How To Keep Triathlon Training In Winter


Getting out of bed early to train in winter can be haaaaard. It’s cold, it’s dark, and it’s just super difficult to get motivated.

Even if you train later in the day, it’s tough to resist the lure of warmth, home-cooked meals, and a cozy bed or sofa.

But you can’t just stop training in winter either. So how do you trick the brain and body into actually being okay with getting up and exercising?

We’ve been there (well… we’re there every winter). So we’ve put together our best tips for pushing through that initial resistance and doing the thing.

Here’s how to keep triathlon training in winter more easily!

Create Your Own Sunrise

Part of the difficulty in getting up early is the fact that it’s still dark. The body works on circadian rhythms, which means it’s built to wake up at first light (although most of us struggle with that too, these days!).

Using a jangly, intrusive alarm clock can have you in a grumpy mood from the moment you open your eyes! When you’re waking up suddenly, your fight-or-flight instincts are already stirred up for the day.

Instead of choosing a conventional alarm clock, we highly recommend investing in a sunrise alarm clock. These handy wake-up devices simulate a sunrise, which fills the world with a warm 2,000-kelvin glow.

Instead of your ears being assaulted while they’re in a dead sleep, your body’s circadian rhythms will gently stir and wake you up naturally and comfortably. Some of them do include light, gentle bird tweets, and nature-related sounds to help.

Depending on what exactly you want, we can recommend a few:

Keep in mind that while these are super useful in winter, they may not be effective in summer unless you keep your room dark.

Get Into a Routine

Routines are underrated! In winter, your routine can be the one thing that keeps you motivated and pushing forward.

Set your swim, run, and bike sessions on particular days of the week, and, if possible, even the same times. It’s like booking an appointment into your diary – an important meeting you can’t miss with yourself.

In fact, we encourage you to treat your training sessions this way. Just like you have certain things to do on certain days, let your training sessions become one of those things. Something on your daily to-do list that needs to be ticked off!

It may not be the most fun way to train, but if you’re already struggling to get into the swing of it in winter, this school of thought could be helpful.

Set Goals and Make a Plan

Make sure you set goals for your winter training. Having no goals to work towards can really hamper your training, as it’s much harder to keep track of progress if you aren’t sure what you’re trying to progress towards!

We advise putting together a goal and a plan for reaching it. It doesn’t have to be anything huge – maybe just to improve your time by 10 seconds on a particular distance, or adding an extra bit of distance to your swim every time, seeing how far you can go.

Pushing yourself is an essential part of staying motivated. Hitting those milestones and PRs can be the one thing that actually makes you want to go back for more when it’s cold and murky outside!

And if you can’t quite figure out a goal, then we suggest that you…

Enter an Event

Nothing is quite as motivating as having an event to train for! Winter events aren’t super common, but they exist. You can find a running race fairly easily. And there may be an indoor triathlon that uses a pool for the swim leg.

Having something tangible to work on, an event to spur you on to improve and get out of bed and train is a great motivator.

Entering a triathlon event also gives you an emotional and financial investment. Studies have shown that these factors can be incredible motivators!

Stay Warm When Swimming

Swimming is perhaps the hardest activity to train for in the winter. Once you’re running and cycling, it’s easier to get warm. But the thought of being in the water is often off-putting for most triathletes, in the dead of winter!

If you can, try to do most of your training in an indoor, heated pool. But if you are especially hardy, you can train in open water in the winter.

Choosing a thicker wetsuit (5 to 7mm) can help keep you warmer. When training, you can also wear neoprene gloves or booties, but remember these aren’t allowed in competition.

Try to change into something warm as soon as you get out of the water. Hanging around in wet clothing can make you feel colder, so take along warm, fleecy apparel, and dry towels so you can dry off and get warm immediately.

Look After Your Extremities

In the cold, your body does this cool thing where it sends the blood to your core to keep your most important organs warm. But that means your hands and feet tend to suffer from poor circulation, leading to them becoming extra cold.

Get ahead of any potential issues by taking good care of your hands and feet, whether you’re running, on the bike, or in the water. Wear running gloves or cycling gloves and thick, warm socks (Merino wool is great).

Make sure there’s no gap between your shirt or pants cuffs and your gloves or socks! These little strips of exposed skin can keep you cold.

We also lose a lot of body heat through our heads. Warm-up with a beanie, balaclava, or hat so you can stay as cozy as possible on your run, and use a swimming cap in the water.

Use an Indoor Bike

One way to avoid the cold outside is to train on an indoor bike. If you want to completely avoid leaving the house too early, you can invest in a compact, folding bike for the home.

