Spring Training (supposedly….)
So here we are, the last day of winter has officially passed, we’re into spring training and the first races of the year are just a matter of weeks away. Yet the good old British weather has seen fit to dump another load of snow on us. Winter, it seems, is not ready to give up quite yet and if anything it just seems to be getting colder still!
As humans we’re generally well equipped to deal with the demands of training in heat and the adaptations required to efficiently dissipate excess heat. Conversely, we’re rather poorly adapted to dealing with the rigours and challenges of training in the cold and keeping warm, with only a few unremarkable body responses. Whilst most of us will shiver as the body tries to stay warm, blood vessels in our extremities such as our hands & feet will contract, reducing the blood flow to these areas to try and keep the warm blood at the core, but for the most part core temperature will drop too so preparing correctly is very important. Although we may create extra heat when exercising in the cold there are problems that go along with this, such as the loss of even more heat through sweat and increased breathing rates when we stop.
Many people don’t realise that the additional heat we create when we exercise, and the ease with which we can lose that heat, puts an additional strain on our fuel stores, both when exercising and for recovery. The stress of the cold fires up our sympathetic nervous system which causes us to waste our precious resource of carbohydrates which is why many athletes often find they bonk way before they usually would in normal temperatures. The very dry air which exists at colder temperatures isn’t great for our lungs either, with a greatly reduced water content it’s harder for our lungs to get the air up to body temperature and a higher level of humidity. This in turns mean it’s easier to become dehydrated as we breathe out precious moisture on each breath, bt get very little back from the cold air, especially at increased rates of breathing. Many people are astonished to find how dehydrated they become in the cold but it happens very easily. Given the often reduced rate of sweating, athletes are less inclined to reach for the water bottle, despite breathing out all that water vapour into the cold air. It’s well documented how even a small amount of dehydration causes a decrease in performance levels so staying topped-up is as important as ever in the cold.
Of course first and foremost, it’s most important to tackle your training sessions wearing the right gear. Layer up sensibly for the cold using a proper base layer, insulating layer and windproof outer, along with gloves, hats and/or a neck-buff as required, this will all help keep the core temperature up. Secondly, remember that your hydration and nutrition is just as important as ever, if not more so, in the cold. So make sure you’ve got plenty to drink and plenty of good quality carbohydrate snacks on hand too, and even if you don’t feel like you need it, make sure you drink.
Beyond all that though, sometimes common sense must prevail. When the temperatures are freezing, light is low and horizontal sleet is blowing in your face, maybe it’s just best to stay indoors. If you want/need to train hit the treadmill or turbo-trainer, go to the gym, jump in the pool or do whatever else you can in the comfort and safety of a nice internal environment. I’ve written before about how important consistency in training is, so best not be set back picking up a cold or injury from training in the darkest depths of our British spring!