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Build An Aerobic Base: A Guide for Off-Season Training

[Originally featured in Run Utah Magazine Oct Nov Dec Edition 2015 – Click Here to read other great articles from this magazine edition]

The fall and winter months are a great time of year to put in some easy running mileage. In fact, it is my favorite time of year because I feel like I can really enjoy running again. The pressure of a race looming in the near future is gone and I can focus on running because I love what it does for both my mind and body. Some runners like to continue to do intervals, tempos, etc. during these off-season months, but if your goal is to increase your weekly mileage and build a solid aerobic base then the safest way to go about it is to avoid coupling mileage increases with intense workouts. You risk injury, overtraining, and burnout. For me it works best to at least take a couple months to run distance and build up my mileage base. If anything, it is the mental break from intense workouts that I need to be primed and ready to jump back into more intense workouts come the beginning of the year.


There are some definite physiological benefits to spending consistent time running easy mileage. We strengthen the cardiovascular system. We create a more powerful pump (heart), which helps get more oxygen rich blood to our running muscles at an increased rate. We increase the cross-section of blood supply in our muscles with the increased number of capillaries (small branches of blood vessels) in our body. We also increase the size, number, and distribution of mitochondria in our body. Mitochondria is where aerobic metabolism takes place, so this increases our body’s ability to take up and utilize oxygen more efficiently. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, we can become better at conserving our glycogen stores and be more efficient at utilizing fat for energy. Base mileage, if done correctly, also helps build up a resistance to injury and builds a foundation for us to handle more intense/ quality workouts down the road. And if you are still not convinced of the importance of easy running and base mileage, think about how the different energy pathways of the body are utilized during different race distances. We have energy being produced with the presence of oxygen (aerobic pathway) and energy produced with out oxygen (anaerobic pathways) depending on the intensity of the activity being performed. If you take a look at the energy contribution chart you can see that even a shorter race like the mile requires 80% of the body’s energy to come from aerobic metabolism. The marathon requires over 97% from the aerobic pathway! So it makes sense that we should spend 80% or more of our training time developing our aerobic system.


When it comes to weekly mileage goals, like a lot of training aspects, it is very individual. I know some runners that run consistent 100 mile weeks, some runners who 65 miles per week is their edge, and other beginner or masters (over 40 years old) runners that 30-40 miles a week are what their bodies can handle. So many factors go into this that it is something you have to be very careful about. Jack Daniels, a well-known exercise physiologist and coach, said there is no magical weekly mileage number. He did say, however, that good marathoners tend to be in the 70-150 miles per week average (1). This is a wide range, but it does help us understand that for marathon running, longer weekly mileage is important. While the exact ideal weekly mileage for each person is not always clear, one thing we do know is that it takes YEARS to build up to having your body handle the stresses of 70-150 mile weeks. Runners that are able to handle this amount of mileage have built up to this gradually over years of training. So when deciding on how many miles to do each week, consider what event you are training for (training for a 5K is going to require much less miles than if you are training for a marathon) and then consider how many years you have been running. I’d say if you are just getting started then shoot for 25-35 miles a week. If you are an intermediate runner (3-5 years of running) that has consistently been running 25-35 miles a week then start your base mileage out at the 35-45 range. If you have been running for 7-10 years with consistent mileage above 50 miles then I think you would be okay to start hitting ranges above 60.


The most conservative, safest approach would be to stay at the same weekly mileage for 3-4 weeks before increasing your mileage. This gives your body time to adapt to the stresses you are putting on it before you add more demand to it. I like to take a mileage recovery week before making the jump to a new weekly mileage goal. So after the 3rd or 4th week of higher mileage, I drop my mileage for one week by 20% and allow myself a recovery week from the higher mileage. For example, if you are running 60 miles a week for 3 weeks then on the recovery week you would decrease your mileage by 12 miles (20% of 60) and run 48 miles. Then after the recovery week you could head into three consecutive weeks at 66 miles a week. How do I know how much I increase my mileage when it is time to make a jump? Some experts recommend, using the 10% rule of thumb. This means increasing your mileage by 10% of what you have been doing, but maximum amount being 10 miles. Another approach is to increase by the number of training sessions you are doing in a week (1). So if you workout 7 times a week, then you can increase your mileage by 7 miles.


These easy distance runs are more of a function of time spent running rather than intensity (1). You can’t really go too slow on these runs, but you can go too fast. If you go too fast on these runs you change the desired result and purpose of the run. I would describe these runs as easy to moderate. At a conversational pace. If you are looking for a heart rate range, your distance run pace should be 65-79% of your heart rate max. If you want to base easy run pace off of race paces you can do that too. For instance, these runs should be 45-60 seconds slower per mile than marathon race pace or 1.5-2 minutes slower than 5k pace (1).


(1) Daniels, Jack (2005). Daniel’s Running Formula. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


Janae Richardson – Runner | USATF Certified Coach | Masters in Exercise Science

Janae has a master’s degree in Exercise Science from Utah State University and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist. She ran collegiately at Weber State University and continues to enjoy running competitively in road races. As a certified USATF coach she also enjoys coaching runners of all levels of ability. Janae and her husband Ken Co-founded UtahRunning.com in 2009 and reside in Ogden, UT with their three children.