Or, buy a set of rollers so you can train on your regular bike. This is an excellent idea for intermediate to advanced cyclists, as it’s a much more realistic cycling experience.

We do recommend actually getting out on the road sometime, though. There’s no substitute for real road experience! You can always alternate between indoor and outdoor rides.

Use a Treadmill

Like riding on an indoor bike, you can do some of your running sessions on a treadmill, safe and warm indoors. If you don’t want to leave the house to run on a treadmill at the gym, you can buy a relatively affordable one for home training.

If you want a real treadmill workout, we suggest investing in a manual treadmill. They have some advantages over electronic ones, and you’ll get an excellent workout every time.

Try Trail Running

The roads can be slippery with ice in winter, which can become a slipping hazard. You can always buy a pair of running shoes designed to handle ice and snow, but it may be a good idea to try and avoid running on icy paths entirely.

Trail running is a great way to keep up your training, add a bit more intensity to it, and stay safe and far away from icy roads. Trails may have more snow than roads but that can be solved with a good pair of ice and snow running shoes.

Stay Hydrated

Don’t forget to hydrate in winter! Your body needs the water as much as it does in the heat, so don’t leave your water bottle behind. Room temperature water is ideal – just don’t fill your bottle up out of the fridge.

Remember to also take along an electrolyte tablet and an energy chew or two, because your body needs fueling up no matter what the weather.

Don’t Layer Too Much

It’s tempting to pile on as much as you can so you’re warm when you leave the house. We understand, but this could hamper you later on.

You should layer up with lightweight stuff. A thin but warm base layer, running or cycling shirt, and a lightweight jacket, along with your beanie or balaclava, gloves, thick socks, and other warming measures, can be just fine.

You should feel slightly cold when you step out the door. Sounds counterintuitive, but trust us! As soon as you start moving and the blood starts flowing, you’ll warm up enough to remove your outer layers.

You don’t want to overheat, but you also don’t want to end up running or cycling while holding all your discarded layers of thick clothing.

Run With Someone

When you’re running with someone else, it’s quite a bit easier to head out into the cold. It’s easier to deal with the early start and cold air than disappointing your running buddy or coach!

Accountability can be hugely helpful to keep you going in winter. Whether you join a running group, run with a friend or family member, or get yourself a running coach, involving someone else in your training can make all the difference.

Not only are you motivated to not let them down, but you can encourage each other when things start to feel a bit tough.

Hit the Gym

Winter is an excellent time to start incorporating some cross-training into your routine – more specifically, strength training.

Don’t worry – you’re not going to get heavy and bulky and slow on the road. Doing some strength training can work wonders for building leg muscle and improving your running and cycling performance.

Hit the leg press, do some calf raises, deadlifts, and squats to strengthen those legs. But don’t restrict it to the upper body only. Make sure you get a well-rounded workout that includes the upper body, lower body, and core.

If you build this habit in the off-season, you’ll find it easier to carry over when summer comes again. You should also notice your triathlon performance improving.

Use Winter to Your Advantage

Winter sports can be an amazing form of cross-training!

Try cross-country skiing for an excellent muscular load, or ice skating, snowshoeing, or snowboarding.

Prepare in Advance

Make sure there’s no excuse that could keep you in bed or on the sofa when it’s time to train! If you’re training early in the morning, get your kit ready the night before and lay it out where you can reach it easily.

If you train after work, take your kit with you so you don’t have to go back home and be tempted by the sofa, TV, and cozy atmosphere!

Take Safety Precautions

Be extra careful in wintery weather. Avoid slippery patches as much as you can – train on trails or grass whenever you can to reduce the chance of having to deal with ice.

If there’s snow around, it could be a good idea to invest in some sunglasses to lessen the glare and keep your eyes safe.

Also, don’t neglect your reflective gear. You still need to be seen, so make sure other runners and drivers can see you from afar.

Warm Up Quickly

Prepare yourself to get warm as fast as possible once your training session is done.

Carry dry, warm clothing and towels in your car, or keep them close by in your office or home so you can get out of wet, cold gear and get warm as soon as possible.

A hot drink can also work wonders. Grab or make a coffee or tea on your way back from your run, which will warm you up from the inside out. If you’re heading straight home, hop into a warm shower before you settle in.

It’s OK to Not Be On Top Form!

Winter is a tough time to be an athlete. It’s okay to give yourself a bit of a break, relax, and spend some time indoors, catching up on TV series and spending time with family.

If you don’t have an event to do, balance your maintenance training with some relaxation.

Eat good food, stay warm, and have fun. As long as you don’t give up your training altogether, you’ll be motivated and raring to go by the time summer comes again!

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Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.