XTERRA Couch to Trail – Beginners guide to the Training Plan


By 5x XTERRA Age Group World Champ Mimi Stockton

One of my favorite aspects of training is how it sets a rhythm for my entire week. Life can be unpredictable, but knowing that I have a long bike ride, a track workout, and a masters swim session with my training buddies can provide a lot of comfort as well as that great endorphin rush.

However, swimming, biking, and running aren’t enough to get you ready for your key races this year. These workouts are crucial but when interjected without rhyme or reason, you are left with only small improvements in fitness and performance. To really get ready for your best – and fittest – year yet, it’s important to come up with an Annual Training Plan (ATP) that organizes your training and provides structure for your season. When you begin to put blocks of specific training in place – also called periodization – you can condition your body to peak for specific races, avoid burnout, prevent injury, and reduce illness.

The basic premise of periodization is that you change the training stress over time, from general training to very specific training, to mimicking the demands on race day as the main event nears. The 4 main training blocks consist of Base Training, Build Phase, Race Specificity, and Peak.

1. Base Training

The purpose of Base Training is to improve aerobic development. This phase can last from four weeks to six months. Aerobic development is primarily accomplished through steady swims, high mileage on the bike, long runs, and aerobic-focused workouts.

Base training does not exclude faster running, cycling or swimming. It does include strength training and cross training and allows all of your body’s systems to adapt to the activity and reduce the likelihood of injury. This is the biggest and longest phase of training. When it comes to Base Training, think big picture.

2.The Build Phase

The Build Phase comes next and usually lasts between from four to eight weeks of your training cycle. It introduces faster-paced training that gets the body used to running a comfortably hard pace. During this phase, you will begin tempo and interval runs. These runs focus on furthering your running performance by better developing your anaerobic threshold and increasing your muscles’ ability to adapt to faster paced running.

Your rides will incorporate hill, tempo, and cadence work. Swimming will always include drills to increase efficiency and now you will start to increase your tempo in the water. The goal is to increase your anaerobic capacity. Strength training should continue with a focus on countering weaknesses and on functional exercises that directly correlate to helping you be faster and more efficient.

3. Race Specificity

Race Specificity training is the next training block and it usually lasts four to six weeks. “Specificity” refers not only to the type of training but also to the intensity of effort. During this phase of training, you will gradually increase the workload volume, intensity, or frequency of training over time. As triathletes, we are always focusing on swim, bike and run workouts, so this block is about the intensity of these endeavors and working at mimicking race day efforts.

4. Peak Phase

Peak Phase is the fourth training block and the shortest. All the work you have done in the three prior phases gets tested in this two to three-week block. These workouts are typically shorter with an even higher intensity than what you did during Race Specificity training. Your paces are much faster than your race pace, allowing your cardiovascular system to work at peak efficiency to deliver oxygen to your blood.

All forms of physical training stress your physiological system and tissue in some way. This breakdown, however, becomes a catalyst for reconstruction and improvement. A series of enzymatic and hormonal reactions take place resulting in a faster, stronger and more fit version of you. By incorporating all aspects of training stressors you can manipulate your ability to adapt to those various aspects of fitness, exceeding the levels with which you originally started.

By understanding the basics of periodization, you can give design and structure to your own training if you are self-coached. If you have hired a coach, understanding periodization can help you ask good questions about your current and future training.

Stay tuned for the next installment of XTERRA Couch to Trail, when we delve deeper into the importance of Base Training.

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA. Check out their upcoming training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona set for April 26-29 at https://nextlevelendurance.net/camps or email them at info@nextlevelendurance.net.