To Base Miles or Not Base Miles, That is the Question

If you start researching cycling training you will undoubtedly discover base miles training.  The idea being that before your specific, “crazy fast” training starts you need to do a whole bunch of miles at an easy pace, like say maybe 75% of your max heart rate, though that number varies.  Exactly how long you do this is also up for discussion but I remember reading the magic number is 1000 miles.  Once you’ve accumulated 1000 miles of base training then you’re ready for the serious stuff.

You may also discover those who say base mile training is unscientific “traditionalist” nonsense.  These folks will recommended to go straight into the “ride until you pass out” high intensity intervals.  They will throw out the phrase, “junk miles” and also “quality vs. quantity.”  They will say 1 hour of high intensity intervals is just as good if not better than 3 hours of just riding tempo.

Scientific studies seems to suggest that High Intensity Intervals will make you faster faster.  The traditionalist base miles camp like to use a great pyramid analogy, your base miles are the foundation that the pyramid is built on, the larger your foundation, the taller your pyramid.

I think it ultimately comes down to tailoring your training to the type of events you want to excel at.  If your goal is to race hour long criteriums then you probably don’t need 1000 slow tempo miles before you begin speed intervals.  If your goal is to ride longer endurance events then I’d say get in the big base.


The last few winters my rides on the trainer have been following Sufferfest videos, lots of high speed intervals, lots of soft-pedaling to recover.  Lately I’ve been using Zwift, the virtual riding software where you’re riding on island with lots of people.  The last few rides I’ve tried switching to a tempo style of riding, using the on screen information to keep a heart rate around 135.  After an hour of this I’m pretty tired but not completely zonked like I might be after an hour of killer intervals.  My current thinking is to do a training block of tempo for the next couple of weeks before returning to the killer intervals.

On an interesting side note I’ve found that some of the people I’m riding with on Zwift have taken to following me Strava, one rider who I managed to stay with for a lap last night before my heart rate went too high is now following me.  I checked his stats…


I thought I liked to ride, this guy’s got over 1500 miles in January, in Vermont.  Good Lord.  Maybe he should be writing the article about base training.

About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in Barn Door Cycling, lifestyle, Racing, training and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to To Base Miles or Not Base Miles, That is the Question

  1. Jim Russell says:

    The Cannondale pro cycling team had a short video on YouTube a couple of years ago and one of the cyclists stated they done 600 – 1000 miles per week; depending on the training program, time of year, etc. Talk about base miles. I suppose a professional cyclist could pull this off, but the average person with a job and family not so much.

    My endurance sucks on a bicycle; I know just getting more base miles would help but finding time is also impossible. I suppose I use the same excuse all middle age men do. Anyway, I’m going to cook a pizza and watch a YouTube cycling video; maybe this will help my endurance.

    • Matt Gholson says:

      I understand. Finding time can be next to impossible. In your situation trying for tempo base miles would be waste since you’re never going to get enough to make a difference. Looks like you need to ride until you pass out!

  2. Dennis O says:

    By the time I have done 1000 miles the season is 1/2 over. I am 67 and retired and no expert on anything. I have friends that go for big miles but it takes up time. I prefer to take an overall fitness approach. One martial arts work out a week(I am black belt), one good gym workout, and a couple of short 15-25 miles rides if good weather. Each to their own system. I am not a distance or speed cyclist. Enjoy riding with my family for fun,also. I think what is important is that more people find what works for them and lets all help fight the obesity problems.

    • Matt Gholson says:

      Thanks for the comment! Your approach is probably the healthiest approach. I wish I could find interest in some other exercise activities besides riding.

      It all boils down to your goals. I would like to be a stronger rider so that’s where my energy goes.

  3. Moe says:

    My base miles are rides are based on trying to keep up with JW. He kicks my butt all over So IL. I feel like the Dirty South Series is likely the best “bang for your buck” to get some good solid base miles. Either out trying to come up with a route or doing the actual ride, they will all kick your butt.

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