Whether you’re still racing, on a break or even carrying on through the off-season, we all reach a point where we’ll be diving into some winter graft, which is great.
Winter is something you need to just get stuck into, but it’s worth planning for the months ahead as they can be long and tough. If you get winter wrong, you risk injury, illness and burnout, so it’s important to prepare early for what lies ahead.
How to prepare for winter
The first thing to do is a debrief and planning session with your coach, or even by yourself if that’s how you operate. Though, I find it’s always best to have someone to bounce ideas off, even if it’s a mate or training partner.
Talk through your year and cover areas such as when you were at your best. Why was that? What was going well both in training and in your day-to-day life? Make sure these aren’t missed as they will be something to stick to for your winter.
With strengths come weaknesses, so you need to be honest with yourself about those too, as they could be rectified over a winter of focussed work. Figure out any mistakes you may have made and why they might have happened, as these will probably be things to avoid moving forward.
Plan for the 2022 race season
Once you’ve debriefed, you’ll be in a good place to plan for the next season, and this is really where your winter starts. I always sit down with my coach and work backwards from my big goal or goals for the year, and in this case, it’s both the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, in July, and the WTCS Grand Final in Abu Dhabi, in November.
This means I have to be in peak shape twice in one season, but that may not be the case for everyone, especially long-distance athletes whose main focus is their Ironman of choice. Either way, you have a date from which to plan your training structure around and this will determine how long your winter training will be before you head into pre-season training and then in-season training.
I won’t go into details on how to plan an entire macrocycle though, as this article is really on how to get started with winter. Essentially, at the end of this debrief and planning session, you have a goal for the distance you’re working towards, and you have identified some areas to improve and also methods that work for you. Now you’re ready to start training.
Focus on consistency
Once you have a structured winter program in place, it’s critical to be as consistent as you possibly can. When I moved to Leeds in 2009 to train under the guidance of Jack Maitland and Malcolm Brown, their key message was ‘consistency’ and there are three simple ways to keep consistent: don’t get injured, don’t get ill, manage your time.
Don’t get ill
The one positive I’ve taken from the coronavirus pandemic is that it has schooled me on illness prevention. I haven’t been ill since March 2020 (touch wood) and I think it’s mostly to do with learning how to battle a virus and understanding how illnesses spread.
Simply, wash hands and socially distance where you can. I know winter invites social events indoors and I will be getting involved with some of those, but I’ll just make sure that I practise the health advice we’ve been given over the past 18 months. That includes taking up the flu jab and Covid vaccinations.
It’s not just respiratory illnesses that can hamper training. Bad stomachs can also curtail a week of training. When the roads get muddy there’s a higher risk of contracting stomach infections. The first method of defence is to keep the mud away from your face. You can do this by using mudguards and a flap for you and your training group. When set up properly they’re the best way to prevent mud spraying onto your face and bottle.
A second way to fight infection is keeping hydrated, not only does it improve your immunity, but it also aids saliva production, which is a barrier against infection. It means you can spit out anything that gets in your mouth when training.
Finally, it’s also advised to take probiotics and vitamin D to boost immunity over the winter months, but always speak to a health professional when considering supplements.
Don’t get injured
Injuries happen, and some are unavoidable, but if you can put yourself in the best place to reduce the chance of ‘silly injuries’ then you’re well on your way. What I mean by silly injures are things like crashes, rolled ankles and falls.
Most of these can be avoided by making sure you have the right equipment, such as winter cycling tyres, bike lights, head torches and trail shoes. Winter is dark and slippery and there is excellent equipment out there destined to battle these elements.
Another way to avoid injury is to establish a simple strength and conditioning routine to work on any weaknesses you may have. It might be worth booking in with a physio for an ‘MOT’ to see if there are any areas that might be letting you down. Pre-Christmas is an excellent time to really invest in getting yourself robust before the harder training kicks in.
Manage your time
This goes back to planning your training with your coach. Work out a realistic training schedule around work, family and social commitments. Don’t take on too much when the risk is fatigue, burnout and illness. Triathlon is a sport to enjoy, and you can destroy that by trying to do too much.
The last thing you want is to resent a planned session, or even to miss out on important events due to training. Your coach will happily adapt training to suit your schedule. If you’re busy, cramming might work for one week but it’s not sustainable, and if you feel like you’re constantly cramming and rushing around to fit in your training then it might need adjusting.
One final thing to consider when planning your winter training is adding another break. You might think that you have just come off your end of season break, but the winter is long. Make sure you plan sufficient recovery periods and enjoy the festive period, which is a natural break from routine.
Low-key races also help to mix up winter training and can include cross country, duathlons or even swimming galas. Winter is the most important part of your preparations for next season, so make sure it’s something you’re ready for.
Follow Tom on Instagram for more insights.
Top image credit: Chris Sansom