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How Should You Approach Base Training?

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About This Episode:

In this week’s episode, TrainRight Podcast co-hosts Adam Pulford and Hillary Allen sit down to talk about how cyclists and runners should approach base training.

Episode Highlights:

  • Building the aerobic engine
  • The traditional base training model
  • New approaches to base training
  • Balancing volume and intensity

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform


Thanks To This Week’s Sponsor:

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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Adam Pulford:

(silence)

Adam Pulford:

All right, Hillary, where are these days?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, I’m actually back in the States. Right now I’m in Boulder, Colorado, it’s a little bit chilly here, but nice weather giving it’s wintertime here, we got the sun.

Adam Pulford:

Colorado winters are nice. I do miss them on the Front Range. I do miss them. Last time we did an episode together like this you were hunkered down in France bearing that first wave of COVID coming through Europe. How has life changed and hopefully improved since we last did this?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, man, a year goes by super quickly.

Adam Pulford:

Right?

Hillary Allen:

I mean, yeah, Europe was great. I mean, it wasn’t the best time to choose to kind of switch things up and live abroad. But I mean, I got to experience a lot. I’ve always raced in and lived in and out of Europe for a few months out of the year, so it was a cool opportunity I got to live abroad, learn French, was there for a year. But yeah, now I’m back in the States. And yeah, I’m excited to kind of kick the new year off and be closer to the action in the US.

Adam Pulford:

That’s right. Well, [inaudible 00:01:32] right in the heart of the action in Boulder for all things endurance. So to catch our listeners up to speed, if you’re just joining us for 2021, this is going to be season two for the TrainRight Podcast. And my co host, Hillary Allen is here, that is the voice you’re hearing, as well as me, the other co host, Adam Pulford. And as we kind of heard in the intro, we’ve got a lot of cool things coming up for this new year, new guests lined up, different formats, and more collab episodes like this that we’re doing.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, I’m super excited, actually. I’m hoping to do more collaborations to bring kind of the runners up to speed on the cycling part of the podcast that you host Adam, as well, I’m super excited for some of the guests I have. We’re going to do a lot of these collaborations, because there’s some similarities to pull between cycling and running, training. And it’s all endurance, and we’re all athletes, so there’s a lot to learn on both sides. But then also I’ve got some cool guests lined up for some storytelling, so the legends in our field of running. Yeah, and I’m sure you have the same on your end.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, that’s it. And we also, with how cool our brains are Hillary, we also want to hear from our listeners, the people that are actually consuming this content. So for our listeners out there, we want to hear more from you. Keep an eye on our social media and our CTS newsletter for that, because we’ll be throwing out questions and surveys, where you can chime in and tell us more of what you’re into and what you want to learn. So just want to cue everyone up on that.

Adam Pulford:

So that being said, before we segue in, I do want to kind of put a timestamp on this, and you may have just heard those sirens or not, but I am recording in Washington DC which is a little crazy today, because there are some protesting and whatnot. So that’s the little caveat before we really get into this episode.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, no caveat for me here on the… if you hear the European sirens, that’s no longer applicable.

Adam Pulford:

Perfect. All right. Well, Hillary, the first question is, is it really all about the base?

Hillary Allen:

Depends on if you’re talking about a song by Meghan Trainor or not? Yes, but, I guess that’s the question we’re going to be answering today, we’re going to be talking about base training.

Adam Pulford:

Base training, that’s right. So we’ll put the childish questions aside and go right into it. What is base training, what are we talking about here?

Hillary Allen:

So yeah, traditionally, when we’re talking about base training, at least from an endurance standpoint, all kind of put the asterisk on ultra running. Base training is normally the period of training when you put in your highest volume and your lowest intensity. So for ultra running, you’re going out on those long runs, you’re putting in those base miles to kind of get your legs used to moving all day for those long ultra-endurance events.

Adam Pulford:

Gotcha. And it’s the same in cycling, when we refer to, traditionally, base training in cycling it is kind of the long, slow miles and with the theory of improving aerobic capacity so that you can then build and do more work or more intensity on top of that. So why do we do it, Hillary? Go deeper into the process of it.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah. So I mean, like you just mentioned, you’re building that aerobic… kind of your engine, I would like to say, I use these analogies. To try to increase the capacity of your body to be better at endurance. So for ultra runners, I say it’s like, “Okay, well, if you want to be good at running long distances, you have to practice that.” Yeah, so you run long miles, you are out there all day. It’s like where you just put in a lot of practice and this low intensity, you just… I like to term it as kind of my go-all-day kind of adventure gear, I guess. It’s as if you’re cruising miles.

Hillary Allen:

And yeah, I mean, we have to do a lot of that in ultra running. But I’m sure, maybe this is a little bit of foreshadowing, but the argument here is, is, “Okay, when is that most applicable?” Is that closer to your event? Or should you be doing this further away? Technically, in the wintertime, if you’re thinking about a traditional race season, which happens in the summer. Yeah, so that’s part of what we’re getting in to.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, exactly. Well, it is foreshadowing, because I think the more we evolve in the endurance world and human physiology, we’re starting to rethink maybe some traditional approaches. But from that traditional side of things, still very similar with cycling, in terms of that all day ability to kind of go… It’s more of like adventure-type riding, just in general. And when we do it is typically right around now. I mean, if you’re a professional athlete, it’s a little different, but masters, amateurs, whatnot, kind of coming off the spur of the holiday season, a lot of people are putting in that what we call base, and the analogy is from building a pyramid, if the base is big and strong, you can build higher and stronger structure. And that’s what we talking about in terms of the base. So with the foreshadowing that we talked about Hillary, do we actually do it like this?

