From “Recovery” To “Training”: The Base-Building Phase

For the past 6 weeks or so I have been in what I would call a “recovery” phase after my last marathon. This included a week of no running, then a few weeks of low-mileage, and a couple weeks of just running whatever felt good while also including other forms of exercise. It was really just a time when I did whatever I wanted as far as training goes. While it was nice to not worry about running X number of miles, I always feel a little lost without a training plan. 

I find that it can be kind of scary/tricky to move from recovery back into training. Going from low-mileage/easy running to high-mileage/hard workouts can be a recipe for disaster! It’s important to move slowly back into training. Some training plans include a base building period, but some assume that you are already at a certain point in your training. I always like to look at week 1 and know that it is the same or less as the workouts I have been doing recently. 

base-building phase

Last summer I figured out some great ways to prepare to move back into training mode. I think this period is actually pretty fun because there still isn’t the pressure of workouts but it changes things up from just running slow, easy miles. 

1. Work on increasing mileage, then add intensity. We always hear that you shouldn’t add both at once. I have found that it seems to work better to up the mileage first because then you have more wiggle room to fit in your workouts. You can always drop your mileage a bit as you add intensity. It’s really not a bad idea to do that. Two weeks ago I ran 42 miles, but this week as I add in workouts I will probably run closer to 30-35 miles. Once you are comfortable with workouts you can bump the mileage back up by either adding another day of easy running or increasing the distance of your easy runs.

sample weekly mileage2. Run Fartleks (aka speed play). Fartleks are a really good way to get your legs moving faster without adding too much intensity at once. An example would be choosing one run a week to add 1 minute intervals of speed. I would suggest maybe going around 5k pace and seeing how that feels. I’m sure for me this will hurt because I haven’t run 5k pace in months! Take a few minutes to recover in between sets and repeat maybe 5-7 times. This workout can easily be adapted to your current fitness level and there is really no right or wrong way to do it!


3.Add a tempo run. Tempo runs make us faster!! But they are also really challenging so we can’t expect ourselves to just go out and do an 8 mile temp run after 2 months of only easy running. One way to start adding tempos back in is to split them into shorter segments. So maybe you plan to do a 6 mile run: You can run a 1 mile warm up followed by 1 mile at tempo pace (which might be somewhere between 10k and half-marathon pace depending on your training), with 1/2 mile recovery, repeat twice and finish with a mile cool down. 


My plan for this week is to run a fartlek workout on Tuesday (today) and see how that feels. If it goes well and I’m not sore/worn out, I’ll try a mini tempo run on Thursday. Otherwise I will just do one workout this week and try a tempo next week. I’m also not increasing my long-run distance during this time. I will probably keep my long runs between 8 and 10 miles until I am in a comfortable place with my training and then slowly begin adding to those. 

I hope that this info helps some of you who may be starting to get ready to train for a race! E-mail me with any questions or leave a comment, and remember that I am a running coach and would love to help you reach your goals!

What phase of training are your in right now?

What types of workouts do you like to do in the beginning of your training?

What/where/when is your next race?!

I’m linking up with  AprilPatty, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run!

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61 thoughts on “From “Recovery” To “Training”: The Base-Building Phase

    • I ended up having to cancel my workout today because it was too slippery out- so hopefully I can try either a fartlek or tempo on Thursday!

  1. Wise words! I’m not currently training for anything in particular, but I’m keeping my mileage at moderate numbers so that when I do start training for a marathon I have at least a solid base. I attempt one 20 mile long run once a month during the maintenance phase, and that 20 miler is slow and easy. Just time on my feet. I’m a high mileage experienced runner, though, so it’s not for everyone! I’d love to run BMO Vancouver in May but my next goal is a sub-3 hour marathon, and I’m not confident in my ability to do that quite yet. My husband just started marathoning and I’m happy to support him right now!
    Suzy recently posted…When Diet Coke is HealthierMy Profile

    • I am very impressed that you continue running 20 milers when you aren’t training for anything! That will definitely make for an easier transition back into training mode!

    • Sometimes time just doesn’t allow for this kind of slow build up. But you are experienced enough that Im sure you will still be able to get in the workouts/mileage!

  2. Uggh, I’m in a not so good phase. I haven’t really run since Nov 15 and am 4 weeks late starting my marathon training now because I was sick. I’m pretty sure I need to throw my time goal out for Paris because I’m not sure I can increase my intensity that quickly. I am working with a coach so hopefully we can figure it out.
    Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes recently posted…2015 Goals: Time to refocusMy Profile

    • That’s really tough, but I think the most important thing is to be smart about it! You don’t want to do too much and risk getting sick again or injured! Im glad that you have a coach to help you out!

