12 Mar 2018


Whether you’re a seasoned long distance triathlete looking to improve your performance, or a first-timer embarking on an iron journey, key to success is effective implementation of base phase; the first section of training in preparation for going long. While it’s tempting to hibernate, stoke up the fire and don the slippers at the first sign of cold, the chilly months are ideal for laying a foundation for next year’s race season.


Winning begins in winter

In triathlon, winter is often referred to as off-season, but that’s a little misleading – used effectively, it’s a valuable weapon – and good timing too; triathlons generally take place in spring/summer, and long distance programs commonly prescribe six-months, incorporating up to 300 hours training and several phases; base, build, peak and pre-race taper.


It’s all about the base

A typical base phase includes 4-8 hours training per week, and while structure and specifics of training programs vary, typically, this first period of a program is associated with spending time at a lower intensity – the aerobic zone, or zone 2. While there are differing zone systems used, topping-out between 4 and 6, it is widely accepted that zone 1 is the ‘I can still chat’ end of the scale, while the top end is reserved for ‘I might vomit’.


Working at a lower intensity commonly accounts for around 60-75% of overall training time across a full long-distance program, with volume weighted higher in the first 12 weeks and the latter half introducing a higher volume of higher zones; tempo and threshold.


Find your zone

While zone 2 is your best friend in winter, to the already fit athlete it usually feels a little slow, resulting in temptation to crank it up – but have patience, working aerobically is crucial to a solid foundation from which to build upon. Spending time in this zone allows your body to most efficiently utilize fat and carbohydrates, which you’ll need when you’re going long! 


You can accurately determine your zones through a fitness test or, for a free option, you can use an online Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) calculator – you’ll be in zone 2 when you’re working at around 65% of your MHR. You can also use rate of perceived exertion (RPE), aiming for 3-4 out of 10.


But don’t go long and steady to the exclusion of working in other zones; a good program will also include short, intense sessions with a warm-up to boost power output and lactate threshold – including hard interval efforts, sorry folks!


Ready for action

Motivation can lull in the winter, so conquer with a solid plan. Utilize clubs that meet regularly for rides or runs on darker evenings and cold weekend mornings, set out your swim kit to ‘grab-and-go’ when alarm-snoozes tempt, and invest in your turbo pain cave to aid determination, routine – and summer success.