WINTER SURVIVAL HACKS: How to stay well and keep training this winter
The days are shorter, darker and inevitably colder. You get up in the dark, train in the dark, you may even get home from work in the dark! Motivation to get out of bed to hit your training starts to waiver. “It won’t matter if I miss this one session,” you convince yourself as you turn the alarm off. But then the next day you find yourself doing the same thing. “It’s too cold today, plus it’s raining, I definitely need more sleep,” you persuade yourself as you doze back off into a blissful slumber. And let’s not mention the thought of the dreaded cold/flu. You try to avoid those people at work who insist on coming in whenthey are sick, you sidestep family members carrying a cold for fear of catching it yourself.
Yes, winter can be tough, bleak, dark, and motivation can waiver. I don’t blame you for losing your mojo! I don’t think I’ve come across an athlete whose training hasn’t faltered, even just a little, over winter. But there are some athletes who seem to manage better than others, and it’s these athletes that reap the rewards come the summer racing season. So, what is it that they do to get them through the winter? What are they doing that you aren’t?
The athletes who fare better in winter have plans in place. They are organised and focused. They enjoy what they do. They ensure their bodies are prepared for the winter months through planning. So, if the cold, wet, windy, dark winter days seem to get the better of you each year, destroying your motivation, and wreaking havoc with your training; or if the dreaded cold/flu always sneaks up on you and knocks you for six, then use these winter survival hacks to help you stay healthy, motivated and keep your training on track this winter.
Review and plan your season
At the end of your racing season, sit down and review how it went and use the time to plan ahead. What worked, what didn’t, what would you change, what would you do differently? This provides inspiration to get excited about the new season ahead – even when it’s hard to see it through all the grey clouds.
There’s nothing like having goals to help with motivation, and honestly, it’s a must. Include short-term (one to three months); medium (six to 12 months) and even look at longer term (12+months) goals so you have an idea where you want to go. Sit down and think about your ‘why’ and what you want to achieve. The key then is looking at how you are going to achieve these and using the process to help push you towards your goals. And get you out of bed in the morning!
Get the right gear
If you are serious about off-season training and want to continue training outside through winter, you need the right gear.
For cycling, a good set of gloves, booties, a vest and, arm and leg warmers or tights are a must. For your run sessions, you can get away with leggings and long sleeves, a light jacket, gloves and a headband if you need. Being prepared with layers is the key. So, get your wardrobe organised before the real weather change hits.
Train with friends
Find some training buddies or a group to train with. Our conscious gets the better of us if we know we’re supposed to meet others, so it’s great motivation to get out the door – and that’s the hardest part!
Consider a mini getaway somewhere warm. Keep an eye out for cheap flights and snap them up. This could be for a relaxing holiday simply to escape the cold or a training getaway. Either way, it will be something to look forward to and re-invigorate you come the middle of winter!
Enter some off-season races
There are lots of races you can still do over winter including duathlons, run events and cycling races. Plan out your season and add in some ‘train through’ races. They give great motivation for training and a nice little training spike.
Focus on your weaknesses
Most of us know what our weaknesses are and areas we can improve. Spend time over the winter months focusing on them. A plan can have specific periods/blocks to include these focuses such as a bike block to build bike strength. Or if it’s areas
such as mobility or imbalances, use your extra time to work with someone to fix these. The winter months are the perfect months to set the foundations for a good season ahead.
Get on top of your injuries
Winter is the perfect time to get on top of your injuries. If you know you need to address a running injury, for example, stop running and sort out the injury. Pick up extra swim, bike or strength sessions, but start the rehab now so you can go into the start of the season strong and injury free.
Focus on strength and mobility
Improving strength and mobility is a great way to improve your overall performance and the off-season is an ideal time to implement this into your weekly training structure. As an added bonus, it can be done indoors, in the warmth and out of the cold, which is an even bigger incentive to include into your training. If you don’t know where to start, seek advice from a triathlon coach or strength and conditioning coach who works with triathletes.
