When I think about training in bad weather conditions it brings back memories of when I started Triathlon in the UK last year with Boxfit Triathlon Club. I have visions of leaving 10 minutes early to defrost the car before getting to the lake for an open water swim in 13 degree water that takes your breath away as you submerge and then surface with yellow hands and feet. The mornings spent installing mud guards to prevent the cold, wet muddy water from ruining your ride. So when I moved to Sydney, one of the most ideal places to train for Triathlon I was surprised to feel so lonely training outside on bad weather days. So it got me thinking as to whether I was the crazy one training outside and why do so many choose alternative training methods during bad weather? Most people in Sydney can probably confirm that this summer's weather was unusually less predictable than most years. I've continuously heard the disappointment in the voices of many athletes with reference to the excessive rain over the past few months. So the question as a triathlete is "should I go out and train in bad weather or take the alternative". Primarily for triathlon we face this dilemma when we have a cycle or open water swim on the program. Most us don't mind a run in the wet, so why do we not swim in the ocean during bad weather or go out on the bike? Is it just a safety thing, are we anxious about getting sick or are we just being a bit precious?
So far since moving to Australia I would say that a fair amount triathletes seem to take the wind trainer option in bad weather, but is it always necessary and would be benefit from training in these conditions? Perhaps having spent decades training in the UK I am more conditioned for the rain and cold weather (not that I haven't had my share of falls when cycling in the wet and cold). I do feel it has prepared me well for varied racing conditions and unexpected occurrences in triathlon. I feel super comfortable on the bike now and when in choppy water on the swim leading to confidence in most conditions.
No doubt many accomplished athletes opt to stay inside or rearrange their schedule during bad weather, so of course it works, and lots of athletes actually use the wind trainer in good weather as regular training method. My thought is whether the benefits of training outside outweigh the alternative methods? Lets be honest, a lot of things during a race can put you off track and mentally affect your performance, so why don't we take these poor weather opportunities to get stuck in with a tough session. I was lucky enough to witness Alistair Brownlee destroy the field at Beijing World Championship Final in 2011, his aggressiveness and willingness to work hard in poor weather conditions was inspiring in Beijing. We all know he is a great athlete but so many other top performers seemed not to race as well in the poor weather conditions, and increasing the ITU season last year had many other races where rain was a heavy feature. So maybe its time to start getting specific and get outside in the bad weather.
The other consideration is can you achieve as much on a wind trainer/ in the pool as out on the road/ ocean? I feel that a good session in poor weather conditions on the bike improves my bike skills, allows me to mentally focus more on the session due to safety considerations and to be honest, toughens me up. A good swim in choppy conditions can make some anxious but prepares you well for the hustle and bustle of a competitive age group race.This allows you to feel prepared for most situations that may be placed in front of you in a competition. Physiologically I believe you can and maybe even more, but it is localised and is lacks specificity and to be blunt it limits the mental stimulation of training outside. I believe you miss all the other little benefits of training outside. When the bike is such a vital part of long distance triathlon racing why chose to sit indoors on a wind trainer with limited mental stimulation, isn't this a wasted opportunity to improve mental perseverance?
So whether to train outside or not? I'm sure there are pro's and con's for both under differing circumstances and the experience of the athlete can count for a lot. I'll definitely keep reaching for the rain jacket and wetsuit to try to train as specifically as possible and enjoy the graft of taking on the bad weather (taking the tumbles as I go).