Winter arrived in Salt Lake City this past week. Thus far, it’s been a mild fall and winter with no snow in the valley and temperatures remaining firmly in the 30s. I still don’t have much to complain about in regards to winter weather, but snow (a little!) finally arrived last week, and there were a few days where the temperature never made it out of the 20s. For the first time this year, I’ve really had to consider the weather when thinking about my workouts. Last year, my winter was a little tragic in regards to working out. I don’t want to repeat that performance this year, and with my Ironman next summer, I can’t afford to even if I wanted to. Another important element to working out in winter (for me) is a complete distaste for working out inside. Bike trainers or stationary bikes are miserable for me, and a treadmill is even worse. So, like every blogger in the history of the world, I’ve got some winter training tips. Specifically these are techniques that I’m using to keep myself swimming, cycling, and running throughout the winter and avoiding cycling and running inside as much as possible. Keep in mind that these tips are fairly specific to my geographical area and personal preferences. If you love the treadmill, you should run on the treadmill. And if you live somewhere that experiences non-stop snow or sub-zero temperatures in the winter, this won’t be all that helpful either. Winters in Salt Lake City can be cold and snowy, but not in the same way that, say, Massachusetts or Minnesota are.
1. Have a plan. This is where I messed up last year. I moved to Salt Lake at the beginning of December to begin a new job. I was (understandably) overwhelmed and just trying to deal with all the changes I had made. There was no plan to my workout schedule. So I ended up running about 15 miles a week, cycling about three times total, and not swimming at all because I hadn’t found a gym yet. It was really easy to put off any hard efforts because it was the off-season, after all. If I had actually been serious about creating a plan and some goals for that time, I would have been better about working out. My main goal/plan for this winter is pretty hefty (train for a marathon), but goals don’t have to be that intense. One of my other plans this winter is to do some cycling every week. I know if there is a very nasty week, I may only be able to do one short ride inside. Other weeks, I may be able to do a few nice rides outside. But knowing that I will ride my bike at least once a week will keep me from letting it slide for several weeks in a row.
2. Reduce volume. It is the off-season, after all. Rest is an important part of training, and I’d rather rest when the weather is awful and I don’t want to be outside anyway. While it’s important to keep active and not let your training slide (see the point above this one), I like taking winter a little easier. Even though I’m training for a marathon this winter, I’ve only been training 5-7 hours a week compared to the 10-18 hours a week I’ll being doing once I start officially training for the Ironman. I’m only working out once a day, and my Saturday mornings include a healthy mix of coffee, television, warm blankets, and a long run instead of 4-5 hour long bike rides starting at 6:00am. I know that, so far, the reduction in volume I’ve had this winter is giving me a mental break that I really need before starting a tough training program in the spring.
3. Watch the weather like a hawk. This is kind of obvious, but it bears mentioning. I always check the weather as I’m making my tentative workout schedule on Saturday or Sunday. If the weather is supposed to be very cold over the weekend, I’ll plan to get a longer bike ride in during the week. If it’s supposed to be very cold during the week, I’ll plan to skip the weekday bike ride in favor of another day of Masters swim team. And I watch the weather during the week, too. If a predicted storm system moves up a day or two, I adjust my plans accordingly. I do the same if its arrival is postponed. I always have at least four cities in my weather app—Murray (where I live), Salt Lake City (where Rob lives), Lehi (where I work), and Nampa (where my family lives). That way, I can always check the weather of the specific city where a particular workout will occur.
4. Have a floating rest day. Even if you watch the weather, nothing is 100% predictable in the winter. Just last week, I wanted to go on a bike ride. The temperature wasn’t horribly cold, but the wind was cold and strong and shifted the conditions from “go for a short bike ride” to “stay inside and watch bad television.” It wasn’t a huge deal because I had already been swimming that day. But if I had been forced by the weather to take a rest day or work out inside when I had been counting on an outdoor ride, I would have been disappointed. A floating rest day helps alleviate some of that pressure. There’s two ways you can do this. You can work in one non-negotiable rest day and then allow yourself one more “off” day if the weather doesn’t cooperate (if the weather does cooperate, you get a bonus workout!) or you can place your rest day towards the end of the week and allow yourself to take it earlier if you need to. That’s what I do. I typically take Friday as my rest day. But if the weather is particularly bad any other day of the week, I can take that day off, completely guilt-free, and shift my workouts accordingly. (Being a triathlete, I have a little bit of an advantage over pure runners or pure cyclists. If the weather really is terrible, but I want to get a hard workout in without resorting to a treadmill or trainer, I can hit up the pool.)
