Whether we like it or not, winter is definitely here. The days are short and often accompanied by wind and precipitation but we are perhaps fortunate that the temperature is currently unseasonably mild.
Winter training is a staple of the triathlete’s life. It’s where we form the basis of our season ahead and put in the long, slow miles. We generally won’t be thrashing ourselves on the bike at the weekend but instead be cruising around enjoying the scenery that we couldn’t see during summer because we were sweating through our eyes. Sadly, the countryside is now a brown/grey mixture of mud and drizzle so the scenery isn’t worth looking at, but hey, at least it is there if you actually wanted to look.
"Winter training is a staple of the triathlete’s life. It’s where we form the basis of our season ahead and put in the long, slow miles. "
If you are about to begin your first season of triathlon then chances are that you have delayed the inevitable until 1st January and will be joining the throngs with your shiny new gym membership and wide-eyed keenness for all things tri. There will undoubtedly be some old and bold athletes who will scoff at your attempts and mistakes, doing nothing but complain that you’re clogging up their swim lane. Ignore them. They are, after all, heading towards the end of their triathlon career whilst you are just beginning and will take their mantle eventually. We salute you, without new people joining our sport we wouldn’t learn anything new and everyone would stagnate.
If this is not your first rodeo then chances are that you have either identified the pre-Christmas/Hogmanay period as one where it is quiet at the pool before the resolution rush hits and clogs up your preferred lane or, you finished racing and thought to yourself ‘I can be better’. How do you be better? Simple, start training earlier.
"It takes masses of self-motivation to train through the winter and it can be pretty miserable. "
It takes masses of self-motivation to train through the winter and it can be pretty miserable. Triathlon can be a pretty solitary sport even at the best of times but winter is where it really hits home. Unless you are a pro then it’s likely that you are forced to train around normal work hours and this means it is almost always dark. You get up in the dark, you ride to work in the dark or drive to the pool in the dark. You then do a day’s work in artificial light and go home in the dark to complete a cold wet run in the dark or shut yourself in a dark room to bash out some Zwift miles. It can be a wearing existence. I personally have forgotten what my wife looks like. Obviously, I’ve seen her every day but the lights are off because its either before 0530 or after 2130 when we are both in the same place at the same time. It is important therefore that you do not neglect your body and its need of daylight.
We recommend all our athletes take a Vitamin D3 supplement. Why D3 and not D2? Vitamin D2 and D3 are not equal when it comes to raising your vitamin D status. Both are effectively absorbed into the bloodstream. However, the liver metabolizes them differently. The liver metabolizes vitamin D2 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D2 and vitamin D3 into 25-hydroxyvitamin D3. These two compounds are collectively known as calcifediol. Calcifediol is the main circulating form of vitamin D, and its blood levels reflect your body’s stores of this nutrient. However, vitamin D2 seems to yield less calcifediol than an equal amount of vitamin D3. Most studies show that vitamin D3 is more effective than vitamin D2 at raising blood levels of calcifediol,.
"We try to encourage our athletes to join us for a Wednesday night race, it’s just for fun and provides a bit of sociable banter between us."
The ugly fact of winter is that the majority of time on your bike is going to be spent on a turbo trainer. It’s safer, it’s more specific and you don’t need to put a million bits of kit on. It can be dull though! Zwift is a great tool and the revolution is growing every day. We try to encourage our athletes to join us for a Wednesday night race, it’s just for fun and provides a bit of sociable banter between us. Some like it in addition to their weekly sessions and others use it as a replacement. Sometimes the weather is just too poor to get outside at the weekend so we have a few inventive ride replacement turbo sessions on standby for our athletes. Be safe, if there is ice then either don’t venture out or at least wait until its melted. Much better to do a grim 2-hour turbo session than spend 3 months out with a broken collar bone.
