Winter training – who likes it? I am a fair-weather athlete and try to avoid the cold but here a few things that might help…
My practical advice to avoid the cold; move to my old stomping ground Cairns, problem solved in a perfect world! The 15 to 25-degree crisp winter days of the Far North aren’t for everyone. Truly gods’ country and the very hot summers save up brownie points for when the season changes, bestowing winter with some of the best training weather experienced anywhere. The most constant seasonal temperatures in Australia can be found in a place on the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns called Walkerman, so although the heat can be extreme at times the winters don’t contrast too much, which suited me just fine when I did my training up north.
In my “hey-day”, I had the opportunity to chase the seasons with my racing programme involving summer in the Southern Hemisphere and at the end of that pack my bags for the Northern Hemisphere. I think at one point I had 22 summers in a row. The first time I had seen snow was a one-off race in Bordeaux, France for the world indoor championships. My dad and I were on the top of the Eiffel Tower and it started to snow. I experienced snow for the first time with a view and Fondue in the same day, pretty cool. Not a lot of training was happening though.
With racing on the other hand, sometimes you have to endure some colder climates even if it is mid-summer. The coldest water I have struck was in Ireland. The locals didn’t seem too bothered, calling it balmy, but the 7 degrees water had us tourists in full wetsuits and hoods. As soon as you hit the water it felt like you had devoured a bucket of Mr. Whippy in one hit. Instant brain freeze. The only other time I’ve heard of a similar temperature was an infamous incident where Marc “Jurassic” Dragon (a pro triathlete at the time) raced in Devonport Tasmania. After a late snow melt the cool waters of the Mersey dropped down to 7 degrees. “Drags” was inducted into folk law when after exiting the swim he decided to mount his trusty steed in full wetsuit regaler. Forty kilometres of racing in rubber.
We are spoilt up here in cane toad country because of the weather. I can’t imagine the “brass” needed to get out there in mid-winter in places such as Victoria to keep the training going so you hit the ground running for the next season. Even more important this year for those triathletes that made the worlds team is the fact worlds is in New Zealand. For one they have to train through winter as it’s on October 18th and on top of that it won’t be bikini weather race day either.
We are lucky even though we complain with the conditions we have here. I think a big secret to the Aussie dominance, besides hard work is the fact that the professionals have the opportunity to race and train all year round. Although mentally you need a break every now and then, getting a jump on the Northerners really sets the season up. A lot more athletes from the north who are serious, are now venturing down to Australia in their off season or to other places like South Africa and Lanzarote.
So you want to train through winter to have a full build up leading into next season, the goal is more about base work if there are no races around. If you’re working and the days are short, weekends should be the time where you can do longer rides and runs so to avoid the cold mornings. The swimming is relatively easy in heated pools so nothing really changes there. Take that out of the equation. Running just takes on a more rugged up approach to begin with and you just shed the layers as you go, maybe stash them for on the way back. I don’t mind running in the cold too much as long as my hands and head are covered. One of the best running days I’ve had was a few years ago in a German winter. My brother, a few mates and I started out in this small town rugged up to the hilt with more layers than an onion. We ran up this hill where the first battle scene in “Gladiator” was set, where the Germans turned back the Roman hoards. Anyway the hill went on for what seemed an hour and at the top these very civilised skiers sipping Blu Vine, a hot wine that goes down a treat, greeted us. Perfect for some way ward runners searching for some inner warmth by whatever means available. The onward journey was a bit of a buzz really but Mr. Frosty never surfaced again. There might be a tip there. On cold days always take a bottle of hot wine or maybe a Saint Bernard with one of those small kegs around its collar. Remember the bigger the dog the bigger the barrel.
When we reached our destination after two and a half hours it was straight into the sauna for a furnace 15 minutes then the dash out to the near frozen creek for a dunking. The locals reckon its good for the body but I reckon it can’t be if bits go missing. One more time for good measure, not that any of that was going on, and after some tucker it was back to the hill and sled down in the middle of the night, pitch black 5 kilometres to the bottom. The training was great but we also had one of those magic days to remember. So finding distraction can always help in situations that could be considered somewhat testing.
I suppose one of the things we all do when we can’t face the world outside is hit the wind trainer. I use to use it just once a week but in the cold I think it becomes a lot more versatile. When I trained on it the stereo was always blaring to distract me and at times I had this hose that I would wrap around my body with all holes in it to try and keep cool. My time on the wind trainer was always limited, because of boredom, but if that is the only option go with it.
A set that I used almost all of the time was actually one I got from Mark Allan (A triathlon legend) with a little variation. Warm up 10 minutes, then for the next twenty minutes build through the gears every five minutes until in the end the lungs are screaming and the legs start shaking uncontrollably. No rest just straight into the next half hour. Two minutes spinning then a minute on (hard), using bigger gears, a minute off using the small chain ring spinning. Continue this increasing the hard interval by a minute each time until three minutes then go back down and then up and down the ladder one more time.
This equates to about half an hour and by now your legs and lungs will be feeling just how you want them, like mash potatoes. To finish off after an easy two minutes spinning, do fifteen seconds max in the biggest gear you can push, forty-five seconds spin and do that four times. The last time I usually try for a full minute hard, what ever is left in the tank. Jump off, running shoes on and smash out a one-kilometre time trial. Believe me you won’t feel the cold and nothing beats the feeling in your legs.
Besides the wind trainer for cycling there is always the treadmill for running if there is one at your local gym. A lot of the professionals use these not just for winter but also throughout the season. Reason being there is no better way to monitor pace but more importantly to hold consistency of pace. The time we lose in a race are those times when fatigue sets in but it seems to come and go to some degree putting a dent in your average speed. One reason for that is that we also train like that. Unless it is a track session or more precisely a treadmill, we can’t monitor our pace consistently. The treadmill allows this consistency for any amount of time; if you miss a beat though, you face plant. It also depends of course if you can swindle one from the gym junkies. On a nice sunny day though I can’t seem to train indoors, keep it for winter.
I’ve actually used a humidity chamber before while testing for Gatorade in Chicago. They were testing the amount of sweat loss over certain amounts of time in humid temperatures indoors while it was minus thirty degrees outside. It’s great to see how much salt loss occurred while at race pace to combat cramps. Unfortunately not all of us can have a humidity chamber in our back yard, maybe close the house up and crank the heaters.
I think because the season is a long way off there is still a lot of time to do the most beneficial of you training. You don’t have to be training day in day out if the conditions get beyond anything reasonable. Remember if you don’t enjoy the sport what’s the point. So if it is freezing cold and raining, train another day.
If all else fails remember you can always order something on an infomercial from Danos Direct that will have a butt buster or some other contraption to get you fit in 5mins, in the mail before you put the phone down.
At the end of the day we are spoilt in Queensland for climate so enjoy it and be a fair weather athlete like me,
Brad Beven OAM
Byron Bay Triathlon Ambassador
ITU World Hall of Fame
Australia Hall of Fame