It’s that busy time of year again, where there are festive parties and gatherings to attend left, right and centre; various events and celebrations cropping up and you have promised yourself that this year will be different! You won’t stop training, grow a belly, lose all your fitness before the New Year, and drink yourself into oblivion with all your loved ones. There are a few things that I find helpful to combat the inevitable December decline, that may help you along if you wish to avoid it – maybe you don’t and want a rest!
Try and stick to your training schedule
You have probably got a social calendar bursting with parties, catch-ups, shopping trips, etc. this month, but one of the best (and hardest) things you can do is to balance all of these events, whilst maintaining your training schedule as much as possible. It goes without saying that with friends and family travelling to see each other, you don’t want to miss out on seeing those close to you. However, if you are prepared to be a little bit busy, fairly committed and flexible, you can keep it all up. I will use my weekly training schedule as it stands at the moment to begin to explain. See below.
Monday: Rest from racing or long distance training at the weekend.
Tuesday: Morning – swimming pace training in the pool (between 2000-2500m). Evening – running pace training with Burnham Joggers (if training for longer distance events, I will run to the track/club, so between 5-10 miles).
Wednesday: Evening – turbo trainer session at home (approx. 10 miles hard effort).
Thursday: Evening – running with Burnham Joggers (sometimes hill sessions, 5-10 miles).
Friday: Morning – swimming pace session at the pool (2000-2500m).
Saturday: Morning – Parkrun (if I am not working, or have a race at the weekend; 3 miles), event, or long run.
Sunday: Morning: Event, cross country, or long run.
As you can see, my training schedule is fairly busy, and I am training almost every day. I have to fit my training in around a physical 8-5 job, and although I am no pro and still have a lot to learn, I have become quite good at juggling 3 sports, a full-time job, running club committee commitments and my social life.
The best thing to do around the festive period is to try and plan ahead as much as possible. When the dates get announced for work do’s and get-togethers with friends and family, put them in your calendar and then work your training in around them. If you know you are out Saturday night, try and get a session, or a brick session, in before you go out. A late Sunday workout can be your compromise if you are feeling a bit worse for wear the next day. Whatever it is, make your plan and stick to it. Or, if you don’t mind having a quiet one every now and again, offer to drive, or just have a couple, so that you have a clear head the next day. The choice is yours. You know what you need to do!
Have someone to train with
An important part in continuing with any kind of training any time of the year is staying motivated. One of the best ways that you can achieve this is by finding a person, some people, or a club to train with. It is so much harder to stay in bed early in the morning, or remain cuddled under a blanket with the central heating, when you know that there is someone else waiting to train with you.
Swimming sessions for me are now all indoors, as the lakes have closed down for the winter. So in the pool, my training partner is my friend, Andy. He’s been swim training with me from the start of my triathlon journey, and is a great motivator, making sure that I stay on pace. He has got to know how I train and the best ways to keep my attention on the pace when I need it. For example, when we train at 6am, there are usually the same people in the pool and you get to know who is running at what pace and you can work around this.
Most people just get in and swim for an hour, then get out, however this is not useful training for a triathlete. We do sets of varying distances to keep it interesting from session to session, but focused with a finish goal, as well as technique sessions. As I am training for sprint distance, I need to focus on a 750m swim. The plan is to work over an 800m distance, to give me a little extra in the bag and it is more manageable to divide, e.g. 8 x 100m, 4 x 200m, 2 x 400m, 1 x 800m.
This can work to our advantage as well as our disadvantage. I like to train around one lady in particular, who is now running at a similar pace to me as someone to chase, or keep off my tail and I think the feeling is mutual with her. However, others can get in the way at a slower pace sometimes, and unfortunately don’t always want to let you pass, which can eat at your session sometimes. Additionally, if you wanted to train 8 x 100m on 2:00 – that is to complete 100m in under 2 minutes, and the remaining amount of time left is your rest, i.e. a 1:45 100m earns you a 15 second rest, whereas a 1:52 will only earn you 8 seconds – you can sometimes get caught either behind a slower swimmer, or you can’t find the right gap to go again in. We are currently looking for a solution to this, as the faster lane is even busier than the one we use so that may not be the solution either.
