Hopefully you made it through your racing or training season (mostly) injury free. Or, you had a busy year in life or at work and are ready to get back to running and tackle 2012 head on. Winter base training is where we start.
Simply put, winter base training is where we accumulate a season's worth of fitness and build on it for the next season, or it is where we build back the aerobic capacity to begin running again at the level we are/were accustomed to. We'll simply refer to it as "winter base" or "base". Because that is all we are doing, setting a strong base to build the rest of our fitness on.
A good place to start: take inventory of exactly where you are on a continuum, from fit to out of shape, and also from intact to injured. These are two key areas that will determine where you start your winter base training, as well as help you establish a base from where you can set your goals for the following year.
On the continuum, rank yourself from 1-5, 5 being the best (i.e. fittest, intact). If you are really tuned in to your body, go from 1-10. Your ranking should be relative to what you are accustomed to. A 15:00 5k runner will have a much different idea of fitness versus a 30:00 5k runner. That doesn't make the 30:00 runner worse, just with a different perspective they need to view their training from.
If you are not at a "4" (or "8" if you went with 1-10) in each category, run at your current level until you can honestly increase your ranking to 4 (or 8). Once you do that, here are a few pointers for putting together a winter base training plan.
We'll use a casual runner that averages 10/min miles with a goal to increase their mileage for the spring for our winter base training example.
1) Our runner is doing 4 miles per day, 4 days per week, so they add the equivalent of one half day of running per week, so 2 miles. Spread these four miles out in any order. An example would be:
4 - 4 - day off - 4 - day off - 4
4 - 5 - day off - 4 - day off - 5
2) Convert that time over to minutes. This will be how our runner will schedule all of their runs for winter base training (see This Week's Top Ten for more info on using minutes versus miles for training purposes). The idea is that running in minutes will keep the runner from going too long on a bad day, and enable the runner to run more on a good day.
40 - 50 - off - 40 - off - 50
3) Set one long run day, and one semi-long run day. Using the runner from the example above, let's advance a little further down the line. Here would be an example:
40 - 60 - off - 40 - off - 90
4) Winter training is a time to rekindle your love of running or training. If anything, at least get back on speaking terms. You should want to go out and run or hit the gym, but that doesn't mean you will. Give yourself a regular day off, or simply take a day off to recuperate after hard days at work or home. Being away for a day will likely make you miss it that much more, and you be able to come back with a bigger fire.
Remember to keep your pace easy. That doesn't mean to run your slowest every single run. Simply run how you feel. If that means running at your marathon pace (should be a pace you can hold for a long time but is not an easy jog), do it. If it means slugging your way down the trail jogging lightly, that is how you should run. Keep in mind that some quicker pace runs will help keep you fresher and are more invigorating than those slow runs just grinding out the miles.
Have a great weekend, and remember to check back during the course of this week for the rest of the Winter Base Training Series!