Strength Building Phase of a Distance Program

What is it and why is it important?

In the base building phase, we built a base of miles and our commitment and put structure in place. We added volume until we had 25-40 miles per week. Next is the strength building phase. During this phase, we add a few components: tempo/threshold runs and hills. These runs should be done at 83-92% effort (maximum heart rate) and breathing is fast but controlled. These workouts are meant to challenge your cardiovascular system by adding stress to improve your capacity and to strengthen your muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. This phase should help you feel stronger, breathing should get easier and over the course of the 7 weeks, the tempos and hills should become easier.

What is happening to our bodies during this phase and what are the benefits?

With tempo runs, we introduce faster-paced training that will get your body used to running at a comfortably hard pace for a set amount of time. We also introduce hill workouts which serve to strengthen your leg muscles and place the same demand on legs as weight training.

Benefits of hill running:

  • Leg muscles are recruited into working harder on the uphill because you are using your body weight as resistance
  • Calf muscles learn to contract more quickly
  • Through conditioning, you will get over the psychological hurdle of seeing an upcoming hill on the run or on race day
  • You will learn how to properly pace yourself by keeping your effort steady
  • You are forced to use your arms when running up the hills—this is the best place to learn to drive the elbows back because it really does help to move you forward
  • On repeats you are learning to build your tolerance to lactic acid—do you feel the burn?
  • You are challenging your cardiovascular system
  • Training on the hills is speedwork in disguise

Benefits of tempo/threshold runs:

  • Fast twitch muscle fibers gain more endurance
  • Your efficiency and stamina will improve with increased speeds
  • Your aerobic capacity will improve and your body will learn to use oxygen more efficiently
  • Your body will learn to flush the lactic acid buildup so that over time you can run harder and longer

The focus here is increasing aerobic capacity, efficiently flushing lactic acid and building strength in the legs. As in the base building phase, we are teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next phase.

What else should we focus on during strength building?

Proper form on the hills is important. Below are my tips for good hill form:

  • Uphill: stay relaxed on the first 2/3 and then speed up on the last 1/3; use higher turnover, smaller steps, same amount of effort (so pace may slow); bring the knees up a little higher and put the foot to the ground with purpose; think of driving the legs backwards
  • Downhill: start out the downhill by lengthening your stride; lean into the downhill until your body is perpendicular to the hill; try to get the foot to land a little behind the hip which means that you are putting the foot down a little sooner than if you were on the flats

If you are lifting weights, focus on the upper body along with strengthening where you might have imbalances.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery continues to be an important aspect in the strength building phase of our program. Your body needs time to recover from muscle fatigue—something that you might not have been feeling much toward the end of the base building. Your body also needs time to flush the lactic acid out. Be sure to incorporate a few rest days. Optimum nutrition should continue to be a focus so that you are performing your best.

Final thoughts

I hope that you are seeing your hard work pay off through the time and miles that you have put into this training program. Bravo for sticking with it and working so hard!