It is no secret in distance running that if you want to be a successful and injury free runner you need a solid base. Running under multiple coaches and for different programs, I quickly learned that this is the one aspect of running that holds true no matter who you run for.
This fall is the perfect time to start building a solid base for your 2010 season. To me a base really is just a period of solid consistent running. If you want to have a solid and consistent run in your 2010 triathlon season there are no shortcuts.
Why is a base so important you might ask? The idea to run more and hurt less is an odd one, and to most it probably doesn't make sense. For most people, when run training mileage and volume are increased injuries quickly follow. This is the whole reason why a base training needs to start in the fall. Start with a distance your body can easily handle, and make a commitment to run 5-6 days a week spreading that volume out over those days. If you can only handle 15 miles a week that is ok! Spread it out and run 3 miles each day, 5 days a week. After running this distance for 2-3 weeks(granted you started at a manageable volume) your body will start to slowly adapt, and it is time to add 2-3 more miles to your weekly plan. The gain doesn't seem like much but that is the whole point. You need to gradually introduce your body to running so that it can adapt to the changes. Repeat this pattern through the winter, and into the early spring. The key is to only add mileage after the body is ready. If you skip days and are not consistent you will not see adaptation occurring, and mileage increases will only result in injury.
Why is it that run volume must be spread out over the whole week? The idea in spreading out your running volume to 5 or 6 days is to create a consistent stress on the body. We think of our skeletal system as a somewhat dead structural system, that only acts in bodily support. In reality bone tissue is a living, and active tissue. If you introduce repeated stress to a portion of a bone, the bone will adapt and change. Osteoclasts reabsorb bone calcium from places where it is not needed and the osteoblasts take this calcium and place a mineral matrix where stress is introduced reinforcing the area. If you are skipping days running every 2nd or 3rd day the body does not know if running is going to be a regular occurrence and does not adapt. Along with general bone strengthening, tendons, ligaments, and muscle insertion points are also strengthened.
Along with a body that is ready to handle volume you will be pleasantly surprised with your new ability to run. Speed work is icing on the cake, or the roof of a house. You don't make huge gains in your performance based off of speed alone. Your base is where the majority of your fitness lies. Think of it as 85% of the structure and speed work being that last 15% that pushes you to the top. If you have no base, your improvement from speed is very minimal.
At what pace should off season running be at? This is the beauty of the off season. Just get out the door and train. Pace is not important. If you want more of a technical answer, I run my off season running at a high end easy- low end moderate pace. You don't want to be burning up the lungs. Again the idea being consistency and volume not intensity.
I have seen this played out time and time again with elite level high school runners in Spokane. The ones that excel and are injury free are the ones that spend their summers and winters consistently running steady mileage. In 2008 I came back to running. I quickly jumped into a season without putting down the foundation. Doing lots of speed to try and quickly gain fitness I was getting myself nowhere, and for those of you that don't remember I had one injury after the next. Plantarfacia, IT band syndrome, tendinitis, and many other injuries kept me from competing. In the fall of 08 I decided to get myself healthy and start the 09 season right. I have never enjoyed running more :).
At this point you have realized that it is only November, and the race season is still 7 months away. So I hope you just figured out that gives you 5-6 months of solid base training. When spring rolls around we can start talking a little speed, but for now get out the door and be consistent. Races are not won on race day, they are won in the early mornings of December and January, on the snowy roads, and rainy trails. They are won through the commitment you make to yourself to get out that door and train on a regular basis.
On a side note this has to be one of my favorite commercials by Nike.
Happy training :)