Boosted Base Building: How to Train When You’re Not Really Training

Pushing a combined weight (kids + stroller) that outweighs me has to pay off at some point!

Sometimes you just need a break. It could be mental or physical burn-out, or maybe life circumstances getting in the way. Deep down you know you’re not ready to hang up your racing flats, but you don’t have anything on your race calendar and you aren’t feeling quite up to write a race in just yet. At the same time, you probably don’t want to label yourself a “hobby jogger” either. So what do you do?

I’m currently in this predicament. Actually, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually trained for something — 16 months since the Olympic Trials Marathon to be exact! From being pregnant, to recovering from having a baby, to now surviving my husband’s deployment while on my own with three kids under the age of five, I know I want to be fast again and get back into racing. And while I’m planning on this happening at some point, I’m not quite ready to train for anything just yet. Why not? Mainly two reasons.

First, everyone needs an off-season, down time, a break. Regardless of what training method you follow, every training plan involves a cycle that starts with some base mileage, builds up from there, and then tapers to peak. If you are in that middle building phase all the time, and don’t cut back adequately or ever, you run the risk of getting on a plateau and riding it for a very long time. And that’s if you’re lucky and don’t crash.

My other reason is not scientifically proven and the feeling may not be shared by all, but I just don’t think it’s worth it. As a “currently single” parent (my husband is currently deployed) and mom of three, including a nursing baby who still doesn’t sleep through the night, logistically coordinating everything to do an actual workout would take a lot of effort. And I’m tired and just don’t have time for that. On the rare occasions I am able to run by myself, I choose a peaceful run in the woods over a workout. What’s the point when I don’t have any races on the horizon?

But since I am not ready to relegate myself to hobby jogger status just yet, and I know that, however far away they are, there are races somewhere on my horizon, I’m reframing this time as “boosted base building”.

What is Boosted Base Building?

Boosted base building is a way to build some running fitness without the stress and strain of dedicated training for a goal race. It is a way to get in some quality running, while remaining flexible about how often, how much, or how fast you run. It’s the perfect solution for those who enjoy training, but for whatever reason, are not at a point in your life where you feel like you want to commit to training or racing. And bonus: when you are ready to commit to dedicated training, you’ll have one heck of a foundation of fitness to build off of!

How to Do It

In my non-training plan style, I’ve set out these principles to guide my running so that when the time comes, I’ll be a step up from just out there slogging away junk miles every day and ready to transition into “real” training.

Set a weekly mileage goal.

Pick a mileage goal that is slightly ambitious, but significantly less than what you tend to maintain during peak training. Over the years, I’ve found that I feel reasonably fit at 40 miles per week. To be race ready, I need a minimum of 60. Split the difference and I’m trying to hold steady at 50 right now. That’s enough to make me work to fit it all in, but not too much that I feel overloaded or guilty about going shorter or taking days off.

Go longer one day a week.

I didn’t say go for a long run. Just run longer than your daily average even if it’s only one mile longer. While I’m aiming for six to eight daily, I usually cover nine to ten one day a week, even if it’s broken up into two runs.

Run hilly routes.

Have you heard the saying that hills are speedwork in disguise? I’m not saying get out there and run hill repeats- that’s an actual workout! Just run your daily runs in hilly places. Even running easy, hills will get your heart rate up, work your calves, glutes, and quads, and make you work harder than just running flat.

Add strides or fast finishes.

Don’t let those fast twitch muscle fibers go completely dormant. Ever since watching the Kentucky Derby, my kids and I have a new game we play at the end of every run. Heading down the street towards our house, I tell them I can smell the hay in the barn and we’re in the final stretch. We pick out our horse names (Always Dreaming is of course the favorite) and gallop the final minutes. It’s an easy way for me to pick it up a little without it feeling like a chore.

Sometimes throw in a mixer.

Either a quasi-workout (completely effort based, such as running fast to a light pole), or run your running drills. Or jump into a game of a running based sport such as soccer or basketball. Just something different to wake up your body and keep things from getting stale.

Take this time to catch up on all those little things.

With possible extra time and energy from not running as much or as hard, focus on something non-running that will help your running. Work on your core, stretch, go to a fitness class. I’ve become pretty good at doing a set of abs and hand weights each night, that is, before I eat my bowl of ice cream.

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After writing all this and reading it back it seems like a lot to fit into a week of not actual training! But it’s worked to keep me feeling like a “real” runner, and kept me that much closer to being able to step it up when the time comes.

Have you ever maintained something like my boosted base building plan? 

Army veteran, now Army wife with 3 daughters (aka: single married mom). I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. 3 x marathon OTQ, will eventually start training again to try to make it 4. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids.

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7 comments

  1. Great post, and perfect timing (for me) as I’m taking a mental and physical break from a long season of racing but don’t want to lose all my fitness during the break. I think it helps keep some of the joy in running to have a bit of a break now and then.

  2. This is almost exactly what I’ve been doing for the past two years since I stopped training-training! You’re exactly right – it’s enough that I feel like my runnery-self, but not too much of a commitment or so much that it feels like a job or stresses me out to get it in.

  3. Thanks for this post. I’ve got just 1 kid (11mo, still nursing, still not sleeping the whole night), but fairly new to the parent gig, so balancing running with life has been a challenge, and I keep putting running on the back burner. This post has given me some good ideas and inspiration to do something more challenging even though I don’t have any big races on the horizon to train for. Especially since I’d like to eventually get back to racing fast in the next 6mo or so.

    1. It’s a big commitment (especially with a baby) to actually train and race. These are just some little things to help bridge the gap for when you are ready to move forward. Good luck!

  4. Yes. I am a big fan of doing this type of running periodically throughout the year. I definitely find that if periodically incorporate hilly routes and do strides 2-3 times per week while doing otherwise easy mileage, I am in a good position when I start to do more structured training for a goal race.

    Also, I have found over the past four years that regular baby jogger easy runs helps boost fitness. It’s that added resistance. Like I’ve said before, baby jogger runs in hot and humid summer weather is poor man’s altitude. I’ve got my stint coming up. ;)

    And oh my goodness, that triple looks tough. You are a stud.

    1. Ugh, I’m still trying to adjust to summer stroller running. Like you, I’m trying to think of it as a bonus workout!