below.

Acceleration Striders

Acceleration striders are short bursts of speed less than 10 seconds in duration. You can do these in the middle of any of your endurance runs. Start off with four per run, once or twice a week as you begin base training. You can eventually build up to 12 or more.

Although these speed bursts, often called “alactics,” do utilize anaerobic energy pathways, they are not long enough in duration to tap the lactic acid system. Short alactic striders therefore allow you to develop your muscles, ligaments and tendons without taxing the body the way longer lactic intervals do. Developing these supporting structures provides a solid base upon which you can add higher intensity aerobic and anaerobic work as your training progresses. Alactics also condition the fast-twitch and intermediate fast-twitch muscle fibers—even long-distance runners use these fibers during prolonged activity.

I like to do acceleration striders on the infield of a track, but you can also do them on the track itself, on a non-technical dirt trail or on a grassy field at a park (avoid pavement when possible). Start off easy and gradually pick up your pace until you’re at full speed. Hold that top speed for up to 10 seconds; then wind it back down. Think of these striders as “feel good speed”—you want to feel good going fast. Focus on good form. Don’t worry about your time or heart rate during the accelerations, and allow yourself full recovery in between (about 2-3 minutes of easy running).

Running Drills

The final piece of base training involves drills to instantiate good movement patterns and to work on any weaknesses in your form. You can incorporate 5-10 minutes of drills into an endurance run (along with your acceleration striders) or an easy recovery run. Do this once or twice per week during base training. Here are my top-three must-do drills (for more drills and video demonstrations see my previous article, Drills for Proper Running Form).

Carioca or Grapevine

As you move sideways, cross one leg over the other in front and then behind. Hold your arms out to the side to begin. Once you get the hang of the drill, use the same arm motion as you use while running and do a high knee crossover. This drill targets the stabilizing muscles that play a secondary but nevertheless important role in running.

A-Skip

For the A-skip, skip with high knees. As you bring your leg down, pull backwards. Focus on initiating that pull from the glutes and pulling through with the hamstrings. This will engrain the essential backward-pulling motion into muscle memory. Use the same arm motion during this drill as you use while running.

Butt Kick

This drill also trains that backward pulling motion, which is central to running propulsion. Start the butt kick drill as you would the A-skip drill—that is, by pulling backwards with your glutes and hamstrings. Follow through by kicking your heel up to your butt. As you recover and drive forward, keep your knees high and use the same arm motion as you do while running.

Consistent implementation of these three base training components early in the season will help you develop a solid aerobic and neuromuscular running base, which you can build upon as the season progresses.

Adam Hodges

Adam Hodges, Ph.D., is a USA Triathlon certified coach and American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. In addition to coaching multisport athletes, he has coached high school cross country and track runners in California and masters swimmers in Colorado. As a USAT All-American triathlete, he has competed in the ITU World Triathlon Championships, the ITU World Duathlon Championships, and the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. As a masters runner, he has won a series title in the XTERRA SoCal Trail Series. Learn more about his books and training resources at www.alpfitness.com.

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