Racing During Base Training

author : mikericci
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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.

By 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.

If you think you should be now training at a faster pace then jump into a race and find out where you really are. Let’s look over a few keys to racing during base:

Picking the right time to race during base 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. 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 might wonder why I wouldn’t schedule the race at the end of a recovery week – and you could, but I would choose to do it the week after a recovery week. I feel as though this gives the athlete a better chance to absorb some 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, is where I schedule the race.

Why race during the base season?
Personally I like to race one time per month, even in the off season. My reasoning is that it keeps me connected to that ‘race feeling’. You know what I mean: the butterflies, the anticipation and all that goes with it. I believe the more you race, the easier it becomes. Once you get it to be second nature, it becomes routine and you can relax a lot more before and during the race. Another reason to race is to actually 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.

More specific reasons as to why you should jump into a low key race during base is to see where you are with regards to 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 ½ 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 that I have racing sprint and Olympic distance races, I would have them race a 5k and/or a 10k too. For some people just running a 10k is hard enough, but actually racing one is even harder. For beginner I like to see them use a heart rate monitor and try to focus on keeping with certain ranges for the first few miles of a 10k. I would 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 ½ marathon, I would 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 would be to “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 ½ marathon. Whatever it is, try to push yourself to something new.

Lastly, one more 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 [email protected].  Please visit his website at



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date: March 20, 2005