Triathlon Winter Training Guide

Training during winter lays the foundation for any successful triathlon season. They say that training during winter can be difficult, but it pays off in the summer. If you’re new to regular training, it can be difficult to know where to begin. There are many things to think about when preparing for winter training, such as what to wear and how to stay safe and motivated.

The following article provides tips for winter training to help you stay active and fit all year long.

How do I  start training in winter?

Now is the perfect time to give yourself a physical and mental refresh.

It’s best to take a slow and steady approach to fitness training instead of trying to do too much too soon and getting burnt out before the racing season starts.

Remember, this is a long game. Don’t try to accomplish too much in too short of a period.

Sometimes we all need a bit of a boost when it’s time to start working again after a break, especially when the nights are long, the skies are grey, and the temperatures are cold. If you want to get back into the swing of things, here are some ideas that might help.

  • New Year’s Resolutions. Yes, most New Year’s resolutions don’t last long but taken in the right spirit, it’s still a great chance to reset your exercise regime and start to build habits. The good news is that others – whether endurance athletes or not – will also be in the same position of wanting to focus on health and fitness, so you’ll have company and fewer distractions than during the festive season.
  • Just start. While it seems basic advice, just getting outside and taking the first few steps, not overthinking training structure or planning is a great way to go.
  • Hit the trails. One of the easiest ways to start exercising – and also one of the biggest bangs for your buck fitness-wise – is to get outside and run. It doesn’t have to be for very long or very fast. Just get the first one under your belt – and notice how you feel at the end.
  • Reach out for help. If you feel unmotivated, tell a friend, who could be a potential training partner. You’ll probably find you’re not the only one with a ‘stuck’ mindset and you can be accountable to one another.
  • Focus on what you can do. Not what you can’t. It might be biking indoors on the trainer or running on the treadmill. If you’re pressed for time, a 15-20-minute core routine can be done pretty much anywhere.  
  • Book a warm weather camp away. If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to get some winter sun, then not only is it focused pre-season training away from other distractions, but it’s also something to look forward to. You’ll want to prepare before you go which will help kickstart training at home.
  • Plan a training diary. This can be done online, with the help of a coach, or even just pen and paper and writing it down to embed it in your mind. Once you have a plan, it’ll be much easier to see the way forward. Having race goals gives you something to work towards, and work back from in your planning.
  • Book a race. Having clear, defined goals and targets along your training journey can make it much easier to stay motivated and measure your success. Many people set themselves short, medium and long-term goals, as a way to continually monitor their progress. Thus, it can be a good idea to have a few smaller races booked, before your ‘A’ race to make sure your training is on track.

How do I keep training in the winter?

Winter can be tough to get the specific training you want due to weather conditions. Places with sub-zero temperatures or ice make it difficult to train like you want, so people usually stay home. However, there are still plenty of options.

12 Triathlon Winter Training Tips

1. Winter-proof your bike.

You will enjoy winter riding more if you have mudguards. If you want to be more popular with your ride-mates and keep your backside and feet dry, you should invest in some good quality mudguards. These mudguards will also help protect your bike from the corrosive effects of salt spray, which will help extend the life of your components and reduce the amount of time you have to spend cleaning your bike after a ride.

Full-length mudguards are the best option, but if you can’t drill or don’t have the clearance, there are clip-on options that still work well. You should get some training wheels made of alloy and fit wider tyres that are resistant to punctures. This will make your winter rides much more comfortable.

2. Don’t overdress.

It is best to begin your runs and rides feeling slightly cold instead of sweating while you warm up. This will only make you feel colder later on.

Adopt simple layering to stay comfortable. The best way to dress for cold weather is to wear a wicking base layer next to your skin, an insulating mid-layer like a fleece, and a wind or waterproof shell. You can add or remove layers of clothing to adjust to changing temperatures, or to make yourself warmer or cooler.

3. Look after your extremities.

  • On the bike especially, pay particular attention to your hands, feet and head. Buy high-quality cycling-specific gloves and make sure they’re not too tight. 
  • Silk or Merino liner gloves really up their warmth. Remember: to help stop the cold and wet from getting in, jacket cuffs go over your gloves.
  • Waterproof overshoes are a must for winter riding, but also consider taping up drainage and ventilation holes in your shoes.
  • Knee-length warm socks prevent cold calves and ankles but are not so thick as to make your shoes tight. 
  • Prevent water from getting in by zipping your tights over the top of your overshoes. As for headgear, you’d be hard-pressed to beat a traditional Belgian-style winter cap for keeping your head and ears toasty.

4. Get spikey.

For icy conditions on pavement or trails, shoes with metal studs are excellent.

If you’re planning to hike in mountainous regions, it’s a good idea to wear crampons to help you navigate steep, icy terrain. You should also carry an ice axe and know how to use it.

5. Light up your life.

It is important to be able to see and be seen when exercising during the winter months. Reflective clothing and lights are a must, but:

  • Don’t be seduced by lumens: Beam pattern and quality are more important.
  • Look for a remote battery pack: It’ll take the weight off your head and, by keeping the pack by your body, increase burn time in the cold.
  • Beware of cheap imports: They tend to fail frustratingly quickly. Spend a bit more on a reputable brand.
  • Don’t dazzle: If you’re running high-powered lights on the road, be considerate of oncoming traffic.
  • Be seen from the side: Many high-powered bike lights aren’t visible from the side, which is probably one of the most important requirements for rider safety. Fit some extra LEDs to remedy this.