Hillary Allen:

Well, I mean, it depends, like you just said, it depends on if you’re a professional athlete. But really, it depends on, in my opinion, where your races are in the year. And for right now, especially in this time of COVID, we really don’t have any races happening in February, or anytime soon, really. And so the quick answer to your question, I would say, is no. Traditional base training’s in January. The majority, I think, probably all of the athletes I’m coaching right now, I do not have any super long, low intensity endurance runs plan for them at the moment.

Adam Pulford:

Well, let’s talk about that a little bit, because I know cycling is different than ultra running. I mean, big shocker there, right? Because I do have some cyclists doing some longer miles, I’ll get into how I approach it. But tell me more about what are ultra runners doing right now in their quote unquote, “base phase?”

Hillary Allen:

Yeah. So I mean, there’re two ways to go about it, I think I’ll kind of talk about the time crunch athletes. So someone who’s working, who’s not a professional athlete, this is not their job, but they want to do well in their long distance, ultramarathon races, so anywhere from 30 miles up to 100, 100 miles plus. So an event like that would require… It’s basically a day of movement, if not 24, to 30, to 48 hours of movement.

Hillary Allen:

So, traditionally speaking, in the wintertime you’re more time crunched, you have less daylight. I mean, motivation might be a little bit waning if it’s colder, it’s not ideal. In Colorado here, we have really crappy conditions on the trails, and so I use that opportunity to train my athletes in their January or their base period training, to kind of work on something different, to work on something that we don’t typically get into when it’s the height of the ultra running season and race season. And that’s kind of working on this top-end fitness. And I usually incorporate a lot of VO2 max intervals. Personally, as an athlete myself, this is kind of like… this is not my strength because I’m used to that. I love those endurance days. It’s just like adventure day, we get to go outside and move all day.

Hillary Allen:

But working on that sharper end of your fitness… I guess we were talking before this and I’m going to steal your analogy, Adam. But working on that that sharper end of the stick, making sure your fitness is kind of… it can be very pointy and very dangerous, right? So you can get faster by working on these super high intensity, very painful type of VO2 max intervals. And so typically that’s what I prescribe to my runners, my ultra runners in those cold winter months. You have less daylight to work with. So basically just higher intensity, which also means lower volume. And so it’s a chance for them to kind of work on something different, a different skill set, but at the same time it improves your fitness, because you can actually get faster.

Adam Pulford:

So let me get this right. Ultra runners are basically the opposite of that in terms of a traditional timing and a traditional approach to base training?

Hillary Allen:

Yes. And again, there is a caveat, if your races fall… If you’re working for a race kind of in the late spring, summer time. So ultra running is also… You could have races all year, there’s Tarawera, which is a race in February, it’s like 100K race in February. So you can shift your base training back from that, but this is for kind of like a typical approach if someone’s training for their A race to happen in the summertime. But, yeah, I would say it’s pretty much the opposite.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And then that’s why I wanted to bring this up is to kind of shed some light on the contrasting views of this, and maybe to bring some modernization into it. But before we do, you said, the VO2s, they’re dangerous. And what you mean by that is they’re risky, because why?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, so I mean, I guess, I can use myself as an example, or some of the athletes like myself and the athletes that I coach, but it can be dangerous, because… So for an ultra endurant athlete, we like to slow miles, we’re used to moving all day, an endurance athlete typically has… You’re less flexible, you have a bit more of that muscle tension, less range of motion. But in order to run fast, you kind of need to be a little bit limber and springy, and so sometimes these can be a bit dangerous, because you might have a propensity to get injured, or if you have imbalances in form, or some tighter muscles like these… You could get injured in this period.

Hillary Allen:

Also, it’s really hard for ultra runners and endurance athletes to take a step back from the volume. It’s really hard to balance high intensity with high volume. And so something has to give. So it’s usually if athletes are doing too much and too much volume during this period with the high intensity, that kind of can increase your chance of injury. Some athletes, I mean, they can be good at both, but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. And so typically to have it be… We’re always, as athletes, no matter what level you are, if you’re active, you’re kind of on that fine line of where you’re getting super fit, you’re on that fine line of maybe getting injured or not.

Hillary Allen:

But yeah, so I mean, typically speaking to kind of offset that, not danger, but you know what I’m saying, the chance to get more injured, I would go back a little bit on the overall volume, increase intensity, and I like to add in strength work during this kind of base period of training as well.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, that coincides well with what we’re talking about here. And I would say, let’s put the strength train on the back burner. We’ll revisit that here in a minute. But [inaudible 00:14:25] for sure, and the reason why I brought that up is for those listening, so some of the runners or some cyclists that will listen to what we go through next is rather than just trying out some VO2 for the first time in their base training. I [inaudible 00:14:39] bring that up because the risk of injury, VO2 causes a lot of fatigue, and if you don’t balance with volume, it can cause some big issues. So for our listeners, I mean, what would be a good recommendation if they do want to start incorporating VO2 work into their quote unquote, “base phase” and they are putting in a lot of miles while running? I mean, how would you advise them, coach Hillary?

