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Off-road triathlete and trail runner Emma Garrard lives in Park City, UT and uses the winter months to rest, recover and cross-train. In this article, she gives some tips for summer athletes on how best to get through the long cold winter months.
A Summer Athlete’s Tips for Enduring Winter
As a competitor in summer sports it’s easy to think of winter’s hardships and dread them. Not being able to ride a bike outside without 20 layers, frozen eyelashes, running through slush and wind chill, and at times being stuck indoors. All the reasons a lot of cyclists, triathletes and runners are snowbirds; people who leave the cold to train in warmer climates during the winter months. If escaping winter is not a luxury you can partake in (join the club), you should know that there are benefits of enduring winter for a summer athlete that keep me improving and performing my best when the trails are dry.
An off-season is inevitable
For cyclists in particular, it forces you to take time off the bike. Let’s face it, it’s easy to take a break from training when it’s freezing, the trails are covered with snow, the roads with ice and it’s dark outside. You will be able to let go and relax both physically and mentally.
Gain a few pounds
Being at race weight all year is not always sustainable or healthy. Cold weather and all the food that goes along with it will mean you are more likely to gain a few extra pounds, which is a good thing, as long as it’s not a lot of extra pounds. Training with this extra weight during the winter not only keeps me warmer but makes me feel stronger when I get back down to race weight.
I have never been a fan of the ‘dreadmill’ and in the past I’ve opted to run in a blizzard over running indoors, but it is a useful tool for working on running form and running a consistent pace during my training runs. I saw a lot of improvements in my running this season after running indoors during the winter. Cycling indoors has been incredibly beneficial for me because it builds power, improves cadence and pedal stroke. Not to mention it makes you more efficient as there’s no coasting or stop lights. Sure it can also be boring, but there’s merit to enduring boredom for endurance athletes and it makes me appreciate single-track that much more! It’s also a great time of year to do some strength training or yoga to improve power, mobility, and prevent injuries.
I eat and drink differently in the winter mostly due to what produce is in season during the winter months, more squash, pumpkin, brussel sprouts and potatoes. I still eat lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and whole grains. I also drink a lot of hot drinks vs. cold for hydration and soups vs. smoothies. Hot drinks and soups also help warm my body temperature so I don’t mistake being cold for hunger. I’m also super busy in the off season juggling working, coaching, training and being a mom so I always keep a stash of PROBARs in my car and gym bag so I can stay fueled with healthy whole grains, seeds and nuts.
Tough conditions = tough athlete
Training in adverse conditions will make you tough both mentally and physically. After all, you can’t always pick the weather on race day. If the conditions are bad on race day you’ll be prepared, if they are good, it will be that much easier!
I love to mix it up and cross-train, or shall I say cross-country ski during the winter months. It’s been proven to be one of the best activities for endurance athletes because it’s low impact but improves balance and builds strength and endurance. My heart rate can get up much higher cross country skiing than doing any other activity. Snowshoeing, fat-tire biking and backcountry skiing are also great cross-training options for summer athletes, and lets not forget how fun they can be!
You are more likely to peak at the right time
By taking a break followed by an off-season and having to wait later in the spring to start your season, you are more likely to peak for that ‘A’ race in the late summer or fall. I have my best results in September and October each season and I believe it’s from surviving the harshest season, or maybe it’s the fact that shoveling snow is the best cross training of all.
On that note, I’m happy to say let it snow!