6. Mix up your biking.

Consider going off-road with a gravel or mountain bike. This is a great way to improve your bike handling skills while having a lot of fun.

Smart Turbo Trainers | Smart Bike Cycle | Halfords UK

You could create your own “pain cave” to get some quality work on your turbo trainer. There are no longer any days when all you would have to do is push the pedals and stare at a blank wall.

There are many training apps available that allow you to compete with others, explore virtual worlds, and customize your sessions.

Since you don’t have to stop at lights or freewheel in the virtual world, you can use your time more efficiently. It’s growing in popularity too.

7. Try something new. 

This is a great opportunity to try something new. Triathlon is not the only way to get fit and strong, many other activities can help such as skiing, CrossFit, hiking, and indoor climbing. Now might be the time to try something new.

8. Swim outdoors.

There’s a real thrill to swimming outdoors in winter and it’s a realistic option with modern wetsuits, booties, gloves and caps (and will certainly put chilly spring conditions in perspective).

9. Head for the sun.

If you want to get some outdoor training in and enjoy some winter sun, then going on a warm-weather training camp is a great option. Setting a goal will give you something to work towards and help you get rid of any holiday weight gain.

10. Try fitness trail training.

Doing a winter circuit class and a fitness trail doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive– you can do both by making a winter running loop that incorporates a fitness trail. Some gyms have stations for performing dips, pull-ups, and other exercises, as well as benches for doing step-ups and other lower-body exercises.

To make your run a triathlon, midway through, stop at the fitness trail and do some squats, lunges, and step-ups before continuing to the end. The sensation of jelly legs, when you run off, is just like doing a bike-to-run brick.

11. Do a dirty duathlon.

Doing a duathlon that is off-road and uses a mountain bike and trail shoes is a great way to have some fun and make your off-season more exciting.

12. Run off-road.

Escape the traffic and dark, slippery roads. Running on soft, uneven surfaces strengthens the muscles more than running on hard surfaces. It also provides a break for the joints and is more fun.

What intensity should I train in winter?

The consensus among endurance athletes is that winter is the ideal time to build your base, with consistent low-intensity workouts of varying lengths, whether you’re swimming, biking, or running.

The recommended approach for low-intensity workouts is keeping your heart rate below 80% of your maximum, or Zones 1 & 2 depending on the formula you are using.

If you’re not very technical, you’ll know you’re working out at the right pace if you can talk easily or if you can breathe only through your nose.

Sample Training Activities

The best workout sessions for the winter are those that maintain a consistent intensity or gradually increase in intensity. This is because it is easier to avoid the overheating effect than the chilling effect that high-intensity interval training can cause.

Out and Back Run

Start by running for 30 minutes at a moderate pace, then pick up the pace to a faster tempo for the rest of the route. How much quicker are you? Jog for 5-10mins to cool down.

Step-up Pyramid Run

Record your distance using a GPS, running 2.5km in Zones 1/2, 1.5km in Zone 3, 1km in Zone 4, 2km in Zone 3, and 3km in Zone 2 before easing into Zone 1 for the final km.

Chain-gang Ride

A winter club cycling activity where a group of riders take turns riding at the front of the group before going to the back of the line. Great for fitness and group riding skills. Find your local club at www.britishcycling.org.uk/clubfinder

Sweet-spot Intervals

The best bang-for-your-buck winter workout. Warm-up: 10mins through Zones 1 and 2. Ride for two 15 to 20-minute intervals in upper Zone 3 to mid-Zone 4, with five minutes of recovery in Zone 2 in between. Spin home for 10 mins to cool down.

How to Stay Warm When Running/Cycling in Winter 

We have discussed the importance of layers for waterproofing, windproofing, and sweat-wicking. There are a few other factors to consider.

  • Keep moving. As your body works harder, you’ll typically warm up.
  • Keep on top of your nutrition. Fueling also helps you maintain your body temperature. Plan stop-offs to swap cold drinks for coffee or hot chocolate
  • Change clothes. If you’re doing a bike-to-run winter brick session, consider changing out of damp cycling clothes before heading off on the run.

How can I stay safe while training in winter?

  • Be seen. Wear bright and reflective clothing and have good quality lights on your bike or a headtorch, so others can see you and you can see where you’re headed
  • Take a phone. It might be one extra item to carry, but worth keeping a phone with you in case of emergencies.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. Especially important if you’re heading off on your own. 
  • Make the most of daylight hours. While it’s not always possible, if you can shuffle your exercise so you head out while it’s light, then it’s invariably safer.
  • Check the weather. While looking out of the window will give you a good idea, checking the forecast is also useful. It can be especially important if you’re heading uphill or down Dale where conditions can change, and the fog might set in
  • Be sensible. Training can always wait for another day if it needs to. You’re better to err on the side of caution or look to do a workout indoors than risk your and others’ health by heading out when it’s dangerous.

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