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Ironman Training

Triathlon Training in the Winter

This photo is not of Phoenix, but it can get pretty cold here in the winter. Photo by NOAA Photo Library (Creative Commons License).

It’s 201 days until Ironman Mont Tremblant 2021, just over seven months until race day. There are very few valid excuses for not doing a workout, and “It’s cold” is not one of them. Suck it up, Buttercup. Triathlon training means training in the cold.

My triathlon coach, David Roher, has recommendations for when his athletes can switch from wearing shorts to tights. When I’m doing a long workout, I dress based on the temperature it’s expected to be at the end of the workout. Actually, I like feeling a bit cold when I start my workout. It helps me notice when my body warms up during the workout, and there is less risk of overheating.

Swimming in the Cold

I train at an outdoor pool. Thankfully, it’s heated. They say that the pool thermostat is set for 82 degrees. What’s not heated is the area outside the facility’s door where I wait for the place to open while standing in flip flops.

The most uncomfortable part of winter swimming is the few minutes after I’ve stripped off my sweats and I’m sitting on the edge on the pool putting on my swim cap and googles before getting into the water. That ground is cold against my butt.

A few weeks ago, the heater was on the fritz over the weekend, and when I arrived to swim on Monday morning, the water was only 72 degrees. That was chilly, but still nothing compared to how cold it’s likely going to be in Lake Tremblant on race. The race is expected to be “wetsuit legal” and “booties legal.”

Biking in the Cold

Cycling outside in the winter is when I notice the cold the most. When you ride, you generate your own wind, and then there is also a headwind for half my ride. I also prefer to ride at sunrise (the coldest part of the day), and get my workout done early in the day. The path where I ride has a lot of shadows, and so it takes a while for the ground and surrounding area to warm up.

Coach David’s recommendation is to wear tights if the temperature is below 50 degrees. I’ve been riding up to three hours at a time, and in the cold, that means cycling tights, a long-sleeve shirt, cycling gloves (with full fingers), and heavy socks. Unlike sneakers, the tops of cycling shoes are open. Before I switched to heavy socks, my toes got so cold on these early morning rides, sometimes I couldn’t feel them.  

Running in the Cold

Coach David’s recommendation is to wear shorts until the temperature drops below 40 degrees. I recently modified this rule to allow tights if the weather report says it feels like it’s below 40 degrees. (I live in the desert for a reason. I’m not a fan of being cold.)

Right now, my run workouts are less than five miles each, so even when it’s cold, I’m not outside for very long. It was a different story a few years ago when I was training for a marathon in January.

I have access to treadmills, but I don’t like running on them. It’s so boring. I call them they human hamster wheel. I much rather run outside, even when it’s cold, windy, or raining. The same is true when it’s hot and humid in the summer.

Open Water Swim Training Update

After a brutal swim at the Half Ironman in Maine last year, I knew I’d be spending part of my off season practicing open water swimming. In the pool, I can see where I’m going, I have my own lane space, and I can put my feet down whenever I want. Open water swimming is the opposite of all that, plus I’m in a wetsuit. Mine has a lower neckline compared to other wetsuits, but it’s snug against my neck, especially when I rotate my body to be parallel to the ground to swim. I always have to remind myself that my wetsuit isn’t strangling me. (I’m really sensitive about things touching my neck.)

I did the Splash and Dash at Tempe Town Lake a few months ago. It had four race options:

  • Swim 1,000 meters, Run 5K
  • Swim only, 2,000 meters
  • Swim 2,000 meters, Run 5K
  • Swim only, 4,000 meters

I suspect the real purpose of this event is to give the people doing Ironman Arizona a few weeks later a chance to swim the length in the race (4,000 meters) in the lake where there’ll be swimming on race day. I signed up for the 2,000-meter, swim only.

Tempe Town Lake – Image by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale from Flickr (Creative Commons License) – No, I did not get poisoned or super powers from swimming in this water.

I arrived at the lake at 6:50 a.m., checked in, and strapped my timing chip to ankle. The air temperature was 58 degrees. The water was 63. The 2,000-meter swim started at 7:32 a.m. They invited us to jump in a little before race time to “splash about” and get used to water temperature. Yeah, no thanks. I was only getting in that water once.

The race route was a 1,000-meter rectangle. Each person did one, two, or four laps depending on which event they signed up for. Like Maine, there were kayakers and paddle boarders throughout the route to help any swimmer who got in trouble. Shortly after I started swimming – 2:19 according to my Garmin – I grabbed onto a kayak, trying not to panic. (There’s something about feeling my wetsuit against my neck coupled with being hit by other swimmers that triggers my “fuck this” response.)

I told the friendly volunteer in the kayak, that I was panicking and he asked an insightful question, “Has this happened before?” That actually helped me calm down a bit. I took a minute to take some deep breaths and compose myself, and then continued with the race.

Once, I calmed down, running into other swimmers wasn’t as big of a deal. After one collision I remember saying, “Oops, that’s your butt.” The rest of the race felt pretty good. I worked on my spotting (trying to swim in a straight line by aiming at landmarks). A good rule is to check your spot every 2 strokes. I was doing it every 10, because I don’t like how spotting breaks up my cadence.

I finished the 2,000-meter swim in 45:03, 17 minutes faster than my time at Maine 70.3. The cut-off time for the swim for the full Ironman is 2 hours, 20 minutes (140 minutes). That’s encouraging to see that I’m on track to have a good swim at Ironman Mont Tremblant this summer.

I still need to work on not panicking when I first hit the water. I hope to do a few more open water group swims before the race.