Winter miles make summer smiles right? But what if you live somewhere like Scotland, where summer is 3 days in March and winter is August, October, November, February, May and June?
It's tempting to sit on the turbo every other day, use the treadmill or stick to the pool, and they all have a place. Winter is the best time for utilising these tools along with strength training.
But if you're training for UK races you have to be prepared for any eventuality. Flashback to the Caledonian Etape May 2012, in what could only be described as a hurricane. A guy stopped me as I was flailing my hands about trying to get some blood back into my fingers so I could actually use my brakes. He offered me some handwarmers for my gloves because his wife had Raynaud's syndrome and he could tell I did too! (Still grateful, whoever you are!)
And let's not even discuss the horror that saw 2 degree water temperature in March 2018 for Red Bull's Neptune's Steps, at the tail end of the Beast from the East. My hands seized up completely after 10 minutes and they are still cold now.
There's really no telling what your race will be like in the UK and the only way to prepare for it is to get outside. You wouldn't enter a mountain marathon without at least running up a few hills in training, so why is braving the British winter weather any different?
Obviously there's a limit as to what is safe, especially on the bike and in the water, but generally it's best practice to get at one bike session a week outside at the very least and most, if not all, of your runs over the winter. And winter swimming, no matter how short a distance, will help you immensely over longer summer swims.
So if you've been hiding away in the gym all winter it's definitely time to think about venturing outside and getting some real vitamin D. Here are some tips to make it easier.
1. A rucksack. "A RUCKSACK Kate? You've lost your mind!" I hear you cyclists cry. "But how will people see my club colours?!". Ok, it doesn't have to be a rucksack if you can stuff things into bike bags and cycling jersey pockets, but I honestly think wearing layers is essential in our country, so what happens when you want to take one off? You need somewhere to put them! I am also obsessed with my arm warmers and thigh length leg warmers, which can easily come off if it gets too hot. They JUST about fit in my jersey pockets, but even better in a wee bag. A good, lightweight running bag with chest straps, waist straps and secure bottle holders is also a must for the longer runs, not just to carry fuel but to carry warm clothes should you need them.
2. Check the weather. I mean, sounds obvious right?! I really like Mountain Weather Information Service even if I'm not going up a hill. It gives a great, detailed overview and is updated daily (but it only really covers Scotland and the mountain regions of England and Wales). Really though, the best thing to do is go outside and make your own judgement! Sometimes a wet, grey, windy day is not actually as bad as it seems from the comfort of your bed, and isn't the rain refreshing 10 miles into your long run? And that 30mph headwind on the bike is the perfect strength workout.
3. Fuel accordingly. If you know it's blowing a hoolie for your long bike or it's freezing on your run, take extra food. How easy is it to head out with a lovely tailwind and speed away from home feeling like Bradley Wiggins, then turn round, feel the true force of the wind and have to battle all the way home, slowing down to a crawl. That's the moment when you need to be able to pop an extra Active Root in your water bottle, to make sure you don't bonk and end up freezing by the side of the road waiting for your other half to pick you up (not that I've ever done that!).
4. Humble brag. What's the point in braving our wonderful British weather if you can't boast about it on social media? Strava, Instagram, Facebook - make sure everyone knows you are tough as nails and enjoy the likes and comments as you sit back at home in your pjs with your cup of hot Active Root and maybe a wee biscuit to go with it! Remember, if it's not on Strava it didn't happen.
So, good luck and remember, stay safe and use common sense. The bragging rights are great but not if it's at the expense of your body or worse, your bike, hitting the deck on a patch of ice.