When we think of training for an event, one of the first things we should consider is building a clear roadmap and structure to our training approach. Part of this process should include how we divide our training into clear cycles that are aligned with the races you plan to do. This practice is referred to as periodization.

There are plenty of theories and approaches to periodization. For the purposes of this series of posts, I will talk to the more traditional approach popularized by Arthur Lydiard. He introduced the notion of working through distinct cycles of training, namely: Base Phase, Build and Peak Phase, and Taper Phase. Here, I’ll dive into each, explain them in detail, provide a few tips, and show the importance of each.


Provides the foundation

The Base Phase is the one that is furthest out from the race you are preparing for; we commonly refer to it as a preparation or foundation period. It’s about preparing our bodies to handle the rigors of the subsequent phases as we progress towards our race. It is the least specific to your event but probably the most important as it underpins your ability to handle the increased load to come. Joe Friel, one of the world’s most respected endurance sports experts, refers to the Base Phase as ‘training to train’. 

Should be specific to you

The Base Phase needs to be specific to your current level of fitness. If you possess a high level of underlying ‘fitness’, your Base Phase should take this into account. Equally, if you are starting from square one, the approach to your Base Phase should be focused on building the highest level of skill, endurance, and muscular strength before progressing to the next phase of your training. If you’re a newbie, your Base Phase will likely be a lot longer than a lifetime athlete; so don’t forget to build that into your thinking.

Is the time to set goals and recognize your limits

Clear goal-setting is important to help guide your training roadmap. The Base Phase will support the entire success of your season, so it is worth sitting down with your Ironman Coach and discussing your season goals. Next, distill these down to ensure your Base Phase of training is meaningful and motivating. This is also a good opportunity to identify, discuss, and improve on your limits. An example could be that you have well-developed aerobic endurance but not so much technical ability. Because being technically proficient really does improve performance, it would make sense to set goals around improving your skill base.

The focus of your Base Phase training should be on these key elements:

Develop and/or improve aerobic endurance

    • This is important because the vast majority of events are aerobic in nature. To improve endurance, you should work all three energy systems. By this, we mean not focusing solely on going out and logging as many easy miles as possible. We should ensure a variety of exercise intensity at the right mix. The majority of your training (~80%) should be zone 1 and 2, with the remaining 20% being higher intensity. Don’t forget strength and conditioning as well.

Develop or improve muscular strength

    • Working on improving your muscular strength will help you to recruit more muscle fibers. This will make you physically stronger and more resistant to injury. The other benefit of regular strength work is improving your neuromuscular communication.

Embed habits to aid success

    • Have structure and routine.

    • Good quality sleep. Sleep is where the magic happens (recovery). Try and get to bed at roughly the same time every night, have no devices in the bedroom, and finish your evening meal 90 - 120mins before going to bed.

    • Commitment to recovery is how you get stronger and fitter. Good sleep is a big part of this. You should also include rest days, stretching, yoga/Pilates, and massages.

    • Work on your mental game: use visualization, and reflection.

    • Include regular strength and conditioning sessions in your program. It sounds simple but this is commonly overlooked by many athlete age-groups as they feel it’s not specific to their event. Do it regularly and the benefits will be significant.

    • Set goals to help ensure structure and motivation in your training.

    • Be consistent in everything you do. Consistency is the single biggest key to success.

    • Make sure you’re having fun; this will make your training more engaging and motivating.

Improve nutrition

    • A well-balanced, overall, unprocessed day-to-day diet with appropriate amounts of protein, healthy good fats, carbohydrates, and micro-nutrients will underpin your ability to train consistently. Use the Base Phase of your training as the opportunity to improve your diet if it needs working on.

Improve sport-specific skills and techniques to help improve efficiency

    • The Base Phase presents the best opportunity to improve your sport-specific skills and techniques. This is important because the more technically proficient you are, the more efficient your movement during training and racing will be. Building skill-work into your training need not be time-consuming or difficult. Simply devoting 15mins during your warm-ups will suffice. You can also consult experts for feedback. A good example of this could be a swim technique session with a designated swim coach.

Lastly, test regularly. Improvements can come quickly if you are new to endurance sport or just getting back into training. I’d suggest completing a test every 4 - 6 weeks to ensure your training zones are accurate and progression is still occurring. If you are plateauing, a change in training stimulus is more than likely required. An example of a commonly used run threshold test is below:

15mins warm-up. At the end of the warm-up, hit the lap button. This is the start of the test (it's 30mins). You need to run the test as hard as you can for the entire time. At 10 minutes, hit the lap button again and then hit the lap button at the end of the 30mins. The average heart rate and pace for the last 20mins of the 30 is your threshold. Another way to test progress is to simply keep track of your peak performances during races or hard training sessions. Improvement is a great indicator of progression and effective training.

In summary, the Base Phase of training provides the foundation to progress to the subsequent phases of training. The focus should be on building endurance, developing muscular strength, improving skill sets, embedding good habits, and optimizing your nutrition. Use regular testing to validate training zones and monitor progress. 

Everything you do in the Base Phase prepares your body for the increase in load that comes during the Build Phase of training. The Base Phase is all about ‘training to train’ while the Build Phase is about ’training to race’.