If you, like me, still want a bit of fresh air then commuting by bike a couple of times a week is a great way of getting some miles in. It must be aerobic though and you need to be sensible. I cover myself in high viz and lights, ride the back roads and avoid peak times when I can. I have some excellent kit and occasionally it makes it almost pleasant! Often though, it takes all my energy and will power to simply get my kit on whilst I listen to wind and rain hammer on the windows which leaves very little left over for the actual cycling. I haven’t given up and turned back to get the car yet but similarly, I haven’t ever not thought about it! By riding to work it means I get my training done by the time I get home and have the evening to myself which is a welcome relief sometimes. All too often I hear people say, ‘I just don’t have time to train’. Well, there is two hours a day that could be found rather than sitting in a car. Or how about the hour every evening you spend watching tv? It’s a commitment thing and I get that not everyone wants to go to that level but if you are aiming big then something has to give.
"Studies have shown that the amount of cakes and biscuits on offer in the office climbs exponentially with the proximity to Christmas."
Studies have shown that the amount of cakes and biscuits on offer in the office climbs exponentially with the proximity to Christmas. They are everywhere and of all descriptions. A key motivator for training through the winter could be to make room for those extra calories. It’s not a healthy way to approach your diet but it may well mean the difference between a little winter weight and a LOT of winter weight when your training really kicks into gear after the festive period. The same goes for Christmas parties, they are a social and calorific minefield. Are you going to be the office bore because you have an event in 9 months’ time and can’t put your training in jeopardy? Probably not, even if you are the utmost professional when it comes to triathlon. Ask any pro athlete what they do in their off-season post Kona and most of them will say ‘drink red wine and eat cheese’. Our advice is to enjoy yourself, there is more to life than triathlon. If you hit the parties in moderation and do a bit of training to offset it all then you will feel better about yourself and likely be two steps ahead of those who go at the parties hard or drop training altogether.
It’s important to keep in sight of the goal during winter when as mentioned, its dark, cold, wet, all your friends are at the pub and the event you have entered is months away. Ask yourself why you are doing this? Try to visualise or connect with the emotions of coming down the finish chute knowing you have given everything. If it helps, write your goals and reasons why in a training diary so you can remind yourself when it gets tough. I’ve seen people put messages on their top tube too but this is more during the race itself. Search YouTube for triathlon motivation or ironman triathlon and you will have hours of spine tingling videos to help you focus. It sounds cheesy (a lot of them are) but you shouldn’t underestimate their power. You can normally even find ones specific to the event you have entered so when you get to the hard hill on race day you have seen it thousands of times before and know it doesn’t last forever.
So, a swim in winter is the same as summer, it’s just dark outside the pool. We have touched on winter cycling. What about winter running?
No one wants endless sessions on a treadmill, its mind numbing and saps motivation quicker than Mo Farah could ever run. Sure, some are necessary for the same reasons that you hook your bike to a turbo trainer but getting out for a run is far less weather dependant and the kit required to make it bearable is far less expensive and more accessible. Get some gloves, a hat, a waterproof jacket, some trail shoes and you are set for a season of enjoyment!
"If you want to add some spice then get a decent headtorch and do some of your running in the dark."
Off road running is an excellent way of building slow aerobic miles. Plus, it is good for your knees, joints and core. Go explore the local trails. Find some muddy paths and jump in the puddles, everyone has an inner child just itching to do it! It’ll put a smile on your face and the extra resistance from running through churned up mud will pay dividends when you hit the tarmac in warmer weather. Speed and pace really don’t matter at this time of year so why not unburden yourself and turn those screens off? Just pay attention to heart rate and stay aerobic. If it goes too high then slow down or walk – simples. If you want to add some spice then get a decent headtorch and do some of your running in the dark. Sometimes there is nothing better than just being able to see a little pool of light and listening to your breathing. It’s a great way to escape the tribulations of the day and sometimes a good excuse for a bit of ‘me time’ during the Christmas break when the house is full of relatives and the temptation to over eat.
 Comparison of vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 supplementation in raising serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Calculated free and bioavailable vitamin D metabolite concentrations in vitamin D-deficient hip fracture patients after supplementation with cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol.
 I made this up but it certainly seems the case in my office.