This fall I reconnected with a training group in the GTA for some small group rides a few times a week. After a spring and summer dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was interesting to see how many athletes were able to take advantage of the lack of racing and other events in 2020.
I was impressed with how many people came into the bike shop I was working at this summer who shared their record-setting training mileage. If you’ve had a great year of endurance training, make use of that fitness to add to your fitness level as you head into the new year.
You do need some equipment and to learn some important tricks of the trade to be able to keep riding outdoors as we head into winter – there aren’t too many countries I know of that offer as challenging riding conditions.
If you are looking to extend your outdoor riding season there is one thing that you cannot look past – clothing. Though I still admire those heading out for a ride in shorts as the temperature dips below 10 degrees, it isn’t always the best plan. Investing in a quality jacket, tights, gloves and shoe covers will make a huge difference and are staples to allow you to ride in colder weather. Many of the same clothes will do you well for winter running or cross country skiing. I have a number of thermal tights and jackets that allow me to participate in a variety of below-zero activities. While many of these outerwear pieces are expensive, they are an invaluable investment for cold weather physical activity.
If you are looking to stay outside after most of your triathlete friends have attached their bikes to an indoor trainer, the most beneficial addition to your triathlon locker is a designated winter bike. Over the past few years I have been fortunate enough to be able to hang up my performance carbon “summer bike” for a designated winter steed equipped with large tires and fenders to tackle the elements. It is great to have a bike you won’t be worried to take out on salt-covered roads. Any bike with large tires and disc brakes is an excellent option for riding outside in the winter. I know I always look forward to breaking up my indoor winter training with a few hours out in the cold and crisp air.
Lights and weather checks:
The fall brings shorter days, so ensuring you have good lights will allow you some more leeway for early morning or late evening rides.
You should also become very good at checking the weather – try to build in some flexibility into your day so you can get out before or after a rain or snow shower, or plan to head indoors for a session if the forecast is calling or a snowstorm or freezing rain.
You can make the most out of the shorter days by incorporating hill climbs or harder efforts into your riding. One hour of quality intervals trumps any two and a half hour ride that is done just for the extra miles, or that you end up simply surviving to say you rode outside. Hill repeats and short loops around your home can be key too winter-riding success – having a quick escape back to warmth is a smart play for those staying outside.
This isn’t the time to skimp on an extra piece of clothing. Be ready for something to happen that might extend your ride. During my career I had to make a few phone calls to a significant other or parent for a pickup 50-plus km from home. Not only is a mask, extra clothing and tire repair kits essential, those can also be the difference between a somewhat cold versus a brutal training session.
While I am sure many triathletes prefer their indoor winter routine, getting outside when the weather permits can provide a welcome break to the tediousness of indoor bike training.
Former national team cyclist Sean Mackinnon won two bronze medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.