Tradition dictates that the base phase of training is a time to start slow and build aerobic endurance before steadily getting faster and faster until race season. However this model can fail for triathletes, whose races take longer than the entirety of most traditional sports competitions. In many cases, it just isn’t reasonable to “start slow” enough to “build” to the generally slow pace required for an iron-distance triathlon.
This doesn’t mean that building an aerobic base isn’t an essential part of training, just that there are opportunities, especially for triathletes, to do so much more than endless slow and steady workouts in this early part of the season!
Swim or Try New Sports
Try aiming for an overload of swim training (which is rarely slow and steady) or having a go at some different sports like XC skiing, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, or even some trail runs. Now may not be the time to specifically build all-out speed, but you can certainly generate good power, agility and bike handling by looking at your three favorite sports in a different way.
By building up your anaerobic engine at this time of year (and keeping up with your strength training), you may end up improving your general levels of fitness and giving yourself a kick start into the next season.
Respect the Weather
Slow and steady is tolerable in the summer for a long ride but after a few hours of riding in the cold and the wet, your training effect may be replaced by an exposure effect! Therefore varied intensity may well be the direction your training takes in the early part of the season. Just don’t make the mistake of expecting absolute speed now—instead think about these workouts as an increase in work rate, with the goal of building your ability to work hard.
Of course, if the time and the conditions work in your favor, then head out on that steady ride, or that slow but beautiful trail run. Make the training work around your winter lifestyle and the conditions that you enjoy. Instead of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, allow this phase to be exciting and use what mother nature offers us to our advantage and challenge yourself in a different way.
Focus on the Positive
You can worry about slow and steady when the seasons help you out. Your motivation will be considerably higher if you are mixing things up, especially if you’re enjoying training time with friends.
Be honest, an hour and a half on the trails and then back inside to the warmth, fire and hot chocolate certainly sounds a lot more appealing than a three-hour steady ride in the rain or snow—and the former option will get you to your first start line with more mental reserves than the latter. See how your imagination can bring a twist to your base phase and see how it helps you train longer into the main part of the season.