By Raquel Tavares-Torres, Team OAM Now Professional Tri-athlete
When the temperature drops and the snowy days come, a lot of triathletes take the season off, but some, those who still have goals and races, need to train, no matter the weather conditions. The question is, how, when we live in a place that experiences all four seasons, do we train through the winter, especially when it can be cold and harsh?
Keeping in mind that we are all different, including our styles, levels, preferences, and goals, after more than a year racing as a ITU professional triathlete, I would like to share my experience training in Michigan to prepare for races in hot and humid places.
Last year (winter 2013), after more than a decade out of sports, I finished my first ITU race in the Dominican Republic, with only a couple of months of training. Due to lack of experience and preparation, as well as a few mistakes, I finished in a respectable place, but suffered from heat stroke. I completed the last 5k of the run, but I have no memory of it. The worst feeling of my life was when I woke up in the medical tent with my body out of control, dizzy, and feeling like I was dying.
Even if you don’t have a race in a hot place, you can take the advantages of the winter which is what I do now, and train in the cold conditions. The key word in the off season is adaptation.
1. More time in the pool:
Swimming is all technique; winter is, therefore, the perfect time to work on your stroke and technique to improve both swimming speed and efficiency. I try to swim 1 or 2 times a week with my swim coach (Tom Belco) and then get in the pool at least once on my own. If you don’t have a swim coach you should get one. Many beginners assume they don’t need one yet, but it’s best to begin good habits early. For more experienced athletes, I’ve learned there’s always something I can tweak to improve and a coach helps point these things out. Regardless of your level, coaches are a great addition to your off season.
2. Take the advantage of the indoor trainer on your bike:
Increase your Watts. If you can work with the power meter, it’s a good way to spend time on the trainer and get some quality interval training. Working with my coach (Mark Olson) on the trainer, I have learned that more is not always better; in fact, I have benefited more from the short, high intensity training which increases my leg strength.
Sweat. Train in layers to simulate the heat. You can also add a heater to make it hotter. Remember, it’s important to hydrate during the workout. This is also good, as you’ll get used to keeping yourself hydrated, which many of us forget in the winter!
Sweating is good; it’s your body’s way of bringing your temperature back to normal. The better you sweat during training, the faster your body will learn to recognize the need for cooling. Breathe faster, work your heart more, and increase your circulation; all of these help increase your metabolism. Again, the more you do it, the better your body will prepared for heat on race day.
3. Make peace with the treadmill:
First, it is often better to get a run workout on the treadmill than risk getting injured outside when it is icy or snowy; however, a treadmill is also good for joints because it reduces pounding. The benefits of the treadmill don’t end there though. While many of us dread it, there are plenty of great opportunities for training on the treadmill:
Much like swimming, the treadmill provides an opportunity to improve running technique and style. Remember to relax your shoulders; pay attention to your arm movement, footfalls, and leg stroke. The treadmill is a great way to focus on keeping good running posture and form.
One great way to train, and to keep yourself going in the treadmill, is to train for speed using intervals. You can either keep a good pace and challenge yourself to keep it or even increase your speed a bit for a tougher challenge. Find or make a great playlist and take advantage of having a treadmill to work on intervals with specific speeds. The variety and challenge force you to remain mentally sharp as you fight through fatigue to maintain your speed. As we all know, a good part of racing is the mental game; the treadmill is the perfect place to practice that!
As we all know, the faster you run outside the more wind resistance you have, so to compensate for this you can raise the incline on the treadmill to offer resistance indoors.
When, and if you can, run on the roads outside. Wear extra layers to warm up and then drop some off at home, or your car, or some place you’ll pass again to pick them up.
4. Strength and Core:
Winter is the perfect time to work on strength. Twice a week I get to the gym with Coach Olson and spend about 20 mins working on core strength, pull ups, and push-ups. With the right training plan, you can focus your workout and get the most out of short strength training sessions; it can make a big difference.
5. Focus on plans and goals:
Planning and goal setting are the keys to success. Examine your race schedule; take time to prepare a reasonable, but “tentative” calendar or race schedule with your goals. Prepare for next season by making a list of things you need to improve, a list of solutions, and then get started!
The most important piece is keeping yourself motivated and having fun. I do that by setting a small, achievable goal for every workout. It gives me something to focus on during training and lets me measure progress. For example, I may focus only on breathing, or pacing, or a specific technique or form issue. As a result, every workout gets me a step closer to the larger goals I set for my training.
Don’t let winter hamper your growth or stop you from training for the spring. Use the time wisely and you’ll hit the road well ahead of your competition who didn’t take the opportunity to train!