Base Building with Boston's Finest, Jonny Phillips

Base Building with Boston's Finest, Jonny Phillips

[photo by Josh Campbell]

Jonny Phillips is the fastest marathoner in Heartbreaker team history (2:17:51). He was also the fastest New Englander in the 2019 Boston Marathon and the fastest Boston resident at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials (40th, 2:17:51). If you follow either of these things closely, you know that leaves many talented runners in his wake and very few in front of him. Jonny is not just a clutch performer but he's also a student of the sport with a knack for raising the level of excellence across the team. Heartbreaker team members have access to a special small group coaching opportunity we call Breakthrough. Initially created to get a group of promising women from 3:0[something] to sub-3:00, we needed to expand the program immediately due to success and demand. 

With these credentials in mind, I asked Jonny to provide a window into his base training philosophy to inform your training right now as a we build toward a most uncertain fall racing season. One thing we know for sure, a solid base will pay big dividends whenever racing returns. Below is Jonny's take on how to do it. - DF

Jonny Phillips on Base Building:

1) Health is priority #1. When races are creeping up on you, sometimes we skirt the line with injuries in order to stay fit. With no races on the horizon, there is nothing we need to be immediately fit for. Don’t run through pain- take time off. Now more than ever, it’s important to prioritize the “little things” that keep us healthy- like strength training, stretching, re-hab, etc.

2) Train at the point of diminishing returns. Hard efforts are great when we know when to place them; without a race calendar, we don’t know to schedule hard efforts. Consistent, sustainable effort wins in periods of uncertainty. The point of diminishing returns is where you get the most “bang” (adaptation) for your “buck” (fatigue). For most of us, diminishing returns means a two(ish) hour long run, and one or two workouts (e.g. fartlek/tempo/hills) per week. These workouts should only feel about 80% effort. Mileage-wise, diminishing returns means 80-90% of your peak marathon mileage for high weeks (and including low weeks every 2-3 weeks!)

3) Build general fitness. A typical running season will have you build general fitness far from your target race (“base-building”), and get “race-specific” (honing in on goal race pace) as the big day approaches. A bigger base means faster race-specific pace. Building a base doesn’t have to come only from running though. Any aerobic activity- hiking, biking, swimming - these will all help build a bigger aerobic base. And that’s only half the equation- you can also build your strength/speed base. Drills and strides, strength circuits, weightlifting- these will help you build a bigger strength/speed base, that will later be translated to race-specific fitness. We’re not just runners, we’re athletes!

4) Train at a variety of paces. It’s tempting to head out the door and shuffle at the same moderate pace every single day. Will this make you fitter? Yes. Is this the most effective way to build base? No. (See bullet #3). Make an effort to hit every “gear” every once in a while in a workout or in strides. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) focus on the faster paces (faster than 5k), but it’s important to touch on it. This will keep all of your running muscles and energy systems “engaged”, and help incorporate your base strength into your running as you go. Just because we’re building an aerobic base and a speed base doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hit the race-specific paces, too.

5) Run by effort. Listen to your body, not your watch. Don’t spend any mental energy worrying that you’re running x:00 pace and not x:05 pace. How you feel matters, how fast you’re running does not. The best workout types are the ones with the vaguest pace goals. Fartleks, progression runs, and hills are all awesome because you can get in a great effort without knowing or caring how fast you go. Turn off every pace screen on your GPS watch. Now is the time to hone your “effort-o-meter”.

6) Set goals- with a twist! “Good” training from quarantine will have us maintain fitness. “Great” training will have us build fitness. To build fitness, we need to set process goals (e.g. “I want to do “x” twice a week”), and not worry about results goals (e.g. “I want to run “x” in the 10k”). To determine your goals- what are the weakest points in your running? How can you use this opportunity to get stronger? It can be a race-related weakness (“I struggle on the Newton Hills every year”) or a training related weakness (“I struggle doing drills and strides every week”). Translate this former weakness to an action plan (“I will do a hill workout every other week, and hill strides once a week”).

Basic Plan: assuming you’ve been training well, and you don’t need to jump up to increase your mileage.

Week 1: 85% of goal “peak week” mileage
At least 1 day off!
Long run: ~2 hours, steady effort
Midweek workout: “impromptu” progression. If you feel good on an easy day, start slowly picking it up. Shoot for the last ~15 minutes of the run at tempo. (Would recommend a 60 minute run for this). Do 2-4x30 second pickups afterward.
Drills + Strides: 1-2x per week

Week 2: 85-90% of goal “peak week” mileage
At least 1 day off!
Long run: ~2 hours, steady effort
Midweek workout: fartlek. Shoot for 30-40 minutes of total effort (e.g. 6-8x[3’ on, 2’ off] or 5-6x[4’ on, 2’ off]). “On” segments at 10k, “off” segments at steady
Drills + Strides: 1-2x per week

Week 3: 65-70% of goal “peak week” mileage. This is a “low” week.
At least 1 day off!
Long run: ~90 minutes. Mostly steady effort, can make this one a little spicy (e.g. pick up the last 20 minutes, or alternate 1 mile @ tempo/1 mile @ steady for the second half of the run)
Midweek workout: hills or speedy fartlek. If doing hills, shoot for 8-10 minutes of uphill running e.g. 8x[1’ uphill, downhill jog rest]. Or do a speedy fartlek (preferably somewhere hilly) (e.g. 12x[1’@ 5k->fast, 1’@easy])
Drills + Strides: 1-2x per week

Rinse and repeat-- change up the workouts to your heart’s content, this is just a guide. Enjoy!


1 comment

  • Tucker

    Awesome Jonny, thanks as always for your insight.

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