Cycling training is something that goes slightly against what I have just spoken about, but is something I can get on with because of my background. Cycling is something I have always done since I was younger – we would go on camping holidays as a family and would go on day rides around the area, as well as around the campsites in the day. I have done a few 100km (62 miles) bike rides as organised events and some just for fun(!), as well as Ride London this year – a 100 mile cycling event around London and Surrey hills. Some members of my running club have also formed a little group that go out for rides between 30-60 miles on average at the weekends which is generally really good fun, sociable and usually involves a nice stop somewhere like the “no car café”!
On top of all of this, when I joined the gym a couple of years ago, I got talked into partaking in an indoor cycling class. It made you sweat loads, I could get my teeth stuck in, it was tough and made me sore; so naturally, I couldn’t get enough of it! I got involved in going to those probably 2-3 times a week, until the instructor announced he was leaving to have a career change. With a slight fear of the dreaded unknown instructor that might come along, and a thirst for new skills, I inquired about becoming an instructor. Within a month I was sat on a 2 day Spinning® course one weekend, trying to qualify to be an instructor. I passed the clinic, spent a few weeks practicing by bullying my work colleagues and boyfriend into coming along to the gym out of class hours to help me practice, and soon I had my own class.
I was an instructor at the gym for a year, until there was an unfortunate falling out with the management, when they started messing me around, and I decided my time could be spent training for other things, like 100 mile bike rides! I never regret that year, though, as it gave me the tools to create training sessions that are relevant to what I need, more information and a better skill set for exercise physiology and cycling in general and it gave me more confidence as a life skill. I can now apply all of this over the winter with my turbo trainer.
I know, *groan*, the turbo trainer! Unfortunately for me, this is a staple for the winter, unless I stop cycling for a few months, as I suffer with Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is a condition of which my understanding is that the blood vessels in my hands and feet are too small, so when they get cold, or it gets cold outside (I don’t always feel the cold when it happens), I lose blood circulation in my extremities. This means that when I am cycling, the first point of contact with the air is my hands, which, believe it or not, will still lose circulation through 3 pairs of warm gloves, which is no good if you are trying to brake or change gear! My feet go numb and are much more difficult to pedal, then eventually start to burn – it will probably take an hour of gradually warming them up and walking on them before they go back to normal.
Anyway, all of this means that for the winter, rather than repeating last year and attempting a 30 mile bike ride and only managing 8 before turning around because I couldn’t use my hands or feet (in October!), I have to retire to the indoors. I have adapted many of my Spinning® designed classes to work on my turbo trainer. It’s something I can quite happily grind away at, and the one thing that for a few months, I will self-motivate to complete. There are various training aids that are used by several people I know with their turbo trainers, which seem to be quite effective, but I have never used them myself, so would not like to comment on their effectiveness. Joining a cycling club is also the other option for those of you who can get away with putting on extra layers!
Running is a very easy one in my opinion. I used to run by myself, in the dark, alone and struggled to stay motivated. I had enough last year and joined a local running club, Burnham Joggers. It is the best thing I could have done for motivating myself over the winter and for training from then on. I never knew how many things there were to get involved in other than races! We participate in a cross country league from November into February, as well as the Staggered Jog once a month, various members doing different Parkruns every Saturday, lots of members entering local (as well as not-so-local events), and a club championship, where a huge amount of club members descent upon 15 chosen races to compete for the title.
Not only that, but in the Summer, there is a 5k series competing against other clubs, and social events such as Running Scrabble (we will get to that one one day)! How can you stay bored with all of that going on? There are so many wonderful, encouraging and lovely people in my club, that I can just never look back. Also, there is always someone that you can talk into participating in some silly race you have found, coming along to support you, or others who are training with the same goals as you are. What could go wrong?
