By Katie Jemima Synge
For triathletes, the winter months are where we create our base. Base training, refers to strengthening your current foundations – this will be accomplished by increasing your training volume, alongside strength-based work and development of individual weaknesses.
The majority of Triathletes will have finished racing by September/October, this will be followed by a solid 2-6 weeks off from training (dependant on race calendar, fatigue etc.) You’ll get going again once the clocks have gone back, as little daylight and dropping temperatures is often your first test of motivation and will!
Unsurprisingly, many triathletes will attempt to escape the British weather and head for a sunnier climate. Those of you who have put up with the minus temperatures – and limited hours – will know too well that is not one of the most enjoyable aspects of athlete life! The reduced hours of light make long bike rides and runs a little harder to complete… Not to mention the road conditions – often making cycling unsafe, resorting in, yet another, turbo session.
Respectively, I have put together my top tips for training for triathlon over the winter!
#1: Sort out a gym programme
Strength and Conditioning (S & C) in my opinion is very underrated in triathlon training. Tri-athletes from age group to professional will likely train between ten and thirty-five hours per week but sometimes with very little or no gym work.
My programme contains three gym sessions, all with relevant movements to compliment what I do swim/bike/run. A lot of the movements are percentage based, meaning that as the winter progresses and my training volume increases, so will the intensity in the gym.
✓ Although S & C will be maintained throughout race season, it will not be in the same volume or intensity so not to compromise tapers and subsequent races – so now really is the time to integrate it into your programme.
✓ A strong S & C programme will also reduce the likelihood of injury!
#2 – Volume not intensity
Winter training should be done within your steady zones to allow volume to be consistent.
Try to avoid getting wrapped up in stats – power, HR, cadence, averages, gradients etc, and go on your perceived effort.
✓ Long sessions should be built up gradually and the rule “the faster you run the faster its done” definitely does not apply.
✗ There is a common tendency amongst age group athletes who are shorter of training time, to go full pelt at every available hour of training.
✗ If all of your sessions are done at sub/maximal effort, the key ones that require high(er) quality and focus will be compromised.
#3 Buy warm, suitable training gear
Well, most of the time! Whilst risking an injury for a ride out on icy roads is definitely not worth it, getting out of a dark morning/evening for a run is quite doable even if it isn’t the most appealing.
✗ Shorts are a total no-no (for the Brits!), cover up joints especially those notorious amongst runners!
✓ Snow running is an absolute yes, great for strength and as per #2, avoid getting wrapped up on stats during these kind of sessions.
Remember, its only cold if you’re standing still!
#4: Break it up and keep racing!
The winter is long for many triathletes, so try and think of it in two halves (pre and post-Christmas), using the Christmas week for some well-earned rest and recovery.
Swimming pools and gyms closing over the festive season sometimes serves as a great reason to use the week for some quality downtime. There are numerous of local runs around the festive season:
✓ Santa dashes, reindeer runs and the local Boxing day Christmas Pudding yomp.
These races take away the serious preparation and leave the underlying reason you should be training and racing in the first place….to enjoy it! You don’t need to go on a two week taper to get huge benefit and enjoyment out of some winter races.
✓ Cross country running will offer massive strength and fitness benefits whilst treating them as a ‘session’ during your week rather than backing off for a race.
✓ There are also a number of duathlons up and running over the winter, good brick sessions and a chance to see which competitors are still in the running.
Take Home Message
Don’t underestimate the winter months. It is gruelling, cold and a real slog – a real life survival of the fittest.
Don’t get left behind, and think “I’ll just start in January” because small but consistent hours are better than no hours, or one day of seven hours and six of zero. Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you and your competitors will probably be quite happy to see that you’ve fallen off the pace.