Racing During Triathlon Base Training

September 26, 2016

Mike Ricci


Last month I talked about the “Myth of LSD” and how base training was essentially your chance to set yourself up to have a good race season while improving your aerobic fitness. Now that you are into your base season, or at least you should be, you can gauge your fitness by jumping into some races to see where you really are. There is a great quote by Dr. Daniels ? the great running coach and author ? who once said, ?If you want to train faster, prove it by racing faster.? Well, now is your chance! If you want to prove that you should be training at a faster pace you can prove it by racing faster, and find out where you really are. Let?s look over a few keys to racing during base:

Timing:Picking the right time to race during base training can be tricky. Of course you have your long run days, long bike days, etc so how you space out the races is important. Don?t forget you will be pushing yourself to a pretty hard effort level that you haven?t felt in a while. Steve Bouey running strong at IMNZ.

This especially holds true if this is your first race of the year. Typically, I have my athletes gear up for a half marathon or 10k early in the season ? somewhere around Base then beginning of Base 2 or Base 4. You may wonder why not schedule the race at the end of a recovery week ? and you could, but I choose to do it the week after a recovery week. I feel this gives the athlete a better chance to absorb more of the fitness in the last Base Phase that was completed. I create my schedules in three week blocks, so after two weeks, I schedule an easier week, and then after week one of the next phase, I schedule the race.

Why race during the base season:I like to race one time per month, even in the off season. It keeps me connected to that ?race feeling?. You know what I mean: the butterflies, the anticipation and all that goes with it. The more you race, the easier it becomes. Once it becomes routine, you can relax more before and during the race. Another reason to race is to see how you do in a competitive environment ? being disciplined to hold back and let the race come to you. Going out front to hammer a race and blowing to bits 1 mile later will teach you very quickly about pacing. I think going out hard and trying to hang on is one of the best lessons on pacing we could ever learn.

You can jump into a low key race during base to see where you are with pace and heart rate, to measure yourself against others and yourself, to see what?s changed, what you can improve, practice race day nutrition, to get out there and enjoy your fitness. For some of you, it may be to just beat people. Whatever it is, we all have a good reason to do it.

How hard should I race?Of course this depends on what you are training for. When I have athletes preparing for half Ironman or longer, I have them schedule a half marathon during the Base Phase ? just to let them go out there and see that running 13.1 miles is a long race. On the other side, for athletes racing sprint and Olympic distance races, I have them race a 5k and or a 10k.

For some people just running a 10k is hard enough, but racing one is even harder. For beginners, I like to see them use a heart rate monitor and try to focus on keeping within certain ranges for the first few miles of a 10k. I give them a plan of a mid Zone 2 for 2 miles, and a Zone 3-4 goal for 2 miles, and then let them go crazy the next 2 miles. For a 5k I would advise just running at or near your LT for the entire time. For a longer race like a half marathon, I set a plan of Zone 2-3 for 5 miles, Zone 3 for 5 miles, and then a ?let it rip? for the final 5k. This formula has worked for most people, so don?t be afraid to try it.

What distance should I race in Base Phase?My answer is ?Challenge yourself!? Move up to the next harder distance for you. If you worked up to a 5k last year, try out a 10k or if 10k is relatively easy, try a 15k or a half marathon. Whatever it is, try to push yourself to something new.

Lastly, one comment I would like to add is that for the slightly more experienced athletes, don?t be afraid to ride your bike to the local 5 or 10k or even ride long the day before. Racing on tired legs is what you do in a triathlon and practicing it in race-like conditions will only help you get better at it. Allow your body to become used to that feeling and you will find that racing during the Base Phase will become a key to a successful season.

Michael Ricci is a USAT Level II certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

schedule a call