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Building and Maintaining Aerobic Conditioning Using Your Best Easy Pace

BY Laura Bennett

Building a strong aerobic base is not just for the early season. As coach Laura Bennett explains, triathletes should continue building their base through the season to improve their performance on race day.

For the past 20 years, I have been exploring ways to find more speed and to get as fit as possible for racing season. It wasn’t until 2005 that I started studying various training techniques from the 1950s onwards. Looking back in history to some of the great coaches and athletes in single sports opened my eyes beyond the science-focused era we’re in today. What I found was that my aerobic conditioning could be better and more sustainable throughout the season.

I am sure you’ve heard of low-intensity training or LSD (Long Slow Distance), which has been the general rule for many coaches and athletes for the off-season or build phase of a training block. I don’t have a problem with this philosophy; it is a safe training method and will allow your body to adapt slowly to the race season ahead. You will build fitness, but the downside is that it will take a long time to get fit.

Best Easy Pace

I have a slightly different approach to this conditioning phase of training. I call it “Best Easy”. Best Easy is not recovery, it is not LSD, and it is not necessarily slow. Best Easy is prescribed to our long runs, long bikes, many of our swims, and all the extra prescribed runs in a fartIek.

My thinking was simple. If I can run 1 mile in 4:30 (2:45/km), then surely I can do 6.2 miles (10km) just a bit off this rate if I’m fit enough — and it worked. I improved my 10k times every year from 2006 to 2013. It’s possible your pace may be different, but the principles remain the same. Why can’t you maintain your best 1 kilometer for 10 kilometers? Because you are not aerobically conditioned.

The development of your conditioning is even more critical when considering a high altitude race like the highest elevation triathlon in the world: the 106 West Triathlon. It’s one thing to need a great engine at sea level, it’s another at high altitude where the air is incredibly thin and your engine will need to work extra hard. I have written a generic program for the 106 West Triathlon and you will notice how heavily weighted the program is to conditioning the body. I have added strength, speed (VO2), and specific fartIeks to this program. But, I never leave the most important conditioning workouts. They remain right up to 10 days out from the race.

How to Find Your Best Easy Effort

A guide to Best Easy pace for those who like heart rate is 180 minus your age, and you can add 5 to 10 if you’re well-conditioned. For example, if you’re a fit 45-year-old, that would be 180-45 equals 135, plus 10 equals a 145 heart rate. This is your target Best Easy heart rate.

If you feel uncomfortable using heart rate and RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) is more your style, then go by this chart:

  • 2 is Best Easy Pace – can converse but not constant
  • 3 is Sub Threshold – breathing heavier but still Ill in control
  • 4 is Threshold – breathing heavy – a pace you feel you could hold for about 10-15 minutes
  • 5 is above Threshold – flat out, anything under 1 minute

An Example of Using Best Easy Training

When I design a program I often start at the finish and work back to the start. I pencil in (yes, pencil because a great program is also a flexible program), the ideal pace and distance I want to cover and I want to be running at the end of the conditioning phase and step back from there.

The conditioning phase usually comes after a bit of a break and hence I take it very slow. In fact, I call the first month our fascia release month. The goal is to loosen the body before I start real work. These 4 weeks for me look like:

  • My starting goal is 7 miles or 12 km, at about 8 minutes/mile or 5 minutes/ km pace, or just under and building to about 11 miles (18 km) at about 7 minutes/mile or 4:30 minutes/km pace.
  • The next 12 weeks continue to build. I slowly add distance and allow my body to slowly find a faster and faster rhythm at my best easy pace. This pace must not be forced.
  • Finally, after 16 weeks I should be near my goal pace and my goal distance of 20 miles (32km) and my best easy pace is now at 6:40 minutes/mile or 4:08 minutes/km pace.
  • The remaining 4 weeks of conditioning I maintain this distance and pace for my long run.

I always made my long run the priority workout of the week, even during race season. Hence, I put it after my recovery day of Monday and ran it on Tuesdays.

Maintaining Fitness

Maintaining my conditioning throughout the season is what allowed me to continually show up ready and fit to race. Maintaining this Best Easy long run throughout the season was as important as it was in the conditioning phase.

There are no secrets to success and better performance. The search for excellence will not be found in a $10,000 bike or a PoIar heart rate monitor. It is found in hard, consistent work for long periods of time. Endurance sport is beautifully brutal and will teach you things about yourself you never knew before. I encourage you to find your Best Easy pace and monitor the change in speed as your body adapts biomechanically and aerobically.

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The Ultimate Full-Distance Training Guide

Training Guide

This guide is designed to be used as you train for a full-distance triathlon, with in-depth information on every part of the process. Each chapter is packed with tips, workouts, and insights from triathlon coaches, to give you all the tools you need to succeed.

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About Laura Bennett

Laura Bennett is a two-time Olympian, two-time IRONMAN 70.3 Champion, four-time National Champion and four-time ITU World Champion medalist. She and her husband Greg are the owners of Bennett Endurance which provides coaching for all levels of athletes. She has also written a training plan for the 106 West Triathlon, the highest triathlon in the world.

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