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Set a Baseline and Start Slow

How many times have you heard someone say something like “No Pain, No Gain” or “Go Hard, or Go Home” or “Harden the F@#K up!” These types of sayings are ingrained in our social psyche when it comes to training. While I am all for motivational quotes, they are best forgotten when you are beginning your running or fitness journey.

While athlete burnout, it is a common and well-researched topic, studies into general population burnout in training are not so common. However, it is often discussed and the all too common phrase of “yeah, I have a gym membership, although I can’t remember the last time I worked out!” is heard. So, how do we negate this when we are beginning our training?

The key is to find a baseline of your fitness and manage it from there. For instance, if 10 years ago I could run 140+km a week, but I haven’t consistently run for the best part of 10 years should I start trying to run 140km a week? Or if I have never run a day in my life, but I am now going to run every day of the week? How many months or weeks or days is this going to be sustainable?

I won’t touch on the person who used to run 140+km as an individual here. They could almost follow the same routine as the person who has never run. The only difference would be that they could progress a little faster than the newbie. As stated in the Beginning Running: The Right Way, I like the idea of using Phil Maffetone’s 180 Formula and his MAF Test. The concept here is simple; take your age away from 180BPM gives you your training intensity. For me, 180-34 gives me a training intensity of 146BPM, and I would apply this to all my runs. To set my baseline, I would run a 5km ‘Time Trial’, and I would apply the 146BPM to this run. With the technology attached to sports watches and smartwatches these days, it is easy to track. Once you have finished your run record your finishing time as well as each of your kilometre splits, you will compare this with your next MAF Test.

As for starting your running training after this, what should you do? I have heard people say just as run as much as you can cope, or even just run as far as you can every second day. Both of which don’t give a great starting point as they risk too much load too soon and then to injury. Or even just start running and only add 10% of your weekly mileage each week, this can be sound advice. However, if I only run 10km in the first week, the second week can only be 11km. By week 10 you would only be around 23km. Or if you started at 100 by week 10, you would be over 230. My advice here would be to start with 3 days a week of running between 20 and 30mins at your assigned heart rate with at least a days rest in between the runs. I would try to do this for about 6 weeks, after which you should be able to run 3x30mins comfortably in a week. You can then retest your fitness with the MAF Test. In the next 6 week block, you can add in a fourth run which would become your long run of the week extending each week by only 5mins. After 12 weeks, you have a solid routine and now not a beginner runner. Just remember each run is money in the bank.

During the 12 week block, it is very important to listen to your body and recover. There is no harm in extending your rest period between training days if you are sore or tired. Our next few blogs will drill down into the ways to enhance your training, reduce your recovery times and balance out your week.

So stay tuned,


Head Coach/Founder


Maffetone, P (2019). Retrieved from

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