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How to start endurance training – define your baseline

Post one of five in our guide to start endurance training. We help you to start your journey, by showing you how to assess your physical and mental fitness.

We like to think of endurance training as a journey, which is as enrichening and beneficial to you as the final destination. Like any journey, if you do not know where you are, then it’s going to be much more difficult, or even impossible, to reach your end goal. It’s crucial that you discover the right starting point for your endurance training journey, or you risk failure. 


This is the second in our series of articles on our training philosophy, check out the others here –

  1. Our philosophy
  2. How to start endurance training – define your baseline
  3. Endurance training and racing – finding your goal
  4. Training volume in endurance sports
  5. Endurance training zones – intensity in endurance racing
  6. Endurance training plan – how to periodize training

It’s analogous to starting school – if a child is placed in a class with students that are five years older than them, then they’re probably not going to be able to do the work and will quickly become discouraged. While, if the same child is placed with younger students, then they will probably find the work too easy and get bored. In both situations the school has failed to define the right baseline for the child, leading to problems.

The same is true when you start endurance racing if you pick a training program that is too easy, then you’re likely to get bored and probably won’t be where you need to be for the big race at the end. While, if you select a training program that is too difficult, then you might become discouraged and give up.

The essence of endurance training

To begin with, you need to understand a little bit about the essence of endurance training – namely, consecutive, hard work, over a long period of time. There is no secret sauce, shortcut, or quick fix, the only way to achieve the things you want and be successful in your race is via commitment. If you’re new to endurance sports and want to do a long-distance race, then your training may stretch over several years. But you can also train for a couple of months and do a sprint distance.

Ways to define success

Many people have a limited idea of success in sport – believing that winning is the only thing that matters. However, we believe that this approach is fundamentally flawed, when it comes to endurance sports and like to think about success in three levels. The first, accomplish, means that you finish a race, the second, Personal Best, means that you perform better than you ever have before, and the third, Podium, means that you compete and try to win the race.

You are unique

We’re all unique, with different bodies, minds, and prerequisites, meaning that a one size fits all training plan will never work. Your training plan needs to be highly individualized, if you’re going to succeed, giving shape, structure, and purpose to your endurance training schedule.

How to define your endurance training baseline

To define your baseline, we will look at the following aspects –

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  • Your mental makeup – Endurance training is as much mental as it is physical. No matter how fit you are, there are going to be moments when every fiber of your being tells you to stop moving. To be a successful endurance athlete, you must be able to overcome these mental obstacles. 
  • Your physical makeup – Some people are natural endurance athletes and others have to work hard to become one. Whichever is this case for you, your physical makeup will have a profound effect on how you start endurance training.
  • Your abilities – Your abilities define, which skills you need to train. For example, if you’re an excellent cyclist but an average swimmer, then you may need to work harder on your swimming skills to complete a triathlon.

Mental Makeup

Regardless of your starting point and your goal, endurance training is all about commitment. You have to be willing to spend hours doing repetitive exercises over a long period of time – it’s impossible to avoid! For that to work, you need to have a balanced and positive mindset in combination with the right ambitions for you as an athlete.

Here are three questions that you need to think through before you start training.

  • Why endurance sport, and not something else? – An old saying states “A dog is for life and not just for Christmas” – trying to teach prospective pet owners that the amount of care and commitment that goes into owning a dog extends far beyond the period when it’s a cute puppy. The same is true of endurance sports, they don’t work as a one-month new year’s resolution that you can stop and then pick-up again. They take immense commitment and effort, which is why you really have to do some soul-searching and decide whether they’re right for you. 
  • Am I willing to put the hours into training that is required? – If you’re not willing to put in the work, then you’ll fail.
  • Do I have the necessary support from friends and family? – Endurance training is hard; you’ll need plenty of emotional support from your friends and family to succeed. You need to have their support, or you will feel guilty when you train and end up working out in secret. Thus, we encourage truth and honesty from the start, because it may save you many problems further down the line.

Gain approval

Our goal is for you to succeed, and for you to succeed, you need to prepare yourself and your loved ones. Your capacity to reach your goals is dependent on support from those around you. As Marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge puts it: “100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the entire team”.

100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the entire team

Eliud Kipchoge

Physical aspects of endurance training

Again, endurance training is repetitive. Sometimes you do the same thing over and over for hours on end. Your body’s capability to cope with the workload will increase over time during the unbroken sequence of workouts. 

At the start of the season, we recommend that you do an initial test of functional strength and mobility. We do that because we believe that finding possible imbalances, or weaker spots at the beginning of the season can help you put together a strength routine that will help reduce the risk of injury.

Here are three questions that you need to think through before you start training.

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  • Do I have any previous (sports)injuries that need treatment? If you do, then that could derail your season, or you may need an individualized training program that puts less stress on the previously injured part of your body. 
  • Which, if any of my physical prerequisites can limit me? Understanding your physical limits are vital to success, obviously, you want to challenge them, but you need to do this in a structured way that avoids the dangers of injury and overtraining.
  • Do I need any special gear? Special running shoes or a bikefit? You need the right equipment if you’re going to be successful, it’s best to think about that as early as possible.

For you to reach your goal, it is important that your physical and mental abilities correspond with your ambition.

Personal abilities

To better understand who you are as an endurance athlete, the next thing to do is to map out your background as an athlete. To start, try to fill out the form below.

Fill out the form in comparison to others you can compete with.

SPORTSLOWSOMEWHAT SLOWSOMEWHAT SLOWFAST
Swimming
Cycling
Running

This should give you a rough idea of what you need to improve on, early on. It’s important to be realistic about your abilities, because if you overestimate or underestimate, then you may find it difficult to correct your training further down the line. 

In a continuous effort to better understand your athletic profile, let us pose some statements regarding endurance, power, and mobility.

How well do the following statements fit you?

  • I am stronger at the end of a workout compared to my friends. I prefer longer races. (Endurance)
  • I have more muscle mass than others my age. I prefer to bike on a heavier gear with low cadence. (Power)
  • I am better at shorter intervals. I run with a high stride count, 180 strides per minute or above. (Mobility)

With this knowledge, it is much easier to calibrate your training based on your athletic profile. Say that you score high in endurance, but when it comes to biking or running uphill, you get tired. That would mean that you maybe need to focus on your power, training more muscular stamina (if that is your goal of course). As you define your goals and choose where you want to compete you should consider what your strengths are.

Next step

Now that you have some idea of where your baseline is, it’s time to examine “endurance training and racing” – most endurance seasons lead up to a big race and we want to help you to identify yours. Make sure that you check out the form below, which will help us to develop a plan that will help you to train smarter during your endurance training season.

If you are a swimrunner, use this form instead.

  • Background

  • In case we need to contact you for follow up questions.
  • Training

  • Enter the date you think you are ready to start with structured training.
    Date Format: YYYY dash MM dash DD
  • A rule of thumb: Sprint (6-10h), Olympic (8-12h), Ironman 70.3 (8-14h), Ironman (10-14h)
  • Racing

  • If you have not yet decided, enter an approximate date.
    Date Format: YYYY dash MM dash DD
  • Other