Base Building

To develop effective and safe training programs you need to understand the fundamental rules; the rule of overload/recovery and the rule of specificity, and if you think about it, these rules applies to every sport.


Rule of overload/recovery also called the Hard/Easy System

Training = If repetitive stress is applied to the body which is greater than what it is used to with adequate recovery periods, the body will adapt to the increased stress.  In running, stress can be applied by increased speed and/or distance. Adaptation does not take place during the overload or stress period, but during the recovery or rest periods between stresses.  For the body to adapt to overload, it must be followed by a recovery period.  This system is referred to as hard/easy training where the runners workouts varies from day to day in intensity and duration, typically with 2 0r 3 hard days a week separated by easier recovery days. In physiology , the principle of overload tell us that we must provide training stress beyond what we are used to that will cause depletion of energy stores and microscopic damage to muscle and connective tissues which, as they heal they will adapt and grow stronger. The same concept is true for all the other bodies part associated with delivering energy to the muscle.  Therefore, over time the muscles can do more work and the ability to deliver oxygen to the muscle increase allowing the runner to do more intense work for longer periods.  The key is to first provide enough but not too much stress and then allow enough recovery to replenish energy stores, heal and adapt. For runners, the recovery period has shown to be 48 hours or more.  Forty-eight hours is the minimum time needed to restore enzymes and nutrients, like glycogen, in the muscle cells after a hard workout. Therefore, the most successful training programs are the one that have at least one easy day after each hard day to enable recovery.

What’s HARD and what’s EASY?

  • EASY can either refer to distance or pace.  The distance is 10% or less of the weekly mileage and it is run at about 75-80% of the pace that the runner could run for that specific training distance.
  • HARD can also be defined in terms of distance or pace. During the base building phase, it refers to runs that are 20% or more of the total weekly mileage, which are run at an “easy” pace (75-80% effort). In the sharpening phase, it refers to a workout run at more than 85% of the maximum pace the runner could run for that training distance.

Example of  a week of training applying the Hard/Easy Rule.

S            M            T          W        Th          F          S

hard    easy        easy     hard      easy     hard     easy

Here is few charts to refer to when in doubt.  The empty boxes indicate that these training combinations are not necessary to get results and they are considered risky training.



Specificity of training means that in order to do well in a certain sport or activity you have to train specifically for that sport;  a runner should train by running and a biker should train by biking.  Specificity refers to adaptation of metabolic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and other system, depending on the overload used.  Specifics workouts will bring changes in those system used for that specific workout.  Running is clearly the specific training for running.  However, different adaptations occur from different types of running; the duration, frequency and intensity lead to different physiological adaptations within the body.  This is why it is very crucial to have a running program designed for the specific race you want to run so you maximize your performance and get rid of wasted effort.  For marathoner is essential to train using long runs to build the endurance.

10% RULE

Adding miles too quickly is one common reason for sport injury. To prevent this you should follow the ten percent rule.  Mileage increases should be no more than 10% per week.  To increase milage I first increase the length of my longer runs and to make sure I get maximum recovery I increase the length of my rest runs only when they are below 10% of my weekly milage.  For a marathon training you should follow a schedule that will allow you  to reach the 2o mile run at about 8 to 10 weeks prior the marathon.  How long should be your longest run? Beginners should aim to run for about the same length of time as they will run during the marathon, which is 20 miles running at the recommended 75-80% easy effort.(I will post a table) Attempting to run longer distance may lead to injury or extreme fatigue. For the more experienced runners, particularly if their goal is to improve performance, a few runs up to the marathon distance could be beneficial.  The schedule should be close to the 3:1:1:2:1:2:1 daily ratio.  The most important thing I always say is to listen to your body and respond to its needs!  If something hurt while you are running on it, your body is telling you that you are abusing it and it needs a rest, listen! Do not hide the pain with pain killer, because what you are doing is numbing the area that hurt and when you run on top of it you end up hurting it even more with the result of a possible injury.  Take an extra day off, your body will thank you.

Detraining = If the repetitive stress is reduced, the body will adapt to the reduced stress.  Detraining begins after 3-4 days without exercise, the energy system enzymes disappear first and the more time goes by the more adaptations are lost.  After  6 weeks of inactivity most training effect are lost.  However, if you trained once and you start running again, you can expect your fitness level to go back up at about the same rate at which it went down.  With endurance running an increase in blood volume occur, and when you stop training your VO2 max will decrease by up to 10%, mainly due to a reduction in your blood volume.  When your blood volume decreases, less blood returns to your heart to be pumped with each heart beat. This means that your stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped per heart beat) decreases.  And if you want to run at the same pace as before your heart rate must increase.  Other effects of detraining include a loss of flexibility, a decrease in your lactate threshold pace, and large reductions in your muscle glycogen concentration and aerobic enzyme activity.

A training program should be broken down into three phases; basebuilding, sharpening and tapering.


Base building is the basis for all training for running.  It’s the most important part of training and the purpose is to increase overall milage and the distance of the long run to the level of endurance needed for a specific race distance.  The training here is simple endurance training using the 80% effort runs to build milage needed, starting from a current level of running.  The key word in this phase is “mileage.” As you build up your base mileage you will get time on feet which will train your mind and body to endure the distance you will cover on race day.  As mentioned before when building a mileage base the weekly milage should not be increased by more than 10% at a time, to prevent over-training and injury.  Easy and hard runs should alternate,  adding no more than 1-2 miles per week to the long run. For beginners this phase should last at least 4-6 months with a goal of hitting a minimum of 40-45 miles per week.  For advance runners that want to improve their performance, a minimum of 60-65 miles per week is recommended.  Basebuilding improves endurance and VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can utilize during intense or maximal exercise,  the more oxygen you can use during high level exercise, the more energy (ATP) you can produce, with the result of being able to exercise more intensely.  Cardiovascular or aerobic changes happen pretty quickly, muscle take a little longer, and connective tissue, tendons and ligaments take the longest to become strong enough to support the added mileage.  That is why is very important to follow a schedule that build mileage slowly and comfortably without being tempted to run too many milage too soon only because you feel you have the stamina to support that, when in reality your body is lacking of muscular and connective tissue strength that develop much slower with the possible result of injury.

Here is a table of goals for most levels of athletes for common race distances that Patti & Warren Finke developed.





After building strength and endurance in the base building phase is the sharpening phase which involve specific race preparation applying speedwork to improve running efficiency at race pace.

2 thoughts on “Base Building

  1. I have been looking for an intermediate marathon building plan, and this by far the best I have seen. It looks very similar to what I’m doing with so many reasonable improvements. Thank you so much. I will be running Boston 2014 and I have a best of 3:25, I think I can accomplish another best with this intermediate training plan, and passion, and heart, and a lots of love for the sport. :)!

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