During your first tentative days as a runner, almost all of your training will be base training. You may not be aware of the term, but the slow, steady running that most of us do early on in our running lives is the perfect preparation for building up speed and strength later on.
Once you’re fit, this type of training still has benefits and should form the basis of all the running you do. However, it can become harder to keep up your base training as you get fitter. The type of exercise we’re talking about here is very, very easy. It’s no good just running at a middle-ground, ‘steady’ pace and expecting the same benefits – you’ll over train and won’t reap some of the rewards that true base building brings. To get it right, you need to keep your effort level super easy: so you can talk freely, keep going for hours and may even feel you’re not working out at all. This kind of training teaches your body to burn fat for fuel, so you’ll find it easier to avoid ‘hitting the wall’ when you race long distances. It conditions your muscles, joints and respiratory system to deal with the more intense efforts you introduce later. It’s also relatively easy to recover from, with less impact and low injury risk.
The trouble with base training is that, once you’re fit, it can take a lot of patience to stick at it. You should be doing at least one long run per week at this level and, at this time of year, you could afford to make one or two of your other weekly workouts add to your base. Here’s how to make sure you don’t cheat your way out of the slow stuff.
BRING A FRIEND
You can kill three birds with one stone by inviting a friend to join you on one or two runs a week – ideally someone who has never run before. As well as adding to your base training mileage, you get to improve your social life and to do a friend a favour by introducing them to a brilliant way to keep fit and de-stress. You’ll be forced to take things slowly (unless your friend is extremely competitive or over-ambitious) – you may even need to run/walk to begin with, which is perfect for building base fitness. Having someone to chat along with will ensure you keep your breathing and heart rate under control, too.
No, we don’t mean ditch running altogether! But if you find it impossible to put on a pair of running shoes without dashing around like you’re going for a new 5K PB, then it makes sense to do some of your base training using other activities. It’s not quite the specific fitness and conditioning training that slow running is, but you’ll gain the same cardiovascular fitness benefits. Try easy cycling, ideally out on the roads or trails where your heart rate will stay lower and you’ll have more natural breaks from downhills and flat sections to keep things easy. Swimming is another great option, as the support of the water keeps your heart rate low – and for many of us, lack of swimming technique will also limit intensity in the water.
MAKE IT ALL COUNT
We’re all being advised to be more active in our day-to- day lives, and even if you are a committed runner there will be times when you can add extra sneaky fitness gains. Walking is the obvious addition: just taking a longer route home, or walking round the block when you park after work, gradually improves your base fitness. Housework, shopping and gardening will all give your heart rate and fitness a gentle lift, too. Use an activity tracker such as a Fitbit or Jawbone to help you tot up the hours you’ve spent on your feet.
GET A GADGET
If you really can’t be trusted to keep your effort levels under control, enlist the help of technology to check up on you. The best way to do this is using a heart-rate monitor. Opt for a model that includes alarms when you go outside set zones. You can then do a fitness test or set your own zones, and set the unit to sound when you go above your base training level. If nothing else the embarrassment of it going off as you pass a busy bus queue should shock you into dropping the pace back down.
CHANGE YOUR TUNE
Running with music is a brilliant way to help you build intensity and stay motivated during tough workouts – but you can also use it to lower your tempo, too. Ditch your usual high-energy tunes and create a playlist of slower, more meditative songs to encourage you to take things steady as you train.
Most of us use the same routes in our training and aiming to beat your time over a familiar circuit is a brilliant way to build up your race speed. Unfortunately, once you’ve switched on that urge to race yourself, it’s pretty difficult to resist the temptation to do it every time. So if you want to run markedly slower, switch to a completely different route. Ideally, go for a softer surface and a route with plenty to look at so you’re naturally more inclined to take it steady.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Still feeling demoralised by all this slow running? Then prove to yourself that it’s working. Keep one faster session per week in your programme, which you can use to reassure yourself that you can still push faster, and to use as a regular test to show that your fitness is still improving. If you’re trying to shift weight, try tracking your body fat as well as pounds lost – you should find it drops steadily as you increase your base training over winter.