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Rodney Hansen

Rodney Hansen – Exercise Physiologist | Ph. D. in Nutritional Sciences | Runner | Coach

Rodney has been a distance runner since junior high.  He graduated from Fort Collins High School in Fort Collins, Colorado and earned his Bachelor’s degree from Idaho State University where he was also a cross country, indoor, and outdoor track athlete.  He completed both his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology and Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Nutritional Sciences from Colorado State University.

Rod’s former professional experience includes coaching high school Boys and Girls Track (Poudre School District, Fort Collins, Colorado), and collegiate Mens and Womens Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, and Marathon (College of Southern Idaho).  He also conducted research in nutrition in the Colorado State University Veterinary Medicine Program where he primarily investigated dietary omega-3 fatty acids and the effect they have on chronic disease in companion animals.

Rod has been a professor at Weber State University since 2004.  He teaches nutrition and his research interests have included biomechanical analysis of barefoot running in elite runners and nutrient intervention to address muscle soreness in older runners.  He is married to Julie Hansen.


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by on Jun.03, 2015, under Utah Running Experts

Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen – Masters of Science | Sports Dietitian | Exercise Physiologist | Runner

Julie Hansen, M.S., R.D., C.D. is a Registered Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist.  Julie graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in Dietetics and from Colorado State University with a Master’s degree in Exercise Science.  Julie moved to Utah in 2004 from Fort Collins, Colorado.  Julie is married to Rodney and has two children, Russelle who is 18 and Isaac who is 15.

Julie has been involved in athletics since junior high school.  She played basketball, volleyball and track in high school.  Julie has been running competitively in road races since 1980 and competing in triathlons since 2005.   Julie has competed in the Huntsman World Senior Games in Track and Field and the Triathlon.

Julie currently teaches a Sports Nutrition course for Weber State University and a Weight Management course for the University of Utah.  Julie is the dietitian for the Weber State Athletic department.  Julie also has a private nutrition practice in Utah working with individuals who want to lose weight, improve performance, lower cholesterol or prevent disease.  Julie is able to help endurance athletes customize their daily training diets and provide race day nutrition plans for marathon or ironman competitions.  In the corporate wellness field, Julie works part time as a dietitian for Kimberly Clark Corporation in Ogden, Utah and for Solstice Residential Treatment Center in Layton, Utah.  Julie was the President of the Utah Dietetic Association in 2011-2012.



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by on Jun.03, 2015, under Utah Running Experts

Jeremy Stoker – Utah Running Expert


JEREMY STOKER – Physical Therapist, DPT – Runner

Jeremy is excited to be a part of the Utahrunning.com team. His passion for running started when he was 15 years old as he ran his first marathon. He has continued to enjoy running, and has enjoyed seeing his times improve. He graduated with both his bachelors of science in medicine and his doctorate of physical therapy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He has two kids and a wife, who also enjoys running, so he finds it tricky to continue to fit running in during a busy schedule – but enjoys the challenge. He currently practices as a physical therapist for Mountain Land Physical Therapy, in the Kaysville office. As a runner himself and with his physical therapy experience Jeremy is an expert at analyzing running injuries, performing video gait analysis, and is armed with tools to help runners do what we we love to do — run! He finds joy in helping beginners catch the fire of running. He is eager to help in any way he can and hopes to help others catch the running bug or, for those who have already caught it, to continue and love it even more.

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by on Dec.03, 2013, under Utah Running Experts

Rachel Shippee – Utah Running Expert

Rachel Shippee – B.S., CPT, CSCS, RRCA Running Coach


At a young age I developed a passion for health and fitness. This passion propelled me into eventually competing in athletics at the college level and ultimately, into pursuing health and fitness as a career.

I have obsessively worked to further my knowledge in this arena; completing my bachelor’s degree at Westminster University, as well as attaining my certifications as a personal trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a certified running coach.

It was not until after college that I discovered a love for running. I have found it to serve not only as a great tool for maintaining weight, and improving fitness, but also as a welcomed release. Currently I work as a personal trainer at Lifelong Fitness in Kaysville, Utah. There I am able to coach a variety of individuals on the practice and importance of health and fitness.

I specialize in performance enhancement, injury prevention, and functional training.

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by on Oct.01, 2011, under Utah Running Experts

Jason Blackham – Utah Running Expert

Jason Blackham – MD, Sports Medicine, Competitive Runner


Jason Blackham, MD, Internal Medicine Sports Medicine specialist ran cross country and track for Mountain View High in Orem, Ut, where he was All-State, and for Southern Utah University. He continues to run marathons and road races. He was a team physician for University of Iowa before moving to Ogden at Intermountain Sports Medicine at McKay Dee Hospital, Calton-Harrison clinic.

He is a team physician for area high schools, marathon and other race events, Snowbasin Clinic, and Weber State teams. He has given talks at national sports medicine meetings and running symposiums as well as written book chapters on stress fractures, shin splints and calf muscle strains. He practices non-surgical sports medicine. He treats bone, joint, muscle and tendon injuries and medical issues related to sports with emphasis on running injuries, endurance medicine and medical problems with sports participation. He specializes in overuse injuries and prevention of running related injuries as well as ultrasound guided procedures.

He also specializes in sports related medical problems such as exercise induced asthma, concussion, heart issues, diabetes in athletes, and more. He knows how to keep runners training while rehabbing injuries.

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by on Oct.01, 2011, under Utah Running Experts

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