Build your immune system
During the winter months, there are a lot of germs that get shared around. To help prevent picking them up from your family, friends or colleagues, work on building a good immune system. You don’t need to go into hibernation! Gut health is your primary source of immunity. If this is impaired you are likely to get sick more often. So, cook up those slow cooked meals, drink bone broth, include plenty of garlic and turmeric in your cooking and chat to your nutritionist and/or naturopath about what vitamins and minerals you may want to supplement with for an added boost.
Reduce your stress
Stress (both physical and mental) produces high levels of our stress hormones including cortisol. High cortisol can suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Prioritise sleep and balance your training to help manage stress. You will be happier and healthier for it.
You are one of the lucky few who is able, willing and capable of training. Instead of complaining about the cold, wet, dark winter days, be grateful that you can
enjoy them, that you can move your body if you choose. As an added benefit, practising gratitude can help reduce your stress levels!
Learn. Read. Educate
Use the earlier nights in to read and learn, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube clips, read educational books. The more educated you are, the better decisions you can make about your training, health and wellness.
Maximise your travel time
How much time do you spend travelling to/from work? More than you’d like? Could you incorporate some of your training into your travel? Could you use public transport instead of driving and use that time for study or catching up on personal emails/social media etc., rather than doing this at home? While the majority of your training is aerobic-based over winter, it’s the perfect chance to include some of your travel time as your training, which means less ‘wasted’ time commuting, and more time at home, with family or sleeping! Win. Win.
Indoor training sessions are not only fast, quick and efficient, they get you out of the elements and you can remain focused on the session at hand, rather than the conditions. So, plan some of your weekly sessions indoors – on the trainer and/or treadmill. Keep them sharp and focused, and you will get big bang for your buck. You may even get to love training indoors when everyone else is complaining about the weather!
Have some fun!
It’s not all about swim, bike and run. Include some off-season training fun such as mountain biking or hiking. Go to that yoga class you have always said you were going to go to. Try Pilates. Give CrossFit a go. Doing something is better than nothing. So, if it gets you out the door, then, by all means, go for it. And you will find it won’t be long and you will be running out the door and jumping back in the pool for your sessions in no time.
Mix it up
If you always do the same thing, day in, day out, then regardless of the weather, there will be a time when you will simply become bored with it. Imagine eating the same breakfast, lunch and dinner, every-single-day-of-the-week. Snore! It might be convenient for a while but over time it will become monotonous and boring. So, mix things up. It could be as simple as changing the day or time of day that you train, changing locations or finding different people to train with can also be beneficial. It can be enough to reignite the light that has slowly fizzled out in the rain.
Take a break
Take time to refresh the mind and body. Many athletes struggle with the guilt of taking time off over the winter season, but it is imperative. No professional triathlete maintains the same fitness or the same intensity all year round, so neither should you. A recovery phase planned into your training is an integral part of your program and can set the foundation for a stronger you for the upcoming season. So, if you haven’t had a break yet, maybe it’s time for a freshen-up.
Find your balance
Triathletes are Type A’s – focused on numbers and data, which isn’t a bad thing but at times this can all become a little too serious. Triathlon is supposed to be fun, not all-consuming; so finding your triathlon/life balance is important. Don’t be afraid to enjoy a night out with friends, to sleep in on a Sunday, to indulge in some beautiful food, learn something new. Finding your balance in training, work, family and ‘life’ in general will ensure you continue to enjoy your training through winter, and ultimately for years
Decide to be happy
Happiness isn’t achieved through training and racing. Happiness isn’t a number on your Garmin, a time you achieve in a race, or that medal around your neck. Sure, they can bring you temporary happiness, but you shouldn’t wait for them to make you happy. Happiness is a choice – your choice. Enjoy what you do and choose to be happy – yes, even in the cold, the dark and the rain. Choosing to be happy will increase your motivation to train – plus happier people are more fun to be around!
Just get out there
From time-to-time, you may just need a shove out the door. Winter is character building. It builds strong athletes. Period. So, occasionally you just need to suck it up, get out there and get it done.
Implement even just a few of these strategies into your winter training routine and it won’t be long before the clouds start to part, the days become longer and the sun starts to shine through, and then the racing season will be here before you know it!