The beauty of basics

Ask any successful sportsman how he or she starts their season, and they will point you towards their base phase or foundation setting for the year. Irrespective of whether you are a track runner, cross country, marathon and ultra-runner, the importance of getting the basics in place can’t be overemphasised! Like a wise builder who understands that the more comprehensive the foundation and support structures are, the more peace of mind you will have when the more aesthetically pleasing phases start. Not to mention the final phase of adding light, colour and other decorative components! The builder also knows that when the tests start coming, any shortcuts and corner-cutting will be revealed!
Even track athletes who may compete at the height of the season for only a few seconds or minutes per event understand that in order to achieve their goals, they need to have a good 8-12 weeks of base training in place! It has been revealed that world 800m record holder, David Rudisha, runs around 100miles (160km) per week to get and keep him in top form. Elite marathon and ultra runners do in excess of 200km per week to get them ready for race day!

What are the benefits of building a great foundation?

• Physical:
o Improved cardiovascular fitness – aerobic volume and aerobic power.
o Increase in leg strength through low intensity hill work.
o Improved flexibility and range of motion through hill training.
o Improved running efficiency.
• Physiological improvements through enhanced oxygen transportation and cardiovascular adaptation.
• Psychological improvements – programming the mind through gradually increasing running time, as well as adaptation to the demands of each training component.

The harsh truth is that not many of us like to do the hard cement mixing for a few weeks but rather want to go straight to the window dressing phase of speed work and racing! The problem with this potential-limiting move is that we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment. One of the main benefits of a comprehensive base is that it lasts a really long time. For well-trained runners you can “live” and race off your base for up to three months.
A second benefit is that should there be any setbacks, you will lose hardly any fitness if there was a need for a couple of weeks of no running. On the flipside though, for an undertrained runner a setback of a few weeks could well mean starting over!

How to make the most of your base phase.

• Set some base training goals, e.g. weekly mileage, number of strength and/or hill sessions per week, end-by-date of the phase!
• Plan some long runs with training partners to share the building phase.
• Keep a firm eye on your main goal(s) in order to ensure not getting carried away prematurely in the beginning of your training cycle.

As with everything, we just need to start somewhere! So after you have picked your target race(s) for the season, working backwards to where you are right now will make it a lot easier to know how best to tackle the first phase and then to start riding that wave of fitness all the way to race day!