Winter is in full swing here in Michigan, which means freezing temperatures, snow up to our knees, and lots of wind. Even though the elements can certainly be tough, I am a huge advocate of running through the winter. However, despite my best efforts (and failed attempts), I know that winter is not the ideal time for intense training. It’s nearly impossible to complete double digit runs when no trail is shoveled or plowed for that distance. Tempo and interval runs are a joke, as my shoes slip and slide across the ice with each step. Rather than stress over the lack of focused workouts, I use this time to build my best training base.
When I first started running, I tried to follow a marathon training plan one winter. The longest stretch of sidewalk or trails I could find that were shoveled was about 1 mile, so I ran back and forth on weekends for up to 16 miles. For those shorter runs, I remember toughing it out by trudging through snow. Looking back on this, I have no idea how I managed to complete these runs. The monotony of running the same 1 mile stretch for hours would make me go insane now.
Needless to say, this weather is not ideal for any kind of intense, focused training. What I’ve learned over the years and have come to love, is that it is ideal for building a running base. I love using the winters to build an aerobic base after the holidays. There is nothing like the satisfaction of sweating off all the unhealthy treats and calories that have accumulated throughout the past few months.
My idea of a solid running base means being able to head out the door and run 6-8 miles comfortably. During base training I spend about 6 weeks of the darkest, coldest days running about 3 or 4 times a week. These runs start out short as I return back from the holidays, usually only about 3 or 4 miles at a time. After a week or so, I increase the distance for a few runs, but never to more than 8 miles at a time. During these runs, I avoid looking at my watch and run solely based on feel. My goal is to build a really solid running base, that will allow me to easily add in more focused, intense training by the time things start to warm up.
After about 6 weeks of base training, my body is feeling fresh, strong, and ready for some new challenges. No matter what season you are in, aerobic base building is a foundational part of any training plan that all runners need. Whether you are a seasoned pro or new beginner, spending time base training sets you up to avoid injury and stay strong when training begins. Here are some of the best ways to build a really solid running base.
How to Build a Solid Running Base
Set a mileage limit during base training and don’t exceed it
- Decide what frequency and distance you want to stick to and don’t go above it (for me, this means no more than 4 runs a week, and nothing more than 8 miles at a time)
- Base building training is not the time to push your limits, it’s the time to build a really strong foundation. Challenging yourself before you’ve built your running base will only cause injury
Focus on feel rather than speed or distance
- Avoid obsessing over your pace during these base training runs
- Get out there and run a distance that feels good, at a pace that is enjoyable
Shorter, frequent runs are most efficient when building a running base
- Running 12 miles once a week is a great accomplishment, but won’t help you build a strong aerobic base. A great running base comes from frequent miles that don’t stretch your limits
Don’t neglect your recovery just because you are base training
- A great running base also means your body is injury free, health, fresh and strong
- Stretching, foam rolling, recovery snacks, and strength training all play into building a running base as well
Use the extra time to incorporate more cross training
- Building a great running base isn’t just about running… now is the time to create well rounded strength
- Taking the time to cross train along with running will build your aerobic base much quicker than just running alone
- Your body will benefit greatly from strength when it’s time to crank up your mileage or speed work
Rather than getting down on myself because of low mileage or slower speeds, I enjoy using this time to get really fit. Marathon training and speed work feel so much easier when I begin them feeling fresh and strong. Running through the winter can be tricky, but a change in mindset and intentions has helped me greatly reduce stress this time of year.
Further running base reading:
- How to Safely Increase Your Mileage
- The Best Parts About Winter Running
- How to Make a Running Comeback
- 7 Ways to Get Your Running Groove Back
- 36 Essential Resources for Runners