Base Training Is NOT Long Slow Distance
This week I have been consistently reminded on how little base training is understood and ironically how badly it tends to be trained. I have been reading through lots of coaches points of view on base training and there is an assumption that base training means long slow distance (LSD). Yes LSD is a small part of base training but it is by no means the only or predominate part and coaches are failing to look beyond LSD in their preparation for races, especially Ironman.
Base training is anything that build aerobic capacity, thus everything regardless of intensity has a component of base training in it. Yes even VO2max work, that we can only hold for about 6min, is a form of base training. VO2max is “The maximum or optimum rate at which the heart, lungs and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise, used as a way of measuring a person’s individual aerobic capacity” it does not get much more aerobic than that. So why are coaches pushing all this LSD? Is long slow distance the answer for success at long distance triathlon? Simple answer, NO.
For athletes who are new to the sport and doing their first Ironman long slow distance will work because the race is for them going to be a long slow day, but for athletes that would like to finish before the sun sets this concept doesn’t work. Volume, especially slow volume will help you resist fatigue, but how much fatigue resistance do you need? You only need enough fatigue resistance to get across the finish line with a relatively low drop off in pace. Why train to have fatigue resistance that lasts 15 hours when your target time is 12? It is wasted effort and time that could be better used to build up speed. After you have the fatigue resistance for your target time it is all about the speed to get you to the finish in that time. Unfortunately LSD is not going to make that happen, it will allow you to race an even longer than Ironman but it WILL NOT make you go any faster! You should “train how you expect to race”, and expect to “race how you have trained”.
At this point you may be asking “if not LSD to build base, then what can I do?” Or “how does one build base/fatigue resistance and improve their speed”. The answer is no secret, in fact there have been numerous studies published over the years about using speed workout to build aerobic capacity. It’s hard to throw a stone and not hit one of these studies in the sports physiology world, but the concept still hasn’t made it into the mainstream long course triathlon. But rather than boring you and breaking down the science, I will give you an example of speed endurance workouts for both running and cycling for my long course athletes, which not only build their speed but improves their fatigue resistance.
Long Bike Session 3:30 total
W/U 10-20min easy spin @ 90rpm+ with mixed terrain
2:30-2:40min Mixed Build with:
3 x 5min @ 90% Z5, at 95-100 RPM(equivalent to sprint distance race pace/effort)
3 x 10min @ 85% Upper Z4, at 95-100 RPM (equivalent Olympic race pace/effort)
3 x 10min @ Lower Z4, at 90-95 RPM (slightly above 70.3 race pace/effort)
2 x 20min @ upper Z3, at 85-95 RPM (slightly above 140.6 race pace/effort)
Space sets with enough recovery to fully recover, should be between 5min and 10min max, as needed.
W/D with left over time easy spin @ 90rpm+ with mixed terrain.
This particular workout is one of mine and my athlete’s favorites. After the athlete is properly warmed up we start working on their speed by focusing on a much higher than Race Pace intensity and the higher cadence. This builds mechanical efficiency while simultaneously pre fatiguing the body in order to prepare for the fatigue resistance section of the workout. At this point the body should feel similar to having done 3:30 hrs of LSD within 1:30 workout.
The second half of the workout is race specific for 70.3 and 140.6. The athlete should be maintaining speeds or speeds slightly above what they will be holding on race day, on an already fatigued body. Simulating how the body will feel in the second half of the bike on race day; thus building the aerobic capacity or endurance necessary to complete the bike with low levels of fatigue. For the best results athletes should try to do their rides on courses similar to their race course (if the race course is hilly be sure to include hills during these sets).
At the end of the workout the body should feel taxed equivalent to a 6 hour LSD bike session, but having the benefit of speed and race specific training built into a shorter session.
Running Speed Endurance Session
W/U 15-20min easy + drills (make sure drills are focused towards your identified weaknesses.
Include: In the W/U 2-3 up tempo efforts strides of 30sec-1min duration, (The goal is to get heart rate up to but not exceed Lactate threshold.)
6 x 12min @ lower zone 4 with 3-4min easy jog between sets, focus on your weak areas in form during the set.
W/D with left over time, try to focus on holding good form in the W/D with a high cadence, soft surface if possible
We are looking to run 6 x 12 min at a pace that is going to be just below Lactate threshold. This may seem fast but Lactate Threshold is a pace we can hold for 1 hour going flat out so while these appear to be fast sets they are manageable. There are two goals for this session:
1) Build biomechanical efficiency
Biomechanical efficiency allows us to run faster with less effort, and minimizes the risk of injuries making it essential to all athletes and their training progression. Biomechanics are maintained and developed by reinforcing correct technique at race pace intensity. This type of session has the ability create biomechanical efficiency by forcing the athlete to maintain good form over the short periods (the intervals) while the body becomes fatigued. In between each set the athlete can reset and re focus on the correct form before starting the next set making sure that form does not slowly deteriorate through the entire session.
2) Developing fatigue resistance
By forcing the athlete to maintain the pace slightly below LT as the body gets progressively more fatigued we build aerobic capacity without excessive build ups of Lactate Acid.
This session has the benefit of being short in nature by long course training standards but has the benefit of much longer running session. It also has a lot of race paced intensity in it which makes the transference to race day performance much better than LSD training.
While LSD will improve fatigue resistance and build aerobic capacity, there are far more effective ways to develop these attributes with less time, faster adaptation to training load, and benefits to speed and biomechanical efficiency. Making the physiological benefits of LSD not time effective and the only real benefit that I find from LSD is the mental preparation for being on a race course for a long period of time.