Posted by: thehungryrunner | April 9, 2010

Beginning and Returning Runners: Running for “Metabolic Base Building”

I don’t ever really stop running (short of when I may be nurturing an injury or am under the weather).  So it’s not entirely accurate to describe me as a “returning runner.”  But without question, my running ebbs and flows in cycles; sometimes I’m running nearly every day, including longer distances (for me, that would be the 10-mile range), and sometimes I’m running very minimally — maybe once or twice a week, and those might just be either light walk/run intervals or very short-duration jaunts to keep the muscle memory going in my legs.  During those times, I’m typically focusing on other forms of cardio, such as cross-trainer machines or walking, and often I’m also spending more time practicing my yoga and/or strength training.  So without question, my fitness routine is a living, breathing organism, constantly morphing and evolving.

I mention this because it’s not unusual for me to emerge from the winter season with considerably fewer continuous runs under my belt.  So once the warmer weather hits — and I’m joyfully hitting my neighborhood for outdoor cardio as a result, my outdoor runs are very different from my outdoor runs of the previous fall.  Back in fall, coming off a whole season or two of solid running training and races, I’m light on my feet, I can seemingly “just push play” and go whatever distance I’d like for that outing, and can sustain a hearty pace for myself.  In the spring, on the other hand, I’m slower, I have less spring to my step, and suddenly even shorter distances, small hills, or even a strong headwind require much more effort than before.  At the same time, I’m so excited to have survived winter’s indoor (I sometimes call them “cave-dweller”) workouts and to have the option of enjoying the fresh air and burgeoning landscape, it’s tempting to go full throttle, letting my enthusiasm pick up where my legs’ stamina leaves off.

But I’m reminded of the importance of “metabolic base building,” and this approach has worked so well for me, I want to pass it along to those who might either just be starting out with running, or those who are just getting back into it.  The idea is that these early-season runs are meant to serve one primary purpose:  build your base.  Without getting into the complex biochemistry of it, basically, running at a slower, sustainable speed but with good technique and whatever distance you can comfortably handle today…..helps to stimulate changes and adaptations in your body, your muscles, your cells, to improve your energy production.  This in turn will give you the foundation off of which you can eventually start lengthening your distance, increase your speed, increase your intensity (as in, boost your caloric burn), etc.  But until you have that base, those other changes can’t really take place without placing undo stress on the body and the mind.

In other words, if you feel tempted to “just grit through it” and push yourself through a grueling run…..stop!  In these early stages, your best bet is to do what you can with good form, what you would probably call an “easy run.”  If you insist on a certain time duration or distance, consider either a walk-run interval workout or run for the first portion, then walk the rest.  But be consistent; set a schedule of very regular outings (a goal of 2-3 times a week is a great start), and be sure to stretch thoroughly after each session.  Once you’ve been at this for at least a month, then you can evaluate where you’re at and start tweaking.  By then, upping the intensity of your runs won’t be as daunting and in fact should feel good, rather than feel like a chore!

Remember, your running routine should GIVE you more energy, not take it away!  So step one:  Metabolic Base Building.

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