You might not, even though it might seem impossible to you. I thought I did until I started crashing early in marathons and started digging into the whys of that. I mean, I could run 22 milers in training, I could chat with my friends while running, I could do tempo work and track work spot on to the numbers I was seeking, and I even ran a strong half marathon this spring. But I had skipped that essential component of true aerobic base building and when push came to shove in a marathon, I got shoved, hard.
And now I am making up for it all with my MAF training. I got myself into this predicament when I returned to running a couple of years back after a layoff from injury. That would have been the perfect time to build a true aerobic base, but instead, I pushed myself to get into marathon shape for Boston. (side note–don’t ever return from injury with a race deadline hanging over your head). I could focus on the “could’ve, should’ve, wouldn’ves” but that’s a waste of time. The important thing is that I am doing it right now.
Why is an aerobic base important? For so many factors. Overall health, for one. With a good, solid aerobic base, you’re not damaging your body the way you might be if you are running primarily in an anaerobic state. You’re less likely to get sick and less likely to get injured if you have a true base underneath you. For training purposes, an aerobic base means that your muscles have more capillaries and thus more oxygen to work with. Your body also can tap into fat for fuel, something we all have endless supplies from which to draw. If you work primarily in an anaerobic state, your body will depend more on glycogen and that’s in much shorter supply.
How can you determine if you have that base? A few hints that you don’t include frequent injury, fatigue, and illness. Another clue is the unexplained bonks like I had in longer distance racing. But if you really want to know, work out your desired aerobic heart rate according to Phil Maffetone’s method, and then go out for a six or seven mile run with a heart rate monitor/GPS strapped on. See what pace you are keeping. Is it far slower than what you expected? Is it far slower than what you normally run, even for your easy runs? That is likely your answer right there. When I did this, it was one serious rude awakening, believe me.
Even with this information in hand, you may not want to train at the low heart rate, and believe me, I get it. I put this off for a long time, even though I knew it was the best thing for me. The only thing I can say is that I am seeing great progress and that’s so encouraging. The bottom line is that I will be a healthier me at the end of this road, and even if the race paces don’t fall into place (and I believe they WILL), I’ve done myself a favor with this training.
So tell me–do you think you have a good aerobic base? Are you brave enough to find out?