Base training is always a popular topic with runners as well as coaches. Certainly base training includes getting some miles under your belt and getting rolling after a break from your previous season. However, too often old-fashioned coaches out of step with current research seem to think the magic is in the miles run and more is better – especially during the all important “base” phase. (In the 70s everyone’s mantra was do your 1000-mile summer.) Contrary to their out dated thoughts and advice, it is not about just packing on miles.
Let’s be clear, if you aren’t running or are hardly running then you have to get miles up. But, the magic is not in the number of miles (science has convincingly shown that). The magic is however in WHAT you do with the miles. This is true all year long but it is also true in the base training phase.
This brings me to the topic of base training and key elements to a sound base phase. The most critical purpose is that you lay a foundation of conditioning to withstand your race-specific training. Depending on your level of competition, years of running, history of injuries, need for rest days and target race distance we can determine your weekly miles. Regardless of miles, the single most critical workout is one of the many forms of running-specific strength circuit workouts… aka Mean Dean’s.
Mean Dean’s were so named by a former captain of my high school team. Thank you Kevin Jones. The team figured I was just finding ways to torture them in the late summer heat in Arizona. Little did he know they were building strength along with introducing race pace training in small doses which launched them into an awesome cross-country season.
The workout is also called speed-strength though it is a misnomer since it isn’t true speed training and doesn’t train “speed.” Ideally the pace for this workout is 5K race pace up to vVO2max (or about mile race pace). And if you are a middle distance (800/1500) you can up the pace a bit. It can even be easily be adapted even for the shorter distances. This of course flies in the face of the “more miles” advocates who prefer longer slower paces. However, mile through 5k race paces are not speed work; do not “peak” a runner and do not develop raw speed. These paces are however the preferred paces to assure that you have what is considered a “quality” workout.
What makes the running-specific strength workout different than typical reps on a track are the rest intervals and the total mileage of them (or number of reps). Here are the rules of the workout:
1. Once you begin, no “rest” time is allowed. After a good warm-up proceed.
2. Start with a 400. Run it at your 5K race pace. [More novice runners may start this workout doing 4×400. Novice runners may progress to 8×400. Advanced runners may start with 8×400. Advanced runners will progress to a workout like: 4×400, 2×800, 4×400.]
3. At the end of each 400 immediately launch into 3-6 strength and core related exercises. [squats, jump squats, squat thrusts, burpees, lunges, step-ups, push-ups, sit-ups/crunches, medicine ball throws, plyo hops (1 or 2 legged), speed ladder drills, etc.] Depending on your current strength you can establish the number of reps for each exercise, usually 8-20 of EACH.
4. No hesitation between exercises.
5. No hesitation after exercises – launch into your next 400. Keep your pace.
6. Remember no stopping. This is a continuous workout. The workout is completed in 20-45 minutes. Great bang for the energy investment.
7. You can do this workout 1-2 times a week during a 4-8 week base phase.
And I would be remiss if I did not give credit to Owen Anderson Ph.D. for introducing me to this wondrous workout. What I have found is that it is infinitely flexible and doesn’t even necessitate having a track. Parks work great!
Most runners will find this to be the workout they love to hate. I have used it with great success from beginning joggers to advanced marathoners and from 400 meter specialists to ultra-marathoners. Try it!