Hillary Allen:

So, typically what I would do, and this goes differently with… There’s also caveats too, I consider if it’s a man or a woman, how much background they’ve had, their history in sport, what’s worked for them traditionally. But generally, so I’ll take someone who is a pretty experienced runner, right? So they’re familiar with running, they have a huge background in it, I would still recommend them to start slowly. You don’t dive head in to high intensity interval training and do it twice a week, or like what the pros do. I would make sure that you start slow, you kind of go into it, you do shorter intervals, you see how it feels, like a 10 by 1 minute, something like this. And then you take adequate rest and recovery. So, maybe that first week, you’re only doing it once a week. And you’re making sure that if you’re still doing your long runs, you’re not doing a workout the day before a long run, you have adequate rest and recovery before you can put in your base miles or your long runs.

Hillary Allen:

And then you can kind of progress from there, see how it feels, if you want to add in two workouts a week, then I would make sure that there’s adequate recovery days from there. For some of my female athletes, I’d recommend two to three days in between hard workouts. For some men who are more experienced at this, I’d recommend they could maybe do a workout Tuesday, Thursday or something like this, Wednesday, Saturday. But yeah, I mean, there’s a bunch of nuances to this. I would recommend starting slowly and making sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew, and this obviously requires a lot of communication between you and your coach.

Hillary Allen:

I think also with someone who’s really new to this… I mean, I have coached athletes who… they’re super new into ultra running, they’re super excited and gung ho, and they just hit the ground running, and then that’s when injury can creep up. So this is maybe my approach, maybe it’s a bit conservative, and you would argue a five by one minute workout is not enough of a training load to ensue any sort of adaptation in VO2 max intervals, it’s not enough time, you’d have to have 10 or 15 by 1 minutes to have some sort of adaptation take place, or some sort of a training load effect.

Hillary Allen:

But I still think it’s beneficial for beginner ultra runners to see how that feels, and get used to running fast, because if you’re used to just moving slowly through the mountains all summer, and then now all of a sudden you’re doing these VO2 max intervals where you actually have to run fast, it can feel quite different. And so I recommend starting slowly.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Well, no, and that’s it entirely. And I think for athletes who have coaches, they can work on developing a plan to incorporate that. But I think for the self-coached athletes out there, I mean, the best advice when you are running faster is to do it more gradually and less frequently until you understand how your body responds to it. And so that one day a week to start with, build up to a couple days a week and doing, like you said, almost only 10 minutes worth of work, 10 by 1. That’s a wonderful place to start, in my opinion. Because if you’re doing it right, you will get pretty tired. And then with running, you got the complication of the ground forces. So you increase aspect of injury for sure. I think that’s a great piece of advice for the runners out there.

Hillary Allen:

And so then for the cyclist, I mean, so I dabble in a little bit of cycling.

Adam Pulford:

Yes, you do. [crosstalk 00:19:15] some gravel lately.

Hillary Allen:

[crosstalk 00:19:15]. Oh, man, I know. But Colorado winters, man, I can get out and still ride, it’s doable. How was that different from a cyclist point of view? What would you recommend for someone getting into that? And I also have a follow up question too, some of my runners, they want to get into cycling or they use cycling and sometimes when they can’t get out and run or if it’s icy, I’ll have them do their intensity on a bike. But it can feel a little bit different to do a bike workout than a running workout, at least for me, but you can touch on this, yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. So to back up a little bit first is when we’re talking about this kind of modernized approach to a base period, I think Joe Friel actually sums it up well, and I’ll just read a quote and he says that, “The base period is a time of year where you train to train, not train to race.” And that means that you’re building a base, and you’re preparing the body for greater stresses that is to come, okay? And he calls it, “In the build period.” And then finally, he says, “There seems to be a lot of confusion among athletes in the base training.” You know several years ago, and we’re still kind of talking about that and making it a thing today. And so I think the first sentence of that is, “The base period is the time of year where you train to train.” I think that’s really rich. And that is the kind of the approach that I take to my athletes in terms of general concept.

Adam Pulford:

And then from there, I go with kind of what you’re talking about with, well, it depends, because I take the individualized training approach where I want to know what their history is not only say in endurance athletics, or cycling, or triathlon, or whatever, I want to know what they were doing when they were young, when they’re, say, in college, if they’re not a junior, whatever, and then where they’re at now. And so I want to get a better understanding of historically what they’ve been doing, because… I’ll talk about the developmental aspect of a base period. But once I understand where they’ve been, I can then prescribe what to do now.

Adam Pulford:

And I would say that in a few different types of athletes, there are wonderful ways to incorporate VO2 and some anaerobic efforts in a base period, because it is a weakness of theirs. And it kind of carries over to ultra running quite well, because the more ultra cyclists out there, whether it is doing big gravel races, or fondos, or 24 hour racing or something like that, where their event is actually going super long, they’re doing that so much in the main season, that incorporating VO2 and anaerobic efforts in that base period to what I call deepen and strengthen their base is when I start to incorporate that. And I would say, I’ll follow right along with you in the kind of advice on how to weave it in is, I would start with one day a week, let’s start with 15 minutes of total work time, which means 15 by 1, or maybe 8 by 2, with 2 minutes recovery between probably, like a 1 to 1 work to rest ratio or even more, take [crosstalk 00:22:41]

Hillary Allen:

See this is a really good point, too. And this is something you can… I didn’t mention, but you can tease with is [inaudible 00:22:47], again, there’s this idea maybe too much rest, it doesn’t produce an adequate enough stress and therefore response or adaptation, but you can, you can mess with the rest.

