Laying The Foundation

AJWs TaproomLegendary South African runner and eightnine-time Comrades Marathon champ Bruce Fordyce believes in laying a strong training foundation. In laying this foundation, Fordyce planned months in advance of his target race. About six months out, he typically began to build slow, steady momentum toward his target event and in building this momentum, his running was slow, steady, and focused.

This time of year I like to pull out my dog-eared copy of Tim Noakes’s Lore of Running and re-read the section about Fordyce. It is at once inspiring and humbling! And typically, after reading it, with it being January, I sit down and figure out how I am going to lay down my own personal foundation, in running and in life.

While I know much of the ultra world follows a year-round calendar these days, I am still of the old school with a focus on a big summer race, most often a 100 miler, that dominates my training attention from January onward. With most of the big 100-mile lotteries now in the books, runners are beginning to make their plans and outline their schedules. Perhaps they are targeting spring tune-up races or early summer training camps but in the midst of all of that they really should, and I know I am opinionated on this, be focused simply on laying that foundation.

For me, the recipe for a successful foundation is simplicity and consistency. Like much of the rest of life, in January it’s good to take stock but also get moving. Laying a solid foundation requires a steady diet of solid workouts that feed the soul while also priming the pump. In many ways, these base builders are as much about the head as they are about the body. But they also need to be treated with respect.  I have known many a runner who has pushed too hard in their foundation stage only to peak in May for their race that takes place in July. So, in addition to simplicity and consistency, this stage requires patience.

Finally, the most successful foundation builders know that more is not necessarily better. When Fordyce was exerting his dominance over Comrades and steadily lowering the course record year after year, he did so with fewer and fewer miles per year. Not by many, but subtle changes and alterations in his training allowed him to absorb as much of the training benefit as possible while also saving as much as possible for the big day. To me, that is a magical, sweet spot.  Here’s to all of you successfully laying your foundation.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Lawson's Finest LiquidsThis week’s beer of the week comes from one of my favorite beer states, Vermont. I have got to say, the beers coming out of Vermont keep getting better and better and this seasonal from Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren is outstanding. They partnered with the good guys at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida to craft an extraordinary IPA, the Reverse Migration IPA. It’s a little fruity but also nicely balanced and full bodied. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on it, you will not be disappointed.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you laying your own running foundation right now? Did you take time off or time to run easily before restarting and building a base?
  • What does laying a running foundation look like for you? How important are the psychological factors of doing so, in addition to the physical factors? What else goes into your running foundation?

There are 13 comments

  1. Nelson Prater

    This is SO good! I wish everyone in my running group would read this. I am guilty of being one of those who peaks way too early and have a hard time not ending up at the starting line totally burned out. This is a perfect reminder for me, and just in time. Thanks, AJW!

  2. Andrew

    This rings true with me planning my big race of the year in July

    What do you do to build your foundation – is it just slowly increasing the mileage?

    1. AJW

      Andrew, Thanks for asking and yes, it’s just a very slow accrual of mileage and time on my feet. And, I am pretty obsessive about heart rate, as well, rarely going over 140 bpm. It’s kind of a modified MAF approach. At least until March 15th. That’s when I start building the house:)

      1. Andrew

        Last year was my first big year for ultras with a 105 mile race (6800 climbing) in July and then a 70 mile race in Sept with again 6800 climbing.

        I trained hard until July – very little between july and September. Did, for me, surprisingly well in the race in September. Since then I have just ticked over and actually did nothing over christmas.

        I know need to rev up my training for the race in July (75 miles 9000m climbing). What I’m finding hard is the mental side and need to switch my head back on to being focused again on the race. I’m hoping my training last year has given me sufficient ground work that I need to build upon, but actually I may have lost all my fitness since July.

        Ultra’s are great its just the training that is hard!!!

        All the best and thanks for the weekly column.

  3. Markus

    This is the main reason why we see so many burned out ultrarunners these days. Everybody wants to race all the time and there is plenty of opportunity to do so.

    I have followed the same pattern rest, new year planning and build up for most of my running years and it kept me injury free.

    If you haven’t read Tim Noakes’s Lore of Running do it!

    1. AJW

      Vermont is an amazing beer state! I know Coloradans and Oregonians won’t appreciate this but Vermont is better. I’d put Lawson’s, Alchemist, and Hill Bros up against anyone out west:)

  4. Jackie

    The Lore of Running is in my top 3 best books ever read list. I have read it several times and even own two different editions. Filled with running “pearls”.

  5. John K

    I don’t try to “peak” at all any more. Peak implies “trough”. I want to make even the races sustainable. Which means never running hard enough that I can’t also run the next day if I want to (and that doesn’t mean I run every day either). I am no longer interested in “exploring my potential” in a Ryan Hall sort of way…

  6. Ian Sharman

    Bruce won 9 times at Comrades, not 8! It was a decade of dominance in the ’80s, interspersed with a 100k World Cup win, I believe, where he skipped Comrades (I think that’s also the African 100k record too). He’s a big inspiration for many, including myself, and he and Tim Noakes made endurance training and racing a lot more scientific, especially related to races lasting more than 2hrs.

  7. Scott

    Great call on the Lawson’s, AJW! An unpopular choice of VT over CO or OR, perhaps, but Lawson’s Finest tops my personal Vermont roster above Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Lost Nation, and the dozens of other excellent microbreweries. Sean Lawson has been killing it this winter with Peril, Triple Sunshine, Reverse Migration (haven’t had it–gotta search out some!), and other IPAs, as well as the mind-blowingly good Fayston Maple Stout…mmmm.

    And as a follow-up to what you said in reply to Andrew earlier in this comments section, what does one of your January training weeks look like from day to day? I know you posted a sample week of your training leading up to WS in ’14, so what would a base-building week look like in terms of long runs, workouts, etc? Thanks!

    1. AJW

      Scott, thanks for asking. With my focus on Hardrock this year the base building phase is a bit different and still evolving but this past week is a good example of what I am talking about in the column. Here it is:

      Mon 8 miles 1:49 1698 feet
      Tue 4.6 miles 1:02 1057 feet
      Wed 4.6 miles 1:01 1057 feet
      Thu 11.3 miles 2:20 2850 feet
      Fri 6.5 miles 1:19 1258 feet
      Sat 8 miles 1:39 920 feet
      Sun 10.4 miles 2:02 1020 feet

  8. Ed

    Hey Andy, I loved the article as it has come at time when I’m also focusing more on slow incremental base building. I’ve recently started using a HR monitor and trying to maintain that endurance zone. I was just curious, I live in an alpine region so there are some serious climbs in most/all my trail runs. What are your recommendations for hills when trying to maintain a low heart rate and not burn-out? Should I avoid them on these runs or just power hike? Cheers!

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