Racing During Triathlon Base Training

Runners on a dirt road
September 26, 2016

Mike Ricci


Last month, I discussed the "Myth of LSD" and how base training sets the foundation for a successful race season while enhancing aerobic fitness. Now that you're in your base season, or should be, it's a good time to assess your fitness by participating in some races to gauge your progress. There's a great quote by Dr. Daniels, the renowned 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 demonstrate that you should be training at a quicker pace, you can do so by racing faster and discovering where you truly stand. Let's go over a few key points for racing during the base phase:

Choosing the right time to race during base training can be challenging. You have your long run days, long bike days, etc., so how you schedule the races is crucial. Remember, you'll be pushing yourself to a hard effort level that you may not have experienced in a while. This is especially true if it's your first race of the year. Typically, I advise my athletes to prepare for a half marathon or 10k early in the season – somewhere around 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 prefer to do it the week after a recovery week. I believe this gives the athlete a better chance to absorb more of the fitness gained in the last Base Phase. I structure my schedules in three-week blocks, so after two weeks, I schedule an easier week, and then after the first week of the next phase, I schedule the race.

Why race during the base season:
I like to race once per month, even in the off-season, to stay 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 assess your performance 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 up a mile later will quickly teach you about pacing. I believe going out hard and trying to hang on is one of the best lessons on pacing we could ever learn.

You can participate in a low-key race during base to assess your pace and heart rate, to measure yourself against others and yourself, to see what's changed, what you can improve, practice race-day nutrition, and to enjoy your fitness. For some, it may be just to beat people. Whatever the reason, we all have a good motivation to do it.

How hard should I race?
This depends on what you are training for. When athletes are preparing for half Ironman or longer events, I have them schedule a half marathon during the Base Phase to experience running 13.1 miles in a race setting. For those racing sprint and Olympic distance races, I recommend a 5k and/or a 10k. For beginners, I suggest using a heart rate monitor and focusing on maintaining specific ranges for different parts of the race. For example, in a 10k, aim for a mid Zone 2 for 2 miles, a Zone 3-4 goal for 2 miles, and then go all out for the final 2 miles. For a 5k, aim to run at or near your lactate threshold for the entire race. For longer races like a half marathon, I recommend a plan of Zone 2-3 for 5 miles, Zone 3 for 5 miles, and then pushing hard for the final 5k. This formula has proven effective for many athletes, so don't hesitate to try it.

What distance should I race in the Base Phase?
My advice is to challenge yourself! Move up to the next longer distance. If you ran a 5k last year, try a 10k. If a 10k feels manageable, attempt a 15k or a half marathon. Push yourself to try something new.

Finally, for slightly more experienced athletes, don't be afraid to ride your bike to the local 5k or 10k, or even go for a long ride the day before. Racing on tired legs simulates the conditions of a triathlon, and practicing it in race-like conditions will only enhance your performance. Allow your body to become accustomed to that feeling, and you'll find that racing during the Base Phase becomes a key to a successful season.

Michael Ricci is a USAT Level II certified coach. He can be contacted 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.

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