Adam Pulford:

Totally.

Hillary Allen:

So [inaudible 00:23:01] 10 by 1, you could do a 1 to 1 ratio of rest, or you could do kind of 1 to 2, so, a 1 minute interval with a 2 minute rest. That means that you can actually, for runners at least, you can still try to really recover, bring your heart rate down, and then try really hard, be ready to try and 9 out of 10, 10 out of 10 that next 1 minute interval.

Adam Pulford:

Yes, exactly. And for my more ultra folk that don’t do VO2 and anaerobic quite a bit, they get more fatigued from VO2 so I will encourage them to take more recovery. Sometimes I just say, “Take what you need.” [inaudible 00:23:43] power that I want to hit, or here’s the pace I want to hit. So do whichever you have to do to hit it. And then from there, you change, build and adapt. And then, as you said, one very effective way to increase intensity or increase stress on a system is to decrease recovery periods. So then you keep the same power pace and decrease.

Adam Pulford:

So that’s one way that I incorporate a modernized approach into the base period. But kind of coming back to Joe Friel and his train to train. So in this base period, and for the average, say, rider and triathlete out there, coming off the heels of that holiday time period, we’re doing, I call a multi modality approach to training, and that looks like a lot of zone one through three, and a little bit of four. And so we’re just riding a mix of miles and intensities in order to get that CTL up, get that training stress score up and then tolerate a little bit better.

Adam Pulford:

So for the general athlete, the reason why I choose that approach is because when you say sub threshold in training and make more like a moderate amount of volume, we’re going to get a really good bang for a buck on the fitness gained and fatigue, not gained on that, which means when you’re doing a lot of tempo and sweet spot work, you will not get to fatigued, but you’ll get pretty fit from that. So that’s what I have a lot of athletes doing right now.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah. So again, like I said, it depends on when your races are. I mean, some of my athletes who have a bit more experience or they’re racing professionally or at a pretty competitive level, I’ll actually mix in some of that tempo work in January, have a block of that, and then do a short VO2 max. Because you do, I mean, if you have a little bit more time to spend, and you have the motivation, it can be a good variation. But yeah, it can kind of be… The most specific, longer efforts, which have been traditionally defined as base training, those don’t happen til you’re closer to your actual goal race, because that’s the most specific way to train for an ultra.

Adam Pulford:

Exactly. There’s no time for VO2 stuff then.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah. It’s like, “Cool, you’re going to run 100 mile race, let’s have you do some VO2 max intervals.” Like, “Huh, maybe not.”

Adam Pulford:

Exactly. One concept I’m just going to throw out to you, Hillary, and we didn’t talk about this before the podcast, but one way that I look at base is I go longer-term thinking with it. And I like to think of an athlete’s base of in the first one to three years of them actually doing some structured training, and I like to look at that to then make a decision on what this modernized base approach looks like. Because would you agree that… I mean, if you’re just starting in an ultra… You want to do your first ultra, your training is going to look super different than four years deep into this thing, right?

Hillary Allen:

Oh, absolutely. This is what’s crazy, especially if you’re new into endurance sports, you see so much improvement just from consistency of running year to year. And, honestly, that’s regardless of VO2 max, tempo, or steady state or super low-intensity long runs, it’s just the fact that you’re running. So that’s where it actually becomes more nuanced, the more experienced you are, and the more experience you have as an ultra runner. But I think that’s right, after kind of about two to three years, you kind of start seeing these plateaus, and then you really have to kind of get smart with your training. It’s no longer just the act of running or getting more fit or used to spending time on feet will that see improvement of race results, but it is, it’s that one to three year period is really important just to be consistent in training. And then I think it’s more nuanced and how you periodize your year and structure it to prepare for these races.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, that’s it. And I think for the listeners listening to this that could even be getting confused at this point, and that’s the type [inaudible 00:28:28] that love to get organized, and they love to go, “Oh, well, build one and two and three in base and prep and all this.” It’s like, “Okay, slow down, because there’s many ways to go about this.” Meanwhile, take a long-term approach and know that we’ll cycle through all the builds and all the bases and all the preps and all the specialization, whatever you want to call your racy time period. But that’s all developing you for a longer haul here, if that’s your endgame.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah. And I mean, also, I think maybe the takeaway too, is you and me both nerd out on this stuff, and we really like it. So it’s like, “Let us do the work, guys. Let us help you.”

Adam Pulford:

That is true. Don’t stress, hire a coach, right? [inaudible 00:29:13]. But should we still call this thing base, or are we trying to change the landscape of endurance physiology, or what?

Hillary Allen:

No, I mean, I’m a scientist, neuroscientist. I think the thing that I know about science is you continue to experiment and draw new conclusions and gather more data points. And this is, I think, just what we’re doing. Our viewpoint of the definition of base training is evolving, and there’s more data points that we can kind of like nest underneath that broader definition. And so it’s kind of changing but that’s what science is. I mean, it’s always changing and evolving, and we’re just gathering more information and contributing to this global idea of, “Okay, what is base training? And how do we approach it for different athletes?”

