Aerobic Base: Endurance Building with a Long-Term Goal

Those of you that keep a close eye on Strava may have noticed that a) despite recently becoming a Dad of 2 I’ve still been able to log consistent and decent mileage, and b) the large majority of my runs have been at a very comfortable pace for me. The first point is largely thanks to my understanding wife who knows that without some form of exercise I’d drive myself and likely the rest of the household crazy. This is also part of an agreement that during this time we need to do our best to maintain those activities that keep us balanced (albeit with some compromises) so that we can better support one another.

The 2nd point is a purposeful intention to work on my ‘Aerobic Base’. Since I really got into running with the aim of getting faster (around 7 years ago), I’ve repeated the same cycle year after year. Train 16-20weeks for a race, have some downtime where I either don’t train at all or very minimal running for a month or two, and then I go into the next 16-20weeks of an intensive training cycle for a race again. And Repeat, year after year. That approach has worked fairly well in the past, but it was clear from my recent performances that if I wanted to PR and optimize my performance, something needed to change. That’s where the Aerobic base comes in.

This summer I’ve committed myself to keeping my mileage close to my usual training amount (around 60-70miles/week), however the bulk of that mileage (think 95%) is done at a very easy and comfortable pace. Last week I had fun experimenting to find out what pace I needed to hold to keep my Heart Rate below 130bpm, which was a refreshing challenge to break up my daily runs (my curiosity was triggered by a research article I read that I’ll discuss another time). 

Occasionally I’ll do a mini workout that again is done at an easier intensity when compared to my race training block. I’ll generally lower the amount of reps for a workout and reduce the pace. For example: In my marathon specific training I may do 8*800m with each rep in 2:40min. During my aerobic base I’ll likely do something similar but reduce the reps to 6 and run the reps in 3:00min instead. The reps, pace, and rests in between are targeted so that the workout is specific enough to build my aerobic capacity, but also not overly stressing the body out. This is also a great time to do Hill Repeats and Fartleks (again at a more relaxed intensity), an approach credited to famed running coach Arthur Lydiard in the 1950’s.

What is the purpose of an Aerobic Base?

The purpose of the Aerobic Base is to build your aerobic capacity and cardiovascular system, essentially your running engine. Distance running is aerobic in nature so it makes sense to develop the aerobic system. During the Aerobic Base stage of training you are able to increase the size and number of mitochondria in your muscle cells, Mitochondria are needed to produce ATP (energy), so the more you have and the larger they are, the more energy you can produce quicker (as long as O2 is present). 

The aerobic base also helps your body to utilize fat as a fuel source so that it becomes less reliant on glycogen (carbs). Additionally the lower intensity of aerobic training means that you reduce the chances of suffering from burnout or over training as your body is not overly stressed.

So far I’ve really enjoyed the ‘easy’ nature of this training and it’s nice waking up with the legs feeling fresh and not having to mentally push myself through a barrier to go out and run (which can happen during a race specific training cycle). About 14-16 weeks out from my goal race I’ll transition into my race specific training, with the aerobic base hopefully putting me in a great position to perform well in the Fall. The Aerobic Base may not solve my issues, but the science is there and I’m willing to give it a go. Let’s see what happens…

If you’re interested in developing your aerobic base and not quite ready to take the leap into a full on coaching package we have good news. Our ‘Standalone Plans’ are perfect for an Aerobic Base Building Period. Your plan is personalized to optimize your aerobic base and you still have the option to email your coach once a month to seek clarification or adjust your training. Our Standalone Plans start from just $35/month (that’s just $1.25/day) and are the perfect gateway into a successful Fall training cycle! Find out more here!

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