Any endurance athlete’s progression starts with a basic level of aerobic base conditioning — the ABCs of endurance training. This is the starting point for those new to endurance training (with less than four years of training), as well as experienced endurance athletes who may be coming off an extended break from training (such as a long break due to injury or several weeks of inactivity between seasons). Aerobic base conditioning prepares your body for more rigorous training by building endurance and fostering neuromuscular speed.
During aerobic base conditioning, workouts primarily focus on endurance sessions in the “conversational” zone to develop your aerobic system. These “conversational” zone workouts involve a continuous effort with durations of 20 minutes up to an hour or more. The training effect, or purpose of these workouts is to help your body better metabolize fat and spare glycogen (stored carbohydrate) as a long duration energy source.
During a “conversational” effort, you should be able to breathe through your nose and hold a back-and-forth conversation with someone running next to you (taking turns to speak). Breathing is moderate and not labored.
These endurance workouts actually comprise the bulk of your training hours during any training phase, but the aerobic base conditioning training block focuses almost entirely on this extensive endurance training as a starting point for more advanced training.
During aerobic base conditioning, you will include a handful of “alactics,” or short bursts of speed less than 10 seconds in duration, during at least one or two endurance workouts each week. These alactics stimulate the firing of fast-twitch muscle fibers without tapping into the lactic acid system; this is why they are termed alactics, a- meaning “without” and -lactic referring to the lactic acid system. The short sprints — also known as, “striders,” “pickups,” “acceleration striders,” or “diagonals” (when run diagonally on the infield of a track) — are punctuated by ample recovery in between. They are especially important in helping runners develop the body’s supporting structures (e.g., muscles, ligaments, tendons) that need to be in place for higher intensity aerobic and anaerobic work. You can think of alactics as “pure speed,” as opposed to the notion of speed as it is sometimes used to refer to activities of a few minutes in duration (such as the 800-meter track event) that do tap into the lactic acid system.
Form drills specific to the endurance activity should also be worked into aerobic base conditioning workouts to further foster proper neuromuscular patterning for economy of movement.
Aerobic base conditioning for new endurance athletes and experienced athletes coming off an extended break might span 3-12+ weeks in your training plan, depending on your particular situation. Endurance athletes with more than four years of training behind them may spend 1-2 weeks in this phase or skip it altogether if they have sufficient conditioning to start directly into one of the training phases below.