Adam Pulford:

Exactly. And so for your old schoolers out there, we’re not going to change the name, it’s still base training, but just be open to letting your heart rate go above 115, maybe.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, absolutely, I think so. And I think that there’s definitely room, I mean, for the old schoolers, and all that old school of thought, that has merit. There’s definitely times where that is applicable, but I think we’re kind of maybe moving it around to different times of year, I think base training has traditionally been associated with winter, like January and stuff like this, but that might be old school train of thought. We’re just kind of maybe picking it up and putting it a few months down the line.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, and I think it’s… I’ll just go down a quick rabbit hole here, because I think that the traditional’s way of thinking, that base training should happen when it’s cold out. I mean, that’s a very Northern person way of thinking, and there are people living all over the world where it doesn’t get cold, right? So it’s-

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, but also, man, I would want to be base training if I lived in California where it was warm. Base training in the winter months, like, dang, I don’t want to be doing that, it’s cold, especially, I mean, where you live in DC, [inaudible 00:31:40] cold.

Adam Pulford:

Not warm today.

Hillary Allen:

Man, it kills me.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And so it’s not a weather based thing [inaudible 00:31:49], and I don’t know about ultra running, but in cycling, traditionally, in non pandemic years, our World Championships usually happen around September. So there’s this big buildup for that, and then from the pros kind of standpoint is, after World Championships, take a little bit of a break, and then gear up, and then… They’re training in team camps and stuff before Thanksgiving, and all that kind of stuff like that.

Adam Pulford:

Meanwhile, from the amateur side of things it works, I think, well with the holiday schedule, because there’s not a ton of bike racing associated with that time. And then things do follow kind of a pro kind of level of things from a scheduling standpoint, and then the weather does play a role into when the daylight and the warmth and all that. So I understand it’s all interlaced here, but I also want to keep an open mind with just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we’re talking base, it can happen in all scenarios. Just want to throw a disclaimer out there.

Hillary Allen:

But I have a question. I mean, we didn’t explicitly go over this before, but I think, obviously, you can answer-

Adam Pulford:

I didn’t answer you question, I’m sorry.

Hillary Allen:

No, but here’s the question, so when we think about traditional pyramid training, right, you have a pyramid and the more stable the pyramid, you have a really strong base, right? So how can we equate VO2 max into… How do we equate that into making a stronger or more equipped athlete to handle kind of a bigger training load once it’s time to increase the volume?

Adam Pulford:

Yes, that is a wonderful question, and I would say the best answer to this is with a somewhat of a basic analogy. If we can think about, in general terms, your VO2 max being the ceiling of your house, and threshold is about your height right now. And if you want to grow as an athlete, you develop aerobic capacity and threshold and you grow and grow and grow and then your head kind of hits a top level, your VO2 max, which is the amount of oxygen that you can shove into your lungs. And it’s genetically set and it’s set by the size of your lungs and all that [inaudible 00:34:09], but it’s very trainable. Keep that mind, okay?

Hillary Allen:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

So once I’ve done enough threshold training and I’ve minimized the gap between what my threshold is relative to my VO2 max, I then incorporate VO2 max training into my athletes so that I raise the ceiling so that the athlete can grow higher and go higher. So then there’s more room to do more threshold and aerobic training. So effectively, VO2 max training is very effective at all different time periods as long as you’re managing the athlete or yourself correctly with rest and adequate rest to deepen your ability to shove air into your lungs, which is kind of the end goal of endurance training.

Hillary Allen:

Awesome. I’m a sucker for good analogies, and I like that one.

Adam Pulford:

Cool, glad you asked the question. All right, back to base and looking at modernized, different approach to it. Is there different ways to, I don’t know, get volume when you need it, Hillary? And it doesn’t really involve into your base, because I know it’s a little different, but do you do training camps, or big blocks of training, and how do you weave that into your life?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, so let’s see, so I’ll use some CTS camps that we have, we have a Memorial Day camp… Hopefully that happens this year, that’s another discussion. But Memorial Day camp, so this is the end of May, and this is really popular for a lot of trail runners who are aiming for, let’s say, a Leadville or 100 mile race, it’s happening kind of mid. So Leadville happens in August, or a race that happens end of July, like Hardrock 100 or Leadville 100, that happens kind of the second week of August.

Hillary Allen:

So this is basically around, let’s say, end of May, beginning of June, you’re doing this really big training block, it’s a cancer training camp where you can run upwards of a 50K on the Memorial Day, so that Monday. And it’s a really good time where you have a really good training stress, training load there, you’re doing kind of your longest run low intensity, but then you have adequate time to recover, and do maybe some tempo or some steady state work a few weeks later once you’re recovered. And then you can still kind of build your overall fitness before that goal race.

Hillary Allen:

But I think, especially if we’re talking about where we’re doing this high intensity VO2 max work in January, or February, you have time to kind of mix and match and do different blocks of training. After a period of VO2, you can start working into kind of the more specific tempos, to steady state, and then your more longer runs, obviously, there’s some recovery mixed in there. And then still, for some of these longer races, you still have a period of maybe VO2 max, but it’s shorter, maybe not a full block, like four weeks, maybe only two. But I like this approach where you have ample time to work with these… I guess to raise your ceiling, so to say, like you just said.

Hillary Allen:

But you have ample time to raise the ceiling, but then you have ample time for recovery and adaptation, because you can’t just stress the body up until the race, you have to have times for that. I like to think of it as like a sponge to wring out the sponge, and then you can rest and then you can reabsorb the training.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I like that analogy a lot. And the reason why I bring up training camps in blocks is because it’s a concentrated dose of training. And I know that in ultra running you guys are doing it kind of more into that specific race time period where you need that volume, and it’s volume specificity in that regard.

