On the Run: Base-Building Tips for Spring Training

June 17, 2016

By Yitka Winn

Photo at right: A young runner enthusiastically jumps a log in McCoy Creek Canyon in southeastern Oregon during a training run. Photo by Kevin Jantzer. Courtesy of Steens Mountain High Altitude Running Camp


Spring is a beautiful time of year. Flowers bloom, the high country begins to melt and the days grow sunny and long.

It’s also a tricky season for runners. Many of us set our race schedules for the year and in our excitement, we find it’s often too easy to get overzealous in our training and wind up injured before our racing season has even begun.

Take it slow and build up gradually. Here are three base-building tips for your spring training.

Gradually Build a Base

When Portland’s Yassine Diboun, coach and co-founder at Wy’east Wolfpack, designs training plans for runners, he starts with a long, easy base-building phase. Though it requires patience, this gradual ramp-up of mileage is essential.

Like building a house, “if you skimp on the foundation in a rush to get the walls, roof and flooring up, the foundational supports can shift and lean,” says Diboun. Similarly, running injuries and chronic imbalances often result from failing to first lay the proper aerobic groundwork.

David Laney, coach and co-founder at Trails and Tarmac in Ashland, Oregon, helps his runners develop a massive, early-season aerobic base through long runs, easy runs and cross training. As race day draws near, he says, “we add in workouts and hard efforts. By this time, many athletes feel they are in the best shape of their life simply through consistent easy running.”

Be Consistent

“Consistency is key, and in order to be consistent, you have to be healthy,” says Matt Urbanski of Seattle-based Urbanski Coaching. One of the most common early-season mistakes he sees is a subtle one: neglecting base fitness by focusing too soon on race-specific components in training.

For example, someone training for a long, mountainous summer race knows she needs to log lots of vertical and long hours on her feet. But a steep, multi-hour run too early in the training cycle will require significant recovery. This takes away from the high-frequency base work so crucial to early-season training.

When it comes to maintaining consistency, Bellingham’s Krissy Moehl, author of Running Your First Ultra, emphasizes the importance of recovery along the way. She encourages runners to take “mini breaks” throughout training—typically, a week of rest or very easy run every 3–4 weeks to “help your body absorb the work you are putting in as well as give you a mental break from training to keep it fresh.”

Diboun echoes this training philosophy, encouraging runners to view recovery techniques not only as a physical boon, but also as crucial mental training: “If you don’t have your mental game dialed in, you might fold when push comes to shove.”

Channel Your Enthusiasm

Rather than chasing an overzealous training or racing schedule, many coaches recommend their runners rely on a variety of outlets for that early-season “running stoke.”

Diboun recommends volunteering at races—a great way to “help others and talk all day to other like-minded folks”— or signing up for a local short-distance event. These commonly free, unofficial races often serve as casual, early-season gatherings for runners.

Any kind of strengthening, stretching or lower-impact cardio can always play a valuable role in a runner’s training schedule. But as Moehl and Urbanski point out, sometimes we don’t have enough time in our day to get it all in, especially later in the season when our running mileage is apt to be more time-consuming.

In this way, spring is a perfect time to incorporate cross-training since our running-specific training is still modest. Yoga, hiking, functional fitness classes or core work now will all pay off in dividends later.

Yitka Winn is a freelance writer, avid mountain runner and On the Run columnist for OutdoorsNW magazine. Follow her adventures at yitkawinn.com or on Instagram @yitkawinn