Of all disciplines in triathlon, running is arguably the easies to maintain over the winter. And while heading out into the cold can be a little difficult to motivate yourself at times, it’s a lot easier to fit into your day. On-season sessions tend to be more focused on building speedwork and getting up to your race distance. As running is the most impactful of the three sports in triathlon, the off season is a good opportunity to let your body recover, but how do you balance recovery with effective training? Here’s our guide to winter run training.
Keep it fun, keep it social
Running with friends can make the trips outdoors on those frosty mornings much more fun. Ideal sessions for mixed ability groups can be loops or hill reps with a few different options of distance, so that everyone is running for roughly the same amount of time regardless of ability. Come and try one of our RG Active winter run sessions.
Wrap up warm
Muscles work better when they’re warm, blood flow is better, so they receive more oxygen and when they’re warm they’re more elastic, so your form will be better. Cold muscles work inefficiently, and inefficient running can lead to higher injury risk. So, unless you’re competing in cross country, pop the hot pants away and get some run tights on. Keep your trunk warm too, running gilets, headbands or hats and gloves will all make winter running easier.
Have some muddy fun
Running off road has many advantages for your fitness, the rough ground can help improve your agility and joint strength since you’re working harder to control each step. Head out for a run with a mixture of grass, trail and mud to really have some fun and challenge yourself. Expect to be a little slower, so judge your effort on heart rate as opposed to speed. The other advantage of off-road running is cleaner air and better scenery too.
It’s just a hill, get over it
Intervals are a fantastic tool for fitness improvements, and while structured track sessions are valuable for pace development, running hills or over undulating terrain can be a great alternative. Structured hill reps over a fixed hill or distance will allow you to work on repeated efforts and the way hills make you work is slightly different, running up hill requires more strength and can improve the drive phase of your run gait, while running downhill helps strengthen the joint structures that control impact. Better impact control makes for more efficient running and reduced injury.
Make long runs more interesting
For seasoned athletes, it’s a good idea to keep a distance element in your training so as not to lose too much fitness. If you combine your long steady runs as off road and on undulating terrain they can meet not just your endurance requirements, but also keep your legs strong. Try adding some fartlek style intervals into your runs to vary the pace.
Consider reducing impact over the winter months, especially if you’re prone to injury
If you are prone to lower limb injuries, then consider dropping your run volume down and working on quality over quantity. If you periodise your training to have longer run weeks every 3-4 weeks this will keep your endurance up without overloading your legs. You could increase your bike miles to maintain your training volume and also look at other activities such as rowing or cross-training in the gym.
Just because we’re cold doesn’t mean we’re not losing water. We lose water through vapour when we breath and if you’re working hard you’ll still be sweating. Keeping hydrated in winter is more difficult because we may feel we don’t want to drink as much, so keep a bottle on you throughout the day, start all your training sessions hydrated and take water with you on longer runs.
Consider fasted training
Fasted training has some benefits for improving performance, linked to how your body processes energy. We are the ultimate hybrid engine, using both fat and carbohydrate for fuel depending on our work rate. Typically, we use fat at rest and low intensity exercise, and start to use more carbs as the effort level increases since the demand for energy at higher intensity can only be met by carbs, as they are broken down more easily. Training fasted during aerobic sessions means we can adapt to use fat at a higher percentage of our VO2max, which for an endurance athlete means we won’t be using up our carbohydrate stores as quickly during a race. Note that this is something you should introduce gently. 1-2 sessions per week maximum, lower intensity and early morning sessions lasting less than 90 min. Take a gel with you in case you do struggle.