Hillary Allen:

Absolutely. I mean, it is, so when you’re training for running race, specifically ultras, the most specific thing that you can do… So traditionally speaking, you what you’re training to be more specific to your actual event, the closer you get to that event, right? So the most specific, and this is where it’s tricky with ultra running too, is because you want your longest runs to be the closest to your event without going into the event fatigued. So that’s why I use the example of the CTS, the Memorial Day camp that we have, because you have a really concentrated weekend. It’s really great training stress, super specific to your long event training, where not only are you practicing a long run, but you’re practicing nutrition, you’re practicing hydration, you’re practicing the mental game, because sometimes you might want to stop.

Hillary Allen:

But then you have ample time to recover, and then maybe still get in some good quality training, but you’re not going into the event overstressed and fatigued, right? And this is super important. I mean, obviously, if I’m training a professional athlete or a very competitive athlete, we might be a little bit riskier, we might do some of these longer, more fatiguing runs closer to that goal race because you’re kind of trying to eke out every little bit of fitness you can get. But of course, that’s nuanced for each athlete that you’re working with. But yeah, I think it’s really important to… And especially for ultra running, the most specific way you can train is that your longest runs are closer. So why the heck would we be doing it in January?

Adam Pulford:

Exactly. Yeah, and that’s the approach I take with my ultra mountain bikers, for example. Leadville mountain bike race is another good example. We used to do a ton of training camps up in Leadville, on the course recon, and hard riding, three, four, sometimes even a couple weeks out, depending on who the athlete is before the event, and then get them fresh and recovered, then come up and race. So it’s a really effective way to do some of the training camps.

Adam Pulford:

In cycling, it’s traditionally and also is factually good to do training camps early season. And the reason I bring that up is to, again, in a non pandemic year, we would be gearing up for training camp season at CTS and other athletes. And t’s a big concentrated dose of mixed intensity riding, you don’t go to training camp just to go zone two.

Hillary Allen:

Maybe you do as a runner.

Adam Pulford:

That is true. [crosstalk 00:41:38]

Hillary Allen:

Exactly. But I also think, also for trail runners it’s seasonally. I mean, especially and obviously, in North America and the United States, if you’re training for a mountain race and you want to run on mountain trails, especially at altitude, you have to wait to get up there when the snow was melted, or go to a place where it is altitude. So there is altitude and no snow. So there are some nuances with that as well.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. But in this kind of weird transition from pandemic to hopefully, knock on wood, no more pandemic, we’re living in a DIY scenario and situation. So for our listeners out there that are like, “Okay, well, how do I really do this jumbled mess of modernized base training now?” A lot of high athletes have a little bit more flexibility, with internet then they can work from wherever. So we’re taking some ideas of either take the family or just you and your bikes and get a Vrbo somewhere and go do a hill climbing camp. Just you, three, four days, go and get it done. And, again, it’s not testing, it’s not doing a 20 minute test or a 60 minute test or something like that. It’s like, go and train, train to train, get fit. That kind of thing.

Adam Pulford:

So I’m pushing a lot of my athletes kind of in that direction right now. Medium style training, but go and get some volume right now. And I think that’s a wonderful approach, if you do have the flexibility to kind of get out and go before events come back online.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, and that’s a good thing to do. I mean, for a lot of my athletes, even if I am prescribing them some… They don’t have the ability to travel or they have families and we’re still doing the VO2 max intervals, I still have them do some kind of like a medium length… This is all relative, obviously. A medium long run, I still have them do that on the weekends. Because I mean, most of the ultra… They’re runners, they want to run, but it’s not doing like a five hour long run in the dead of winter.

Adam Pulford:

Right. No, that’s it. So in terms of setting up this base period for some ultra runners, we’ve already talked about incorporating some VO2 type efforts. We’ve talked about on the cycling side of things, we’ve talked about some anaerobic type efforts, and it kind of mirrors a little bit of that. We also talked about the multi modality approach, which is kind of get out, ride medium/hard and build that CTL up, okay? But one other thing that I incorporate in around this time period, and it is when I’ve been coaching an athlete for two, three, four plus years, is fuel testing.

Adam Pulford:

Right now, with a lot of my athletes, I am doing a lot of fuel testing, and what I’m talking about is from sprinting to… So an anaerobic capacity or neuromuscular type of power on the bike to VO2 power, so right around five minutes, and then a threshold 20 to 30 minute type effort. And I incorporate that to check in and see where we rack and stack from year to year, so where that progress is. So checking in on the ceiling, checking in on that threshold, seeing how much we’ve either detrained and regressed in that house, or if we’ve grown a little bit, and we’re hitting the head on the ceiling. And so I’m doing that right now with some of my athletes, as an ultra running coach, are you doing any field testing in a traditional base time period?

Hillary Allen:

Yes, that’s actually a really good question. And maybe I’d use a different terminology, but absolutely, kind of like a fitness or threshold test 20 to 30 minute, see where we are. Of course, I think this is a great time to do it. So I do this a lot with my newer athletes, just to kind of see where they are, do a 5K time trial. Obviously, this is based on where their fitness is, and where they’re starting out at. But it’s a really good time to kind of check in, see where we’re at, and get also those numbers kind of set, in training peaks, or whatever. And then we can kind of go from there and use this as a base period for three, four months down the line where we kind of do this again, and see if there’s any improvements.