  3. I am Internet-less for a couple of days and you completely redesign your blog! I can’t believe I missed out on this, haha

    I was in heavy training mode for the Miami Half just a couple of weeks away but I think I re-aggrevated my calf strain over the weekend. So frustrating since I had taken time off and thought it was all good to go! I keep reminding myself it’s really such a small injury in the grand scheme of things and if I do the right things I’ll still be able to run the race.
    Kristina recently posted…My First Video Update & Other StuffMy Profile

    • Haha I only changed the theme on Sunday night, so you didn’t miss much!
      I really hope your calf pain clears up quickly! Take it easy and Im sure you will be ok, plus you have already put in a good amount of training lately!

    • I think it helped me to follow a lot of structures training plans and then I figured out what seems to work well for me. I usually go with the a similar schedule whenever I train for something and just adjust the mileage/intensity as needed.

  4. I love the workouts! Sometimes i find it even HARDER to split my tempo up-it makes it THAT much harder to start back up again but it is so worth it in the end!

    Last summer (it doesn’t feel like it was THAT long ago, but it really was!) you really did do a lot of mixing up with your workouts-I think it made you that much more excited to launch full speed into training!! :) Can’t wiat to read about our workouts- GO GO GO!
    Nicole@TheGirlWhoRanEverywhere recently posted…Random “Running Q&A’s” & Mileage totals:Dec 29-Jan 4My Profile

      • Thank you! Im still trying to figure out why the picture doesn’t show up when you open an individual post (its only there when you’re on the home page). But since I don’t understand technical stuff that much I will probably just leave it as is!

    • Unfortunately my workout this morning didnt happen because of snow- it was too slippery to run anything faster than an easy pace! But I’ll still try to get something in tomorrow or Thursday. I remember how much those workouts helped me last summer…I just need to get back into the habit of doing them again!

  5. I don’t know when my next race is! I have a few in mind including a half like next week but I am watching the weather (not interested in racing if it’s 5 degrees/snowing…Other than that, I am looking at running the Fitness mag half again in April and the LI Half again in May. Gotta see how things pan out for me and if either/both are a good fit (you know I have to sort of plan things around my menstrual cycle – bleh. But it is what it is.)
    meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles recently posted…More To Me Than RunningMy Profile

    • I have been dragging my feet on signing up for races. Not sure what it is, but maybe when I start doing some harder workouts Ill get enough confidence to sign up for something! I think there are pros and cons to signing up for races last minute. But Im sure its frustrating for you that you always have to register on the later side!

      • It’s really frustrating! I am kinda new to the need to register later than I would like but I guess I don’t have a choice! I am always ready to run a half but would like to have a little more time to plan it in order to work towards under 1:45. I figure I can just slowly go after that and maybe that will work out somehow for when I run a half next this spring.
        meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles recently posted…More To Me Than RunningMy Profile

  6. This post comes at a great time! I’m trying to get back to running after my ITBS, and my PT wants me to start doing tempo runs and intervals along with my slower runs. He wants me running three times a week, which I know will help but I’m scared at the same time. I need to do some easy running after being sick but I think next week I’ll start this new plan.
    Lesley recently posted…2015 GoalsMy Profile

    • It can definitely be scary to start running after and injury. Just be smart and listen to your PT and Im sure you will be fine:)

  7. I’m in the “I knew it would snow in Iowa during my training, but it’s hard to get motivated anyway” Phase LOL!
    I knew my Half Marathon (for my first one!) would run over the winter, but so far we didn’t have freezing temps and snow in Iowa. We lucked out, and had it mild till yesterday.
    I’m going to have to add things like hill repeats and things like that to my runs. Mostly I just run. I know to build speed and things like that I need those other things. But for now, I have been focused on my endurance, and just being able to run more than 3 miles without walking.
    My next race is in March. I have a 5K on the 21st.
    Amy @ Mama Running for God recently posted…Half Marathon Training & Other thoughts {Day 7}My Profile

    • I think that they are a good way to change things up! But part of me also just enjoys doing lots of easy runs:)

  8. How funny, I posted about base building as well today on my blog! I love your post – so informative and helpful!
    I’m in a base-building phase right now. I don’t know when/where/what distance my spring race will be, so I’m just building endurance, adding one fartlek or tempo workout per week, and increasing my mileage so I can jump into training when needed. Tempo runs work magic on speed and endurance without wearing on my body as much as speed work.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…How and Why of Base BuildingMy Profile

    • That’s really funny- we must be on the same page today! I think that tempos are my favorite kind of run (in the way that you love something that is really hard).

