The Basics of Endurance Sport -Part 1 Base Training

by Tom Daugherty

Read This First…
Remember before starting any exercise program to consult your doctor.

To even begin to have an understanding of how to be successful at any endeavor you must have a solid understanding of the basics. Once the basics are understood, you have really only started to scratch the proverbial surface of becoming an expert. When Vinci Lombardi coached the Packers they were one of the best teams in professional football. When they would win they would get Monday’s practice off. When they lost however, they were forced to a very early morning practice and Vince Lombardi would start by saying “Gentleman, this is a football. Apparently you forgot that yesterday. So, I believe it’s time we get back to practicing the fundamentals.” Through trail and error and much intensive study you may, if you apply yourself become an expert. Here we will start from the beginning and lay a solid foundation of fundamentals in order to become all you can be at distance running and endurance sport in general.

The training pyramid

Below you will see a typical pyramid displaying the way I would break down a typical training cycle. If you study the subject you will find other pyramids and models showing other types of sessions. Sometimes the difference is just a matter of semantics, and sometimes it is a matter of opinion. Are there other types of training? There most certainly are. But the ones below, from my own study and observation, are the ones that consistently display a significant effect on your conditioning.

Now I know most of you are saying to yourself “I know all about these phases of training”. But my question is how well do you know these phases of training? How do they each effect the body? What are their purposes? How do you set up each for various distances and events? I’ve seen and coached many runners, some of them elite or college level runners, who are making grave mistakes in how these phases are set up. Now I am NOT God when it comes to training. And I’m sure I can learn much more. But after 28 years of competition, study, trial and error I can speak with some authority on the subject. So here we will start with phase one and help you gain a greater understanding of how to allocate your time and energy to achieve the greatest result from your time and effort. We will deal with the other phases in subsequent segments.


I think all runners and cyclists have heard the term base training. It is the simplest and most straight forward form of training. Base training, in a nutshell, consists of 12-18 weeks of high but slow mileage. But even in this phase many athletes make mistakes that seriously limit their improvement. If you notice in the previous sentence the emphasis is on high and slow. This is where most athletes make their mistakes even when they know about this phase. Many athletes will either not run slow enough or they will not progress their training upward in volume. If you run this phase too fast you will be tired and less likely to do the increased mileage. If you do not increase the mileage what will you gain from doing what you have always done? Have you heard the saying “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got”? If you do not increase your training in some manner how do you expect to improve your performances? Yet time and again I see runners and cyclist who truly expect to set PR’s when nothing significant has changed in their training. Now let’s get into more detail.

The duration

The first aspect of this phase of training is that it is the longest period. Most training models have this period lasting from 12 to 18 weeks. It has also been shown in studies that holding a new, higher volume of training for several weeks continued to show marked improvement over many weeks. Something you should keep in mind when the drone of doing the same slow mileage week after week starts to get to you. Now the time to set about doing this phase is well in advance of your racing season. That’s right, I said racing season! What’s the point of these phases if your racing does not fit into phases too! Besides to do this phase correctly, your mileage should prevent you from racing very often without over taxing the body. I typically would race only once per month during this phase. My only purpose for these races were to test my conditioning along the way with no real pressure to perform well.

The intensity

Another aspect of this training (as mentioned above) is to do it slowly. If you use a heart rate monitor you should be at about 70% of your max heart rate. This is a very easy pace and really should not be exceeded during this phase. This is also the pace you should use for all easy days during every phase of the training pyramid cycle. I can remember reading about one runner who was the National Cross Country Champion. None of his piers liked to train with him during his easy days. This was because his easy days were done at about 8 minutes per mile! Now keep in mind, I know this fellow has run at least 4:03 for the mile! Keep thinking to yourself, It’s not so much how fast I do it BUT that I DO IT!

The volume

The final aspect of this phase is the increased volume. This is where most people run into problems. They say they want to run faster. They say they are willing to work hard for it. But several weeks later they are doing exactly as they have always done. Remember the “If you do what you’ve always done…” saying from above. I think that when faced with something hard we let doubts creep in that keep us from really achieving great things. But when I see that rare person who really believes what I tell them about this phase, they usually improve their times by minutes not just seconds from this phase of training alone! Something I noticed long ago was that I could not find a single world class runner who was running less than about 80 miles per week. Most are running well over 100! Now if high mileage is NOT important, tell me why I cannot find a single person, who can be considered the best, who is only doing 40 or 50 miles per week. You can find good runners, but not world-class runners. My theory is that any good runner, even on the national class scene, who is doing lighter mileage, is performing below their natural ability. Believe me, I’ve studied this matter extensively. I’ve met many of the best runners in the world. Had dinner with them, picked their brains for hours and the message was always the same. Start with high volume and you will improve immensely!

OK, your convinced, so how should you set about doing this phase? Start by establishing a homeostasis point in your training. By that I mean what training volume is your body accustomed to? Now you can take either of two approaches. You could gradually increase your mileage over the 12 – 18 weeks of this phase or you could take one giant leap forward and hold it. The prior can get monotonous and the later can be very fatiguing in the early weeks but either should work fine if done carefully. Now how much should you increase your mileage by? My suggestion is to increase it in such a way as to have at least a 25 percent gain from the previous years level. Whether you do it right off the bat or increase it gradually the choice is yours!

So let’s get to it! It is now winter and time to get the mileage up before the spring racing season!

By Tom Daugherty

For a large part of my life I studied everything I could get my hands on to improve my own running performances. With over 30 years experience and national class performances of my own, I am well suited to get you well on your way to some awesome PR’s! I’ve studied exercise physiology, got well acquainted with some of the top runners in the world (World record holders & #1 rankers – picking their brains to understand what they were doing) and was even a subject in a university lab study (“lab rat”) on runners. Where, by the way, I recorded a Max VO2 of 78 and body fat composition of just a smidge over 4%. Anyway, let’s get on with the training, as that’s what we’re here for!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: