Most likely when you started triathlon you were lulled into a false sense of security. Fit, tanned bodies running in the summer sun; what could be better?
As you page through the latest results, blogs and photos of the latest kit you could be convinced that triathlon is a summer sport, right? It’s about this time of the year that reality hits me. If you want to improve in triathlon, it’s most likely not simply a summer sport. There is a lot of work to be done in the winter.
It all sounds a little gloomy, but it really doesn’t have to be. Yes, winter training is fun assuming you read the small print. As with all things that involve fun, there is usually an obstacle or two in your way…but once get past the hurdles there’s nothing better.
So after years juggling a full time job and competing as a professional triathlete, here’s my small print, my rules for getting the most out of winter. Follow these caveats and you really will enjoy the challenge of the damp, cold and dark mornings.
However mild you reckon this winter is going to be, there is never going to be a time for your favourite lightweight cycling jersey. If you’re going to cycle in winter you need to get good kit.
Cold hands and toes will never make for happy riding. Buy the best quality winter gloves you can afford, and even if you don’t wear them – have them in your back pocket and there will be a time you appreciate it!
Keep it clean
A good muddy ride can be fun, but not before work when your first meeting that starts at 8am pronto. Mud = more admin! For me cover shoes are just as much about keeping my shoes clean as they are for warmth.
Mud guards are not only essential for group rides (and avoiding being the brunt of angry club emails) but they really will save you a soggy bottom and save you bike cleaning time.
Some people have the luxury of having a winter bike: if you don’t, make sure you clean it regularly (OK, this isn’t fun). If you don’t clean it then you’ll have a slow bike next summer, many of those dark winter miles wasted just because you didn't pick up the hose.
This means charging bike lights and head torches the night before work. There will never be time for charging bike lights in the morning and no, you won't remember to do it at work – seriously!
I hate to admit it but I have a charge station with all my chargers in one point. This includes a box for charged AAAs and a box for uncharged.
Mix it up
Winter is a time to do the things you said no to in the summer. This gives your head the mental break it needs from the monotony of repetitive training. Visit a trail centre: three hours on rutted woodland trails is exhausting but the time will disappear. You can hire mountain bikes at lot of UK trail centres.
If you don’t have the time to get onto the trails get a turbo. A speedy hour on the turbo is well worth the effort and you can’t help getting an enormous sense of satisfaction that it’s possible to sweat that much!
Some of the most entertaining races happen in the winter, use them for training or just to keep the motivation high. There is nothing more endorphin pumping than the local cross country league. For me, Boxing Day is all about the annual wheelbarrow race this year!
Get excited. There’s nothing more motivating than knowing you’re racing your best buddy in next year’s January Half Marathon. I usually enter a January race to keep my consistency over the tough times.
Use your commute
Spend 30 minutes driving to work? The chance is this would only take you 60-90 minutes on the bike, making the total investment in training time quite small.
I cycle over the M11 on the way to work and there’s no better feeling than realising you’ve missed a 40 minute delay due to impromptu road works. There’ll never be a more smug face than the guy who rode their bike to work when there’s a road closure!
Can’t do both ways? Don’t then; drive one way, cycle back.
Enjoy the dark
There is nothing less appealing than finishing a long day and going out for a run in the dark (although if you use it for your commute you’ve got no choice!). Chances are you won’t regret it.
You see more wildlife under the beam of your torch, you get a more peaceful run and you get the hugest sense of accomplishment having overcome the urge to sneak off to find your nearest glass of wine.
When damp and dull wet winter days are getting you down, statistically speaking, there is a good chance your night run home will be crisp and clear!
It’s not easy and it's more than likely that all of your winter training won’t be fun, but stick to the rules above and you’ll get a lot more out of it. I’d even risk saying you might just grow to love it.
(Image: Matt Alexander)
What are your top tips for enjoying winter training? Let us know in the comments below!