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What is all this base training about?

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Winter for endurance athletes can only mean one thing and that's 'base training'. It's a time when we take a well earned rest and then start to build a strong aerobic foundation for next year. The term 'base training' is something that all endurance athletes are no doubt familiar with, but we often fail to stop and question what we're doing and why? What are the real reasons for doing base training? What are the actual objectives we are trying to achieve? If you don't understand your actual objectives, then how can you possible ensure that you structure your training to gain the most from your winter base phase?

If you ask anyone why 'base training' is important, they'll give you an answer which generally includes the words endurance, aerobic, capillaries and something about using fat! It's important to identify some clear objectives, who why exactly are we base training?

1. Metabolic efficiency: You only have a small amount of carbohydrate store in your body. When competing in long distance, endurance events, you need to use fat as a fuel source. Ideally at least 50% of the energy you use should come from fat, with the remainder coming from carbohydrate. If you use a higher percentage of carbohydrate, you'll run out very quickly and slow down or even stop!

2. Physical conditioning: The old term 'time on feet' is key for runners and it also applies to cycling! Running for several hours causes damage to muscles, tendons and other tissues. Eventually this breakdown will lead to your body failing and slowing down. You probably won't feel much of the damage until the day after when you try and get out of bed, but it's happening as you run. You can be the most metabolic efficient person in the world, but if the wheels come off at 15 miles due to tissue damage, you're going nowhere.

3. Mental conditioning: This is a simple one. If you never run further than 2 hours in training and then enter an event which takes 4 hours to complete, by the time you've got to 3 hours, you'll have just about had enough! I've seen this a great deal with triathletes training for Ironman triathlon. If you only ride for 3-4 hours maximum in training but on race day you're out there for 6 hours+ then you reach a point where it just isn't fun any more and you want to stop!

How can we use objectives to improve our training schedule?

You have 3 clear objectives for your base training so here's some things to consider when training:

1. You utilise more fat when you train at a slower pace / lower intensity (zone 1 / 2). When you increase the intensity, you switch to carbohydrate.

2. You can ride or run for longer periods of time when you reduce the intensity (zone 1 / 2). If you slow down, you can stay out there longer and spend more 'time on feet'.

3. If you slow down and spend more 'time on feet' you will develop your mental conditioning. It's all about becoming accustomed to being out there for long period of time.

There you have it then, go slow...

The most common error with base training is going too quickly and stopping early. If you're training for a marathon, don't kid yourself that running 10 miles at a hard pace is ok, because it was 'harder than race pace'. Don't kid yourself that riding 60 miles hard is ok for the 112 miles cycle in an Ironman. Going hard uses more carbohydrate, leads to less 'time' on your feet and you become mentally accustomed to exercising for shorter periods of time. On the flip side, if you are slowing down, then you should be able to go longer. If you normally run 90 minutes, then slowing your pace should also allow you to run for 2 hours or more. As the 'intensity' drops, it should be accustomed with an increase in 'volume'.

So should all my training be easy??

If you only ever train easy, you'll end up being slow. There is a time to go easy and there's a time to go hard, make the easy stuff 'easy' and the hard stuff 'hard' and make them both count!

If you'd like more information about base training and fat metabolism, you can book an assessment with us. We'll measure your level of base aerobic conditioning and fat metabolism. We can also help structure your training to get the most from the winter ahead. To read more GO HERE.


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