In the Bleak Mid Winter - don't get left out in the cold
Have you ever come back from the off season and had your trusty triathlon buddy come back better than you? You know the scenario, you were always neck and neck in training sessions, that one person you could gauge whether you were improving or not by being able to keep up with them....and then suddenly, come Spring time - it's like they have been secretly training all winter and have left you behind!
Assuming that they have actually been going to work and enjoying the festivities as much as everyone else, what have they been doing and how have they managed to get better/fitter/faster and stronger over those winter months?
How do you make sure that you can also gain the maximum amount of benefit from winter training without coming into the race season ready to peak in about March (that's assuming you aren't actually racing in March, of course!)?
After the off season - the time when you have a bit of fun, remember who your family and friends are and basically chill out - it's important to remember a few fundamentals when it comes to winter training.
Less is definitely more
You don't need to be cranking out 4-hour bike rides over the winter, or 10 mile runs every weekend. Hour-long sessions are perfectly acceptable to start building or maintain a good solid base and some foundations which you can build on come the slightly warmer months and the next phase of your training.
The sessions in the winter training months should be as frequent (same number of days training/number of sessions), but less volume (shorter sessions) and less intense (easier) than when you were hitting the peak of your training before your A race.
Smashing out hard and long sessions will see you come into the season tired, on the verge of burning out and potentially injured - and that's not a good place to be.
Work with it
Learn to work with what you have got; if it's too cold for you to train outside, then hit the turbo, hit the spin class, or hit the shops and buy some suitable winter clothing. The old adage of 'there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices' springs to mind here.
If you find that turbo sessions have you in a spin because they aren't very inspiring, then invest in some box sets to watch, or rig up some cheap disco lights and play 70's disco tunes - find something that motivates you to complete the sessions. Alternatively, dust off the mountain bike and hit the trails...it's all cycling and it's all beneficial. In fact, mountain biking will do more for your general bike handling skills than you realise.
When it comes to running, run with friends - if they run more slowly than you then it doesn't matter, you're still out running and getting the benefit from those base miles in your tank.
Positively focus on the negative
Winter training sessions are brilliant for working on those areas that you always promise yourself you would. Coming back into the season being able to nail tumble turns, or having that stronger core will make you feel a million dollars. By focusing on a certain technical aspect for each discipline will help you in the long run....your swim times will tumble if you spend time over the winter working on those practices that you hate (because we all love the ones we can do!). Good bike technique and run form will hugely improve by undertaking basic but consistent strength and conditioning work in the gym. Having a stronger core will complement all three disciplines, being more flexible will assist with your swimming - not to mention provide a more robust body that is less prone to injury.
Pick some limiters that you want to improve on and make them your focus over the winter.
Man in the mirror (or woman)
Winter is not the time to be panicking about race weight or starting yet another fad diet. As human beings approaching a cold season, it is in our genes to stock up on a little fat to keep us warm - it's what we do. It doesn't matter that you aren't the same weight/shape/size as you were at the peak of your season - when it comes to training more intensely in the spring and summer, you want your body to burn any extra calories from your fat reserves at that point. If there aren't any fat reserves to burn, then any muscle mass you have gained from all your hard work over the winter will be eaten into, leaving you less strong and lean and more tired and prone to illnesses and injury.
Just as an aside, it is perfectly acceptable to have a few days off over the seasonal period and a rep session between the sofa and the kitchen are positively encouraged on Christmas Day!
Winter sessions are just that - sessions in the winter, designed to keep things ticking over. The key point to remember here is that each session and each block of training should still have a purpose. That friend that we discussed at the beginning, you know, the one who is now quicker/faster/stronger than you; I'll be willing to wager that they focused on some specific aspects over the course of winter rather than just churned out easy session after easy session.
Don't forget, there is a balance to be had - and if you don't want to get left out in the cold, then make sure your sessions have a purpose, and that purpose isn't the same as when you were at the peak of your training a few weeks before your A race, it's about developing a solid foundation to build on.