Editor’s note: this is a guest post from Paul Johnson, the founder of Complete Tri: an online resource for triathletes, runners, cyclists and swimmers. Complete Tri has been featured by USA Triathlon and active.com, offering training guidance and gear reviews. Find it at CompleteTri.com.
Okay, since we’re into our harsh New England winter let’s make the best of it!
Off-season bike and run training in colder areas like New England can take on a life all its own. For most triathletes, winter is a time to get healthy, lay off the intensity, and build a nice, solid base for the upcoming tri season. It can also be a great time to identify what the goals will be for the upcoming year. For example, if you plan to compete at an Ironman event your entire training year will look very different than if your plan is to race a local sprint or two.
But how do you work on getting that nice base and foundation if there is a foot of snow outside, it gets dark before the end of the workday, and the temperature is so unpredictable? Time to get creative! Here are some of the winter training tips we have found over years of winter triathlon training:
Take Your Cycling Indoors
We have heard it many times: people don’t like indoor cycling. If you are in that camp — especially if your last indoor cycling experience was years ago — we think you should give it another chance. The options have opened up significantly, and indoor cycling is not what it used to be. With the growing abundance of quality indoor cycling studios and classes as well as home-based interactive cycling technology, training for a few months indoors can give you a great base while you wait for spring to arrive.
Today’s options for home-based indoor cycling are much more expansive than the basic bike trainers of yesterday. Those trainers still exist and if you have the discipline to put in the hard work they can do a great job. But assuming you have access to a decent internet connection, we prefer going with one of the variety of smart trainers and training apps (like these) because they offer great precision and built-in discipline.
Having wattage-based training from the comfort of your own home allows you to get the exact right training for your goals and baseline fitness level. Popular smart trainer brands are Wahoo, Tacx and Cycleops, and apps that can be used with most of them include Zwift, Sufferfest and Rouvey. Peloton is also growing in popularity — although it is a bit more expensive, requires the purchase of a stationary bike and is, in effect, a remotely televised spin class.
For many people, these smart, interactive platforms serve as motivators to roll out of bed and do that hard workout. And properly structured, those hard workouts will really get you in excellent winter shape and allow you to eventually hit the thawing roads with speed and power.
Consider a Fat Bike
Fat bikes hit the mass market in the early 2000s and have gained popularity ever since, especially in northern climates. While they work great on rugged terrain, mud, and sand, athletes living in colder areas quickly learned fat bikes allow them to ride their favorite trails even when covered with snow and ice.
If you have access to trails that are good for fat biking, the right fat bike can be a great investment and allow you to stay outside in the winter. However, you will not likely want to take a fat bike on the road, following the routes you normally would do with your road bike in the summer.
A good fat bike costs anywhere from $500 to $1,500. Compared to a road or tri bike, that’s quite economical: about the same price as a good smart trainer setup. If you really don’t like indoor riding and don’t mind bundling up, a fat bike is worth looking in to.
Adapt Your Winter Running
Winter running does not need to keep you indoors on a treadmill. Unlike cycling — where road safety can be a major issue — running outside can be relatively safe even in the dead of winter.
When preparing for a winter run, many focus on protecting their body against the cold. We suggest making sure you’re protected against icy, slick footing. As long as you can make sure that you are not on a slippery surface that could cause a fall, you can always dress for the temperature. The wrong tumble can really mess up your upcoming tri season.
As for cold-weather running attire, we suggest a base layer that is moisture-wicking and warm, covered by a shell which will ward off the wind. If the shell has some thermal qualities, great, but it is generally better to layer-up with your thermal layers than have a heavy running jacket with little flexibility for layering.
Be sure to protect your extremities. Good running gloves are essential, and a running hat and potentially a gaiter or balaclava can be useful on those extra cold days. Some say that you want to slightly underdress so you don’t sweat too much. Our preference is to dress warm enough so your core stays toasty even if you perspire a bit — which is why you want the right base layer.
Of course, treadmills are an option. If you go the treadmill route, consider planning out some type of interval run training. It can be as simple as 2 minutes faster (or at an uphill gradiant) followed by 3 minutes slower, repeating. Intervals provide a better workout in a short period of time, and help to keep the treadmill runs more interesting.
Use this winter to be prepared for your 2020 season
There’s still plenty of winter to go. With a little preparation, investment, and commitment, you can make your winter cycling and running productive and literally “hit the ground running” when the snow melts in the spring.