Tom Bishop on winter training setbacks and injuries

Tom Bishop's winter training has not gone to plan, thanks to an overloaded tendon

Tom Bishop winter sessions

What day even is it? Yes, that’s what January felt like. I think I spent more time training inside than out. Heroic accounts of battling through bad weather are a myth. Yes, you are allowed to sack off your run or ride if there’s a blizzard, or the roads have frozen over, and here’s why… This is a case study of a pro-triathlete obstinately training in sketchy conditions against better judgement and picking up a niggle *eye roll*. But also, how I dealt with it.

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Rewind to any day in January, it doesn’t matter which, they were all the same. It snowed last night, again. The drive home from the pool took twice as long and we were witness to several questionable manoeuvres from other road users battling the conditions. Thankfully we’ve still had pool access, though not so thankful of the 2.8km threshold sets!

Our schedule needed adjusting because of the snow, although there is still  part of me that just wants to frolic in it. So, it’s decided, a snowy trail run and with all the references to Narnia used up, I grow bored of the Mr Tumnus comparison. It was great fun; just over an hour in a magical landscape. Yet those little missteps, those slight ankle tweaks add up. Especially when the conditions last over several days. We all get those ankle rolls and sometimes you can ‘jog it off’, but not all the time and occasionally you may be doing more harm. Unfortunately, experience is the only guide. However, if in doubt, stop!

Foolishly, I carried on with my usual running plan, but I sustained a few too many tweaks and overloaded a tendon in my ankle. Once the pain goes above a 5/10, I stop training. Damage is being done or your body isn’t functioning optimally. Thankfully, the British Triathlon medical staff investigated and solved the issue pretty quickly; off-load for five days then slowly progress with a return-to-run program for an additional week alongside some specific rehab exercises. The plan would then be to introduce strides as soon as my ankle strength could tolerate the loads created when running fast. I was keen to get back to moving fast as soon as I could just to keep the familiarity with it, so long as it was safe of course. I’m fully recovered now and I’m glad I listened to my body and stopped as little niggles can often turn into longer periods of injury.

Here’s my advice on how to deal with small niggles:

  • Stop if it hurts, you don’t need to finish a session in pain
  • Take 12-24hrs and see how the injured area responds
  • Seek expert advice during that offload period. Try to get a consultation with a physiotherapist or doctor, even if it’s a virtual appointment
  • Take the expert’s advice, they know more than you
  • Check with the expert about cross-training. Can you still cycle and do other activities?
  • Take a positive approach to your recovery. What can you do now that may improve your long-term game? Are there weaknesses or areas you’ve neglected that you can pay a bit more attention to?
  • Keep moving, even if it’s a gentle walk or some home yoga
  • Do your exercises! They will help to strengthen and heal the injury

I followed these steps and my recovery has been a success. The running offload gave me more time to invest in another area of my training, though my initial priority was rest. I took a few days of minimal activity to boost any initial healing and also to get my head back in the game. Pros deal with the same emotional and psychological struggles as everybody else and sometimes a small break helps. I read a lot, found some new music, cooked some tasty food, bought some clothes and after a few days, I was ready to get after some new goals.

Setbacks, when approached positively, can be a blessing in disguise. The opportunity to focus on another area of your training which you ordinarily wouldn’t have may give you an unexpected performance gain. For me, this was exactly what happened. I planned a ‘microcamp’ with my coach; a block of 10 days where I rode a lot more than usual. I planned several long rides and some pretty challenging sessions.

With the additional riding volume planned, I made sure I was well equipped to deal with what January threw at me…

Wrapping up when it’s cold is the only way to ride outdoors safely and healthily. I use layers and often ride with both the Huub design ‘Thermal’ and ‘All-Weather’ long-sleeve jackets together to add extra protection on harsh days.

Other items like neoprene gloves will help keep your hand functioning which is pretty critical as you’ll still need to brake and change gear, make sure they are designed for cycling to ensure they enable the right range of motion and can withstand the harsh conditions. Additionally, some high-quality overshoes with definitely help with keeping you warm and will also protect your shoes from the winter muck on the roads. My final bit of advice would be to get a full set of mudguards. They’ll protect your bike and also keep you a lot drier on the wet roads.

Winter also brings its challenges with a reduction in visibility and harsher road conditions, so being able to see clearly is key for many reasons and sunglasses are your answer. Firstly, they protect your eyes from the sun on the rare occasion it emerges, especially as it doesn’t get very high and can be dazzling.

Secondly, wind can damage your eyes, why do you think your eyes water? Obviously, this may affect your vision and so a decent pair of glasses with a large lens size, like SunGod’s Vulcans will help shield your eyes from the wind.

Thirdly, they will act as a shield to grit, mud and other missiles which may bounce up from the road and cause injury. Finally, a high-quality clean lens will also help provide a better contrast to see uneven surfaces which may be hazardous to ride over. I use SunGod’s 8KO Fire lenses on those gloomy, wet and miserable days as the yellow lens enhances visibility and I use the photochromatic lenses on days when the weather and light is a bit more changeable.

 

Indoor training

I had Zwift set up ready to do my hard sessions and any extra riding should the weather call a halt to riding outside. The two sessions I committed to were a block of 3×10 minute microbursts as (15sec hard/15sec easy x20), and some maximal sprints to work on my peak power. I contrasted these intense sessions with some long easy miles in zones 1&2. Thankfully the weather held out and I was able to do 6 long rides during this ‘microcamp’.

Change of focus pros and cons

There are several reasons why a sudden change in focus may promote some pretty big fitness changes. One, your body is responding to a new stimulus and needs to get better at dealing with it. Two, your body has more energy dealing with one sport rather than multiple, so interference is hugely reduced. Three, psychologically you’re invested in making this count. The one point I must insist is that you do treat this new stimulus with respect and recover from the additional training loads and adjust your nutrition accordingly. Planning with your coach and physiotherapist is important to make sure you don’t overdo it and risk further injury. The priority is to make a full recovery from your original injury with a potential fitness boost in another area of your triathlon profile.

Follow Tom on Instagram for more training fun and tips: @tomwbish

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If you are concerned about any ache, injury or medical condition always seek advice from a doctor or physiotherapist