Hillary Allen:

And then yeah, I mean, also sometimes if you just kind of want to get familiar with the athlete, they’re just starting to get into running, will kind of do maybe four weeks, and then I’ll have them do that. But yeah, this is a great time of year for that.

Adam Pulford:

So if someone wanted to do that, just basically freshen up, run a 5K all out, get that average pace heart rate and throw it into training peaks and create some zones. That’s what that’s what you’re referring to?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what I’m referring to. But yeah, I mean, the caveat is let’s not run a 5K straight off the couch.

Adam Pulford:

That’s true. Just out of curiosity, do you do anything shorter or longer for a test, right now? Are you doing anything other than a 5K test with your athletes?

Hillary Allen:

I would say no, I think it can be more beneficial to do… I like to do, more specifically for ultra runners, a threshold climbing test. So kind of like around 45 minutes to an hour of a really hard effort uphill, I think that’s a really good test. However, that might be a little bit more condition dependent.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, and a little bit more like specific to ultra running and mountain running.

Hillary Allen:

Yes.

Adam Pulford:

And just to clarify on the cycling side of things, I chop my tests up into about three days. And it’s more like a sprint day, a VO2 day and a threshold day.

Hillary Allen:

Nice.

Adam Pulford:

And that allows for adequate recovery in between so that we’re getting insights on your physiology without the fatigue. So if you try to do it all in one day, which you can, and for really fit people that could be legitimate and still get good numbers, but motivationally, fatigue wise, and logistically, it’s better to chop it up three days, but just know for you listeners out there that want to do some field testing, you can chop it up into three days and still get the same insights on what your current physiology is. All right. Well, Hillary, you did talk about strength training, and I would be remiss to not talk about it. So how do you incorporate strength training into your base and into the rest of the year?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, so I find that when I personally do strength training as an athlete, and I try to use this experience for the athletes that I coach, because I tend to get sore. I think lifting heavy is really beneficial for runners, and I usually incorporate this into this period when I’m also doing high intensity VO2 max work. Have your hard days be hard. And plus, it’s harder if I create a little bit more of that muscle fatigue and the tearing of the muscle fibers and trying to get stronger. It’s hard for me to put in a lot of miles and volume. So I think this time of year is perfect for it.

Adam Pulford:

So when you say hard day’s hard, you’re saying like, “I’m doing VO2 and I’m doing strength training on the same day?”

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, but obviously, that’s for someone who… I’d say that’s for more experienced level athletes-

Adam Pulford:

Yes, that’s my point.[inaudible 00:50:01] put in some miles, folks, just put in some years of training.

Hillary Allen:

But sometimes that might look for… So starting out with an athlete, if they’re not used to strength training, “Okay, well, we do your VO2 intervals or your interval day for running one day, take a couple days of recovery, and then you do your strength workout.” So you still have different hard days during the week, but they’re not on the same day, if you’re not at that point in your training. So how do you incorporate that into cycling?

Adam Pulford:

Oh, man, there is multiple ways to do it, and cycling is a little different, because historically, strength training, you would have these different camps of those who are believers, and those who are not believers in strength training for cycling, and for endurance athletes in particular. And I’ve always been on the in-camp side of things. For the listeners who may not know everything about me, I was a team sport athlete growing up, northern Minnesota, a lot of wrestling and a lot of football and baseball and stuff. But I would always run, just because I love getting out in the woods and all this kind of stuff. So the seeds were planted for endurance.

Adam Pulford:

However, I was in the gym a lot for wrestling, it was kind of beat into us to be strong and throw everything around, and had a unique opportunity at the University of Wisconsin in lacrosse, where we had a strength and conditioning concentration, which is basically like a minor in the strength and conditioning. And Dennis Klein was the head strength coach there, and they guy’s smart, probably one of the smartest physiologists and teachers still that I’ve ever experienced. In different ways, meaning the guy knows his stuff, for sure.

Adam Pulford:

But what I was able to do there was just work with a ton of different athletes, and just be ingrained in strength and conditioning. And it was all based on NSCA training and principles, and you came away with your CSCS, which is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. I say all that, because I conducted a research project, looking at the effects of Olympic style weight training, and plyometrics in endurance athletes. And it was one of the coolest projects that I did in my educational career. Sadly, I could not say that there was a statistical significance for these athletes because some people had other life things get in the way, there was a few entries not related to the strength and conditioning. But there was a lot of people that did have some improvement. And specifically, a lot of qualitative improvement, meaning like, “Man, these dynamic warm ups feel way better. Oh, I feel much more smooth on my run than I ever have before. I feel like my power transmission is better.” And so a lot of that qualitative stuff.

Adam Pulford:

So fast forward to the here and now. Going heavy is very popular right now for endurance athletes. So part in jest and part in serious, I’m sitting here and say, “I told you.” There’s a lot of benefit to it. Now, you can mess it up, you can go real heavy and too much, and mess up your endurance training, get injured, and all that kind of stuff. So before we get on the heavy train, I’ll back up and say, yes, I am a believer of strength and conditioning, strength training for cyclists and runners and triathletes. But also, if you’re new to it, start slow. And where I use it, for a lot of my cyclists, is I do a ton of bodyweight stuff and muscle activation and movement exercises before we get into the heavy stuff. And oftentimes I don’t get into heavy stuff because there’s no time to, relative to the performance goals that my athletes have.