Have a goal or target
Another important thing is to have something to reach for. Whether it is to complete a distance by a certain time (8 weeks to 5k, for example), complete a race, beat a PB, or even shift a bit of weight; there is always something for you to aim for. Having a purpose will always help drive you along and telling people about it as well will push you to completing it, so make sure it is both achievable and something you want!
Studies have proven that if you tell people what you are trying to achieve, you are more likely to succeed, as you don’t want to appear as a failure to the people you have told. It is important to enjoy your training, in addition to having your mind set on something. If you are sore, injured or ill, listen to your body and don’t worry too much about missing one workout. You will recover faster from resting off and coming back to it. Do not try and bump up the mileage too much because you have missed sessions, either. Continue with the plan, and you will do just as well.
This part may have peaked your interest slightly, however I am not just talking about pigging out. Although there is nothing wrong with doing this every now and again, it is not good for reaching your goals if you have poor nutrition. Sometimes, it is nice to say to yourself, “when I finish this training session, I can have this chocolate bar”, or whatever your preferred treat is, but it is equally as important to stay on track.
You can reward yourself in so many other ways. If you are fixated on food rewards, choose a favourite healthy/healthier snack of yours, such as avocado on toast, a home-blended smoothie with your favourite fruits/vegetables in, or peanut butter and apple. If you aren’t too worried about filling up on snacks to give yourself a pat on the back, there are still other ways you can reward yourself.
Some people have been known to put money in a pot based on mileage, e.g. for running, 10p a mile if you are running high mileage, or maybe 50p a mile if you don’t head out too far. Once you have a nice kitty stored up, you can splash out on a new pair of trainers, or some new sports gear. Another idea is to book in for a massage, or to delay your rewards over a week or month, so that when you have completed a certain distance, or met your criteria, you can treat yourself to a bubble bath, a day out, a gift to yourself, etc. This will help not only to power you on during your training, but improve your motivational skills.
There are so many websites to help keep you motivated nowadays, as well as various brands of watches. Watch-wise, I am rather biased towards Garmin, although there are plenty of other good brands, such as Tom Tom, Suunto, Polar, and for some a FitBit (although that is the only one I am not a fan of). Garmin has an online community called Connect, where you can follow others using Garmin watches, compare and read all of your activity data, rank PBs and much more.
The most popular website, I think is Strava – here is a brief look at it (I do not have the premium function). On here, you can create and join clubs, where you can compete in a leaderboard for distance, time on your feet and climbs. You can upload your content automatically from your watch software, which is pretty handy, and then you can give and receive ‘kudos’ (a thumbs up to someone) and comment too. There are also segments, which are parts of routes that people have selected, where you can race against yourself and others. The final motivational feature on here that I think is a highlight, is the monthly challenges, covering distances and climbing feet.
Another I have used is Map My Run. This is similar to Strava, however the challenges on here earn you badges and come in all forms. This can be from covering distance to completing a number of activities of all kinds, and you can pit yourself against your friends to complete them first.
My other personal favourite is Running Heroes. This is another website that can upload straight from all of the above mentioned applications and a few others. You earn points for every run (and bike ride) that you complete, which you can redeem for discounts off events, sports brands (Speedo, 2XU, Adidas, etc.) nutrition, and various other items/services such as magazine subscriptions, hotel rooms, etc. They offer 2 challenges per week, where you are required to either earn a number of points, or run a set distance over the week. You can win various things including but not limited to sports clothing and gear, race entries and food/nutrition products. So far, after joining this year, I have won some Bamboo socks, a tub of Oppo ice cream and a free entry into Ride London 100. There are also sometimes limited offers to use a large number of points to gain a free entry into a race, such as London Winter Run, New York or Paris Marathons, and lots more.
I hope this helps at least one person over the winter!