In outlining the ABCs of systematic training in The Triathlete’s Guide, I discuss the importance of establishing a strong aerobic foundation before moving into higher intensity anaerobic training that taps into the lactic acid system. This is the A in the ABC mnemonic, which stands for aerobic before anaerobic. With this in mind, an emphasis during base training is placed on endurance runs in zone 2. These aerobic workouts are important for conditioning the body to better metabolize fat and spare glycogen (stored carbohydrate) as a long duration energy source.
Although these aerobic runs—often termed “long slow distance” (LSD)—are a vital component to base training, they are only part of the base building process. Of equal importance is the need to develop economy of movement while strengthening the muscles, ligaments and tendons that support your goal to run fast and efficiently. This is where the second part of the ABCs comes into play: B for build endurance along with neuromuscular speed.
By neuromuscular speed, I mean the firing of fast-twitch muscle fibers and coordination of proper movement patterns required for economy of motion. Note that this is different than the conception of “speed” as it is sometimes used to refer to activities of a few minutes in duration where the lactic acid system is tapped.
(The Endurance Athlete’s Training Guide, p. 35)
To build a complete running base, at least once or twice per week during base training you should incorporate drills and acceleration striders into easy runs or endurance runs.
Easy runs are short runs (usually less than 30 minutes) in zone 1. They are designed to aid recovery, add to your training volume and to loosen you up for the key runs of the week. Don’t worry about pace or distance covered; the goal is to feel fresh at the end. Easy runs can incorporate a few minutes of drills and/or a few acceleration striders.
Endurance runs are aerobic runs in zone 2 (i.e. conversational pace) of 20 minutes or longer. (The “long run” represents a longer version of this type of workout.) They are designed to provide the aerobic conditioning that is foundational to your fitness. Incorporate the drills and striders detailed below into any endurance run of an hour or less in duration.
After you are warmed up, run through the following drills. Perform each drill 1-3 times for 20-40 meters. During the first few weeks, focus on the following four drills:
Once you have mastered these first four drills; then add the next three drills to your repertoire:
Finally, when you are ready for more; add:
The full drill routine need only take about 10 minutes as part of your run. Keep your Garmin/watch running during the drill session and count the distance/time accumulated as part of your overall run time. This will incentivize you to think of this as a crucial component of these base training workouts (which it is!) rather than something extra or separate.
At some point during the run (such as after drills), find a good 100 meter straightaway where you can do some acceleration striders. Ideally, this will be a softer surface, such as a track, the infield of a track, a grassy area such as a park, or an even section of dirt trail. Do 4-12 x 100 meter acceleration striders with the wind at your back. Start off easy and gradually pick up your pace until you’re at full speed; hold it for up to 10 seconds; then wind it back down.
Focus on good form and leg turnover. These are “feel good sprints” to develop the neuromuscular action needed for good form and faster running. Gradually build your speed without straining for it. These will raise your heart rate, but will not keep it raised long enough to significantly tap into the lactic acid system. Jog 200-300 meters between each strider or until you feel fully recovered (with heart rate returned to zone 1) and ready for the next one. Don’t worry about time or heart rate on these. These will help condition the fast-twitch and intermediate fast-twitch muscle fibers that even endurance athletes utilize during prolonged activity.
Notes on Implementation
Drills and acceleration striders provide important complementary elements to the low intensity aerobic work that comprises the bulk of your training volume. Note that the drills and striders do not necessarily need to occur together in the same runs. There are a variety of ways you can implement these elements into your base training. Aim to include drills into at least two runs per week; and aim to include striders into at least two runs per week. If you do this consistently during your base period, you will build a complete base that will effectively prepare you for faster training and racing down the road.