As I write this, snow is falling and the wind-chill is below zero here in Boulder; not the most motivating of sights for a triathlete. Limited daylight and cold temperatures force most of us indoors-either to train or to the couch. Unless you plan on relocating, winter isn't going away anytime soon, so it's best to focus on what you have and devise a plan that utilizes your current environment.
As a coach, it’s my job to come up with a system that will give my clients the best chance for continued improvement via year round consistency. Here are a few tips that I give to my athletes that may help you over the winter months:
Bike Fit and Equipment Analysis: The offseason is the best time to evaluate your equipment and bike position. Adapting to a new position NOW, is far easier than when you're trying to increase volume in the Spring. Optimizing speed via position and equipment will give you a material advantage over competitors who chose to ignore these details.
Prepping the body for training: Were you injured last year? Frequently sick?Take action to prevent the same from happening this year. Getting extra sleep, blood analysis, and starting a strength and conditioning program can help minimize weak links. Idling over the winter will have you playing catch up and taking unnecessary risks once the season starts. Even if the you don't get excited about the training, doing something most days of the week will prepare the chassis for regular training...a tune-up per-say, where bolts are tightened, the chain is lubed, and gearing adjusted. Rushing through this phase can increase your likelihood for setbacks via inconsistency, sickness and/or injury.
Save your mojo for when it counts: Unless you're a glutton for punishment, don't waste your mental energy banging out another 3+ hour turbo session. Many of us don't have the option to put in long winter base miles. By accepting the realities of your situation, you will remove the mental pressure of what you feel you should be doing. Stick to 2-3 sessions a week of 60-75 min in duration. Include a mix intensities and use a variety of cadences. I generally prescribe a slow rpm strength session, a higher intensity session (80-105% of threshold), and some steady state work (usually 70-80% of threshold). If you get a break in the weather, then head outside.
Winter camp: A winter camp is a great way to breakup the winter from both a mental and physical standpoint. A camp, like any event, gives you a target...an event you are preparing for so that you don't feel like you're spinning your wheels without a goal. We're all in this sport for a variety of reasons and many use it to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but can struggle to get out the door without a near term goal. You can put together your own camp or find a group that host winter camps. Choose a group who you want to learn from and who will provide an appropriate yet challenging camp.
If you can't travel, put together your own swim or run camp. Set a goal to swim a specific amount or run for a consecutive number of days. The 30/30 run challenge is a very popular one. You run at least 30 minutes for 30 consecutive days.
Weight: You'll thank yourself later by not putting on that extra 10-15 pounds in the offseason. Nutrition is often a touchy subject; my recommendation is to try and keep your diet consistent throughout the year. Having an extreme in-season diet is unsustainable and often leads to off-season binge eating and rapid weight gain.
Get other things done: Get projects done over the winter that could take time away from training during the summer. Triathlon is a time consuming sport. Anything you can do now to spend extra time with your family might earn you some leeway during the year.
Consistency is the most important thing you can establish in the offseason. Most triathletes view training as black and white. They have an idea of what real training is and if they are unable to train in that manner, will stress and do less.
It's best to focus on what you can do rather than what you can't.