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Winter is here, but if you’re serious about triathlon, the training never stops! Here are our cold-weather training tips that will see you safely through the chill so you can be at your best by spring!
In very cold conditions, it is best you reconsider the training type you choose. Long endurance is fine, but speed work and high intensity interval training comes with risks. The cold may make it difficult for your muscles to warm up effectively, plus it can make connective tissues more brittle and prevent muscles from relaxing fully. There can also be reduced synovial fluid (lubrication) in the joints. All these factors can potentially increase the risk of injury during intense workouts at maximum effort.
When cycling or running, you might also consider changing your route to account for wind direction. Wind chill can increase your perception of cold by more than 2º F for every 1 mph. Aim to ride or run so that you start into the wind and come back with it at your back so you avoid the wind hitting your sweaty face and body as you begin to fatigue or slow down.
It’s also a good idea to try and train more during the middle of the day when it’s warmer and easier for drivers to see you (and easier for you to watch the ground for snow, ice or puddles).
Swimming in an indoor pool is perfectly fine for training, but running on a treadmill or putting your bike on a trainer isn’t quite the same substitute for real-world cycling and running. Mountain biking is great for building strength up for cycling legs and the slower speeds and thicker, knobby tires allow you to brave the colder air and icy surfaces. If snow becomes thick, cross-country skiing will build endurance and have good crossover to cycling and running strength, while a snowshoe session makes a good replacement for running. For a drier, warmer option to the treadmill, go running up the ramps of a multi-level parking garage.
You may need to be more conscious about hydrating in the cold as thirst won’t be a good guide. Your thirst mechanism can be blunted by the cold, but when you breathe in cold, dry air, your body warms and humidifies that air, which mean that you can lose a significant amount of water through respiration. When it’s very cold, consider a tepid or warmed fluid that will provide heat to your body (a cold drink will take energy from your body). When cycling, try to keep your drink in the back of your jersey or under your outer layer so it doesn’t freeze.
In the cold, muscles may require more energy at a faster rate as there is an increased cost of movement and energy may be lost just keeping warm (e.g. shivering can use 400 calories per hour). This can leave you more tired than usual for the rest of the day after training. Recovery nutrition in the first 30 minutes after training becomes even more important.
Dress like an onion – layering is not only the best way to stay warm, it also guards against overheating. It’s commonly advised to dress so you’re a little cold to begin with – and for running, specifically as though it’s 20° warmer than it really is.
Always start with a thin base layer that will wick away sweat, such as the 2XU G:2 Sub Zero Tights and the G:2 Micro Thermal Top. As outer layers, you’ll need something that breathes but still has some water resistance, because if the layers below become wet or damp, they will lose their insulation properties. Look at something like a G:2 Micro Thermal Jacket for running and a G:2 Sub Zero Cycle Jacket for cycling.
If you’re braving the open water, wear a wetsuit with full-length sleeves, as it is important to cover up your arm pits, where heat tends to escape. It’s also a good idea to swim with a partner, just in case your body seizes up in any way while in the cold water.
A prime concern should be keeping your feet dry. For cycling, this means wearing cycle booties over your shoes, which will also cut down the wind chill factor. For running, you may want some waterproof shoes in a material such as Gore-Tex when it’s very cold. At very least, if you use running shoes made with mesh materials, cover up the mesh. The padding in running shoes can also be compromised by very cold temperatures. Polyurethane soles won’t give the same support when it’s cold, so some people recommend using an ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam in cold weather conditions because it retains more padding strength.
For both running and cycling, the 2XU Elite Compression Ski/Alpine Socks offer warmth and moisture-wicking properties without adding any extra bulk in your shoe.
The 2XU Running Gloves work well for both running and cycling in the cold, as they have cycle- specific finger grips for handlebars and change levers. For extremes of cold, look at the 2XU Sub Zero Gloves, which have a cuff closure and are designed to be warm, dry, and not retain any moisture.
You can lose considerable body heat through your head (estimates range from 25-40%) so headwear is important. If you’re swimming outdoors, consider wearing two caps and/or invest in a Neoprene Swim Cap, as Neoprene caps provide a better buffer between your head and the cold water compared to latex or silicone caps. Another tip for cold-water swimming: you can acclimatize to cold water quicker by throwing cold water on your face before you get in the water. The cold water triggers your lungs to gasp for air. If this only happens when you start to swim, it can cause a lot of discomfort through the early stages of your training.
2XU makes ultra-thin beanies for both running and cycling, with both offering protection for your ears. If you are asthmatic, you may want to use a balaclava or use the 2XU Thermal Neck Warmer pulled up over your mouth, especially going downhill or into the wind. This will preheat the air before it goes into your lungs and keep the air moist, which will help in drier climates.
A crucial part of cold weather training comes when you stop – your heat production slows and sweaty clothes can quickly become freezing clothes. Get out of the cold as soon as you can. If there’s any risk of delay, take off any wet clothes and change into dry ones and make sure you have an extra layer to put on.
Finally, after training make a note of what clothing combination you wore and how cold it was. Keeping a record of this will let you form your own personal temperature rating system so you will know exactly what you need to wear for the conditions.