5. Wear appropriate clothing. I mean, duh. But this is where I get to show off all my fun exercise clothes.* When it comes to working out, I run really warm. During off-season winter practices in college, my coach was always trying to get me to put on some long pants because I’d get through the warm-up and then be in my shorts and t-shirt doing sprints in cold weather. So keep that in mind while I discuss my typical clothing choices. For running, my top of choice is a jacket from Costco. Seriously. It’s the Kirkland Signature™ Ladies’ Full Zip Active Yoga Jacket, and it’s great. I love that it’s long and that the sleeves have a little cuff that can flip over and cover your hands. I don’t run with gloves (it creates a weird sensation for me that I can’t handle), and I have long arms, so long sleeves (to cover my hands) are a must for me. I used to run in sweatshirts that were too big for me so I could pull the sleeves down. Now I just wear this, by itself if the temperatures are in the 30s and with a second layer if it’s colder. I don’t wear anything fancy on my lower half. I wear my cycling tights with the option of adding another pair of running tights or a pair of regular sweats on top. I double up on socks for my feet and use my cycling headband to keep my ears warm.
Cycling in cold weather is a little more complicated. My most recent test was a short (and sunny and dry) 28° ride. For a cold-weather jersey, I will sing the praises of the Castelli Gabba jersey until I take my last breath. It’s wind-proof and water-resistant, and it’s amazing. I was perfectly comfortable in just my Gabba jersey and my Craft base layer riding in 28°. The real beauty of the Gabba, though, is its versatility. I have worn the Gabba in temperatures up to 40° and have been comfortable. When I hit those higher temperatures, I wear it by itself, open the side vents, and unzip it slightly. It’s really expensive (I got mine as a gift), but since the technology has now been around a few years, other companies are coming out with their own versions of it that may be cheaper.
My legs thus far have been fine with a pair of fleece-lined cycling tights over cycling shorts and knee warmers. Again, when I wore this on my 28° ride, I felt comfortable and like I could have gone on a much longer ride and been fine.
Really, extremities are the hardest to properly protect in cold weather rides. Your core and your legs warm up as you ride because of the effort you are exerting, but your head, feet, and hands don’t. So far, I’ve only used a head band to keep my head warm, but in the future, I’ll probably some sort of full cap and something to keep my neck and face warmer. Full disclosure: I will probably not buy these things. I will probably borrow them from my boyfriend.
My hands were fine with my winter gloves, but if I wanted to ride in much colder weather, I’d probably have to get lobster gloves. Lobster gloves are pretty much cycling specific. They put two fingers together in each finger-pocket (I honestly have no idea what word to use, but hopefully you understand what I mean) to help produce more warmth. Full mittens would be warmer but are not realistic when you are cycling and need to shift gears and have some dexterity.
Toe covers for your shoes won’t cut it in the winter. You pretty much need a full booties to ride long distances in the cold weather. I will preface this by saying that I haven’t tried them yet, but I do have a pair of neoprene shoe covers that just arrived in the mail. I’m waiting for a nasty day to try them out. With a good pair of booties and a warm pair of wool socks, you should be set for some reasonably long rides in sub-30° weather without any issues.
Winter here in Salt Lake has been quite mild so far, and because of that, I’ve been handling it like a champ. I’ve only had to do one indoor workout (besides swimming) so far, and that was because of timing/logistics and not because of the weather. The real test for me will come as the weather gets colder (and it likely will get colder in January and/or February) and I increase my training volume.
*No one paid me money or gave me anything to mention their gear. It’s all just stuff that I use/love.