Adam Pulford:

And so that’s a big caveat, and the main thing of saying that is just don’t stress about strength training, I think you and I are actually going to do more episodes on this coming up, and in detail. But for those listening to it here and now, know that if you are new, it doesn’t really matter what you do in [inaudible 00:54:36] or the weight or… You don’t want to injure yourself, that’s first and foremost. But the main thing is start moving with some resistance, could be bands, could be weights, could be just yoga, fire up some stuff on… And we’ll have more specific examples but start doing it now because it is very healthy, and it can set the stage for a lot better strength and performance in your endurance vocations as you go. So that was kind of a long answer, Hillary, I might apologize to you and our listeners for that, but I wanted to really get it out there.

Hillary Allen:

No, I mean, I like it. Let’s nerd out on all things strength, because I’m a huge proponent of it. And I mean, one last thing I’ll say about it is the act of running itself, and the movement of running itself isn’t enough to put enough threat on the body to maintain health of bones, maybe for your legs, but not for the entire skeletal system. So it’s actually really important to, in my opinion, to lift heavy, to have healthy skeletal system and have the appropriate muscle strength to support the act of running.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, no, hugely important and that’s another thing that I’ll just throw out there as a quick nugget for us endurance folk. If we’re not stressing our muscles and our skeletal system… A lot of people, minds are blown, I say, “Stress the skeletal system.” “What do you mean?” Put enough load on to where the bones move, then what happens is the body’s like, “Oh, I need to get stronger. I need to throw more osteoclast in there and get that bone stronger.” That’s what’s happening. If we don’t do that, our bones get brittle, and then we go boom, and then we go crack.

Hillary Allen:

Yes, exactly. So I mean, science rules, so that’s the takeaway.

Adam Pulford:

Science does rule, you should check out Bill Nye’s Science Rules! podcast by the way, soft plug for him.

Hillary Allen:

Okay.

Adam Pulford:

All right, we’re getting silly now, I can tell, so we better wrap this thing up, Hillary.

Hillary Allen:

Okay.

Adam Pulford:

Okay, so we’ve talked a lot about base training, we talked in particular about there is a traditional style of doing it, there is a modern style of doing it, and all the particularities behind it. So Hillary, if you could summarize kind of like one point for our listeners, what would it be?

Hillary Allen:

I would say, for base training, do something that you’re not used to, something that stresses your body in a way where you have time to have the adequate adaptations for race day. So I’m saying do something that you typically wouldn’t do closer to your race, because it’s probably beneficial. If it’s hard, it’s probably worthwhile. For me and a lot of my athletes, that’s VO2 max work, because ultra runners, they don’t really want to do it closer to the race, and it’s actually not, in my opinion, that beneficial, the closer we get to these longer endurance races. So yeah, use this base or this winter period, or your off-season, whatever that is, I use an off-season as a non racing period. Use that as a way to kind of sharpen the tools in your toolkit that you don’t use that often.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, and I’ll echo that sentiment, and specifically say, look at your strengths and weaknesses, and take this base time period to strengthen your weaknesses. And with the caveat of if you’ve been training for a while, kind of that two to three years structured training, take a look at your weaknesses and put some of the focus of the training in right now on that, because that will deepen and strengthen your base in order for you to go to a higher level.

Adam Pulford:

If you’re very new, kind of one to two, one to three, and your weakness may be just fitness, take that multi modality approach where it is just a mix of intensities, and you’re riding kind of sticky tempo one day, and you’re climbing some hills, and then you got an easy day, you can also do that, it is very acceptable. But the main thing is don’t be super specific with a race right now. So in summary, there’s definitely different ways to look at your base training and hopefully, between Hillary and I, we gave you some ideas where you can take your training.

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, and hopefully we didn’t confuse you too much.

Adam Pulford:

That’s true, that’s one thing I do worry about when we set this one up, Hillary, but-

Hillary Allen:

Oh, no, I think there’s a lot of great information out there. I think we’ve covered a lot different topics. But if anything, I think it just goes to prove our excitement, and knowledge, and nerdiness in this crazy sport, in this world of endurance.

Adam Pulford:

This is true. But if we did confuse you or if you have more questions, you can definitely throw comments into our landing page on the TrainRight Podcast website, which will be in our show notes and all that kind of stuff. So you can drop in comments there. You can drop in comments and rate us on iTunes. And you can also follow us on the socials and ask us some questions there. Hillary, for those who don’t know your socials, where can they find you the best?

Hillary Allen:

Yeah, so exactly, we want to hear from you. So if there’s any questions or you want kind of like a more in depth podcast, let us know. And so social media for me Instagram, hillygoatclimbs, that’s my little nickname. So you can find me, Hillary Allen. I mean, I also have a website hillaryallen.com and just my name on Facebook and of course on the TrainRight CTS website. Yeah, and same for you, Adam, where can we find you?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, mostly Instagram, a little bit more active there. However, I am on Twitter and Facebook too. But for DMs and quick questions, go to Instagram. And yeah, you can also find us on TrainRight.com.

Adam Pulford:

Okay, everyone, thank you for tuning in to this collab episode with myself, Adam Pulford and my co host, Hillary Allen.

Hillary Allen:

Thanks guys for tuning in.


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