• Michelle Howell

Three Base Training Basics

Every summer in college I dreaded Sundays. I'd wake up to a balmy South Florida day and avoid my run for as long as possible waiting until the humidity would drop. Something that wouldn't happen until the sun began to drop around 6:30 pm. I'd shuffle out the door with my hair braided as tightly as possible preparing for monotonous miles on the hard packed dirt roads of my neighborhood. If I was lucky I'd come home soaking wet from sweat and the remnants of what was a nice braid now a full blown rats nest. On unlucky days I'd come home with the above and covered in small black dots. What were the dots you ask? Well friends they were the collateral damage that proved I was unable to avoid the looming gnat clouds that congregate on the sidewalks and wait for unsuspecting victims to come by.


This was base training. This was my training leading up to cross country, when the only thing that changed was the lower frequency of gnat encounters and higher humidity indexes. These were the days spent building toward track season.


In my first year out of collegiate training things are a bit different.

For one, I didn't start really training until mid August and I start ramping up mileage until September. With a track season that lasted through July, I was simply maintaining fitness all summer rather then building up for cross country. Being a middle distance runner with zero desire to race cross country and no longer needed to score for a team like in college, it's no longer a part of my running life. I've never been much of a 5k kind of girl and after coaching high school cross country in the North this fall I'm now convinced that it is in fact the worst sport in the world. Every race we attended was cold, windy, wet and we left covered in mud. Sometimes the kids couldn't even make it through the warm up without face planting in the mud. The small inkling I had of maybe hoping in a cross meet for fun flew out the window after going to my team's first meet and witnessing the carnage first hand that is cross country outside of Florida.


With no cross country and a track season that's extended to potentially late July this year training as a pro is a mix of old habits and new routines. Now with my rust buster of a first meet under my belt, it's nice to see how base training is starting to pay off. Today I'm sharing my three base training musts for a stellar season on the track.


Long runs + Progression

Long runs are the foundation of my weekly training plan, but I'll be the first to admit that they're were not always my favorite. Maybe it's due to the PTSD from those summer nights in South Florida or maybe it's from years spent believing that only long distance runners went further then six miles. Clearly, I've gotten over that line of thinking as these days most of my easy runs are at or over six miles.


For me, long runs are a marker. They measure not only my physical fitness, but my mental fortitude. Any runner can tell you about the anguish of looking down at your watch and realizing what felt like an hour is only thirty minutes. Any runner can tell you how empowering it feels to look down and realize an hour only felt like thirty minutes. Long runs are a mental game.


But how much mileage is too much mileage? It depends. Every athlete is different. Some people thrive on it, some less so. One clear thing is the process by which you increase or progress you're long runs. We all want to improve, but impatience can be a dagger to the chest when it comes to moving up your mileage. Too fast and you open the flood gates to injury as your body struggles to keep up with the demands being placed on it, a fate many eager beaver, mileage obsessed runners make. Slow and steady progression is the key to increasing without getting injured. The general rule of thumb is moving up by increments of 20% a week to avoid potential set backs.


Cross Training

Stationary bikes, yoga, elliptical, laps in the pool, pilates, aqua jogging. These were a few of my least favorite things as a younger athlete. Why you may ask? Because typically when I had to do these things it meant I was already hurt. There were many mornings I'd wake up to go to a 6:00 am spin class and leave with a sore bum, barely able to hear after an hour of music too loud for that early in the morning while my teammates weaved through our usual neighborhood routes.


These days cross training is as intertwined in my training as running itself. Three to five days a week, I'm spending a portion of my day in downward dog, strapped in an aqua jogging belt, or sporting a swim cap and goggles.


  • Cross training is a great way to build cardiovascular endurance outside of running. It exposes your body to different stimuli utilizing different muscles that running alone doesn't

  • It helps mix up your routine, allowing for a mental break from the monotonousness that is running

  • It's a great way to get your heart rate and fitness up without having to hit the pavement or the track

Just like with mileage, cross training should be added into your training incrementally. For me that's meant moving from twenty-five minute cross training sessions up to forty-five minutes to an hour over the course of six months.


Plyometric Drills

I used to be a sprinter, sometimes it's still fun to pretend I am.

Once a week I break out my spikes for some short end speed work and see how awful my explosiveness is with one of my favorite aspects of training; plyometric drills.


Some people call it jump training, others plyos, but a rose by any other name is just as sweet. These drills are movements and exercises that help improve the muscles ability to apply force to the ground. They help teach coordination (something usually not thought of as essential for athletes that run in circles or straight lines), force application (which should be the goal of every step you take while running) , and efficiency (how to apply force in order to optimize performance). My favorite plyos right now? Box jumps (a work in progress) and lateral hops.


If you're like me and love learning about the science behind these drills, take a look at this site.


As always thanks for reading and following my journey, this weekend I'll be hoping into a speedy half mile to test how fast these legs can carry me.


Happy track season friends!





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