  9. This is a fantastic post. You always have great advice. I’m right in that sweet spot of getting my mileage foundation where I want it before I start training. I have always had trouble with tempo runs because where I live is very hilly and I can’t keep a consistent pace. I’m planning to do hill repeats and fartleks on alternate weeks, but the tempos are just not that easy for me to figure out.
    Sara recently posted…December Goals – So How’d I Do?My Profile

    • Im sure that hills make it really hard to do a tempo run. If you have access to a treadmill maybe that would be an option? But fartleks and hills are really great too!

  10. I don’t formally start training again till the beginning of Feb and one thing I love to do during this time is to run by effort and not look at my pace at all until after my run, even for spadework or tempo. Sometimes it shows me I have some work to do, other times I surprise myself :)
    Beth @ RUNNING around my kitchen recently posted…Friday favoritesMy Profile

    • That’s a really good idea! I have a hard time ignoring my pace when I am running. This is a good time to hide the watch!

  11. Nice redesign! I know this year (especially for marathon training cycle) I would like to incorporate more fartlek and tempo runs into my schedule. When I’ve been running my 5Ks the past couple weeks… I’ve been thinking…how did I use to run faster? Need to get the body use to running faster naturally wants to settle into a comfortable HM or M pace.
    Jennifer recently posted…2015 Predictions & Resolutions 5K Race RecapMy Profile

    • Thanks! It can be so hard to get the body used to running fast again. I am pretty nervous for any speedwork in my future!

    • I think I have just gotten so used to doing all my runs easy and at the same pace that its going to feel harder than ever to run those faster paces again!

  12. This post was so helpful, Lisa! Thank you! I’m finally building mileage again and thinking about incorporating some speed, but want to do it very carefully. I think a fartlek is just the workout I needed. The sample plan you have for it is really good to start with :)
    Charissa recently posted…2015 goalsMy Profile

    • You’re welcome! I think fartleks are the perfect way to transition back to speedwork because you can really do it any way you want!

  13. Great approach to the base building phase. I’m there right now, rebuilding after a couple of half-marathons and a nasty case of the flu. I’ve got a half in March that I want to do awesome at, so it’s time to rebuild mileage and speedwork! Thanks for linking up with us today!

    • Being sick can really throw a wrench in any training plan! Good luck as your start to train for your March race!

  14. Great post! I’m in the recovery part of training right now, and I agree, while it’s totally necessary, it can actually be quite tough to not really be following a plan. I love doing fartleks during the start of another cycle. It’s too overwhelming, for me anyway, to jump straight into longer intervals, especially in the beginning of a program when I may not be in the best shape! :)
    Hailey recently posted…The end of one year and the start of anotherMy Profile

    • Exactly! I am so nervous to start doing harder workouts- I feel like its been forever!!

    • I think that is a pretty common cycle, but there’s no reason why you can’ try to do things different next time! I really think that there are a lot of benefits to doing speed work in training, as long as its done carefully!

    • Its really smart to take cut back weeks throughout training! I don’t think I’ve ever reached the point of overtraining but apparently you would feel really tired all the time and your performance declines. You are also more likely to get injured. I hope you’re not at that point- if so, definitely take some time to cut back!

    • Yes, your speed workout was pretty hardcore! I think its fun to switch things up since 400s and 800s can get boring really quickly!

  15. This is really helpful. I feel like I don’t know what to do if I’m not following a training plan. I’m not good at just running by feel. As a result I’ve basically been in training mode for well over a year now. It is not sustainable. I’m planning on spending some time after my next race (March) to improve my base mileage and speed. I’ll keep this advice in mind when I start to get past the recovery stage.
    Lizzy recently posted…Training Tuesday – first post of 2015My Profile

    • It’s always good to take some periods of downtime. It’s hard for me too to figure out what to do without a training plan in place!

  16. Very helpful post Lisa! I’m right in the base building stage – trying to make my way up to 30 miles/week. I’ve never tried fartleks before! And tempo runs are the best (and the worst). Trying to not come back to quickly – my calves are hating me right now.
    Sarah recently posted…2015 goalsMy Profile

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