This is a continuation of the discussion on how I train endurance athletes in the Base 1 period. Actually, what you are reading here applies to Base 2 also, with only slight modifications.
In Part 1 I talked about workout frequency. In this part the subject is workout duration. In Part 3 I'll cover intensity and then in Part 4 will provide workout details.
Duration. How long should your workouts last? I’d suggest measuring this in terms of minutes and hours rather than miles or kilometers. The body doesn’t know distance; it only knows elapsed time. I’ve also found that basing training on distance encourages athletes to go too fast to improve their time on a given course. In other words, distance-based workouts often become races for aggressive athletes. They are mush less likely to do this when training is based on time.
My Cyclist’s Training Bible, Triathlete’s Training Bible and Mountain Biker’s Training Bible provide tables that suggest how many hours to train in a season based on your level of experience or competition. This is quite variable with individuals and should only be taken as a rough gauge. It may well be appropriate for you to train more or fewer hours annually than the charts suggest.
Once you have determined about how many hours you’ll train in a year the same chapters in those books provide tables that break the annual hours down into weekly hours for each seasonal period and then into daily workout durations. Again, these should be taken as suggestions and not iron-clad must-does. I seldom look at such tables when coaching someone and instead rely on what I’ve found the best workout durations to be based on experience with that athlete.
Weather is often a deciding factor in how long the workout will be as training outdoors in frigid temperatures, snow, rain or on icy roads makes for a fairly uncomfortable and even dangerous workout. If the athlete is forced to take the workout indoors I often shorten the session, not because indoor training is necessarily a more efficient use of time, but rather because extensive and frequent indoor training is more likely to result in burnout and low motivation. I’d rather work with an athlete who has high motivation and low fitness than the other way around.
As long as the intensity is low (to be described in Part 3) workout duration can be high at this time of year. It’s all about stress. The idea is to gradually adapt the body to high levels of stress by starting with long-duration workouts and gradually shifting toward race-appropriate-intensity workouts as the season progresses. I try to err on the low side when it comes to workout duration as I start someone into Base 1. Better to do too little than too much now. It’s a long time until the race. No reason to make the training hard now. And with the break from training after the last A-priority race of the previous season the body needs to be eased back into it. For running, especially, doing too much could easily result in an injury and ruin an entire season. There’s much less risk with cycling and swimming, but it’s never zero risk.
You certainly don’t want to do to little. Use past experience as a starting point for determining the durations of workouts. Then gradually increase the duration over a three- to four-week period.