Stay Safe This Winter

Triathletes love outdoor training; challenging long-distance sessions are vital for maintaining a strong aerobic base for next season. However, being out in all conditions inevitably presents certain hazards. Here's our guide to staying safe while keeping fit in the months to come.

Safety in numbers

As well as providing motivation for going out in bad weather, cycling in groups makes you much more visible, but there are a few rules you need to follow. "The most important thing to remember is that by riding in front of someone you are blocking their view of the road ahead and they have to rely on you to indicate hazards," says Anne Fuller, a triathlete who has represented Great Britain and completed five Ironman events. "So you need to use a combination of hand signals and voice to indicate hazards."

Going the distance

If you're planning a long run or bike ride, David Tilbury-Davis, a Level III triathlon coach, recommends that you carry a mobile phone in a waterpoof bag - it won't be much use if it gets soaked in a sudden downpour. "And ensure it is programmed with a contact called ICE, which stand for In Case of Emergency, as emergency services will look for this," he says.

"Also, carry some change for emergency rations." Tilbury-Davis also suggests letting a friend or relative know how long you plan to be out and asking them to ring your home to check that you're back.

All about the bike

It's not just you that has to be looked after during the winter months, your gear also needs some consideration. And there is little point dragging out your competition bike for training in harsh conditions. "Think of the beautiful paintwork on your best racing bike all covered in mud, and your best wheels ploughing through the floods," says Fuller. "A cheap training bike is a useful piece of kit at this time of year and your cycling will benefit from riding something which is not as light and responsive as your racing bike. Ideally, buy secondhand - it doesn't not have to look good, it just has to have a good-quality groupset that will last longer than cheaper components."

Slippery when wet

If you only have one bike, Fuller recommends replacing slick summer tyres with tyres that are wider (around 23mm) and have a better tread, since they'll be safer on treacherous roads. "And I recommend SPD-type shoes that allow you to walk normally, as metal cleats on icy roads are far too dangerous," she says.

Take a break

Getting away from the misery of the British winter to train in the sun is a great way to put a spring in your step - but not if you push yourself too fast and too hard, as you run the risk of injury. You'll get the most out of a training break if you remember that you are there to train for races - not to 'win' the training sessions. "Take rest days if you need them - you are not being a wimp, just listening to your body," says Fuller. "And if the main groups are riding at the wrong pace for you, form your own sub-groups - I have had a thoroughly enjoyable time riding with 'group 2B' in the mountains and doing the more challenging rides without killing myself."

Turbocharged training

Triathletes are hardy souls but, there are some days when it's best to stay indoors. "If there is ice on the roads, I don't ride outside," says 2008 ITU World Champion Helen Jenkins. "I crashed a few times in the ice last winter so now I stay inside on the turbo. Although it can be boring, it's just not worth risking it." Tilbury-Davis agrees that turbo training can be tedious, but believes this can help you build mental toughness as well as fitness. "Many athletes from northern states in the US do just fine with this approach during winter," he says.

Thirsty work

It's easy to forget the fluids when training in the cold because we sweat less and often don't feel as thirsty. However, according to Dr Garry Palmer, co-author of Cycling: Successful Sportives, we also lose body fluid from vapour lost in the breath. "The majority of this fluid is coming from your blood, and as the blood volume drops it will cause a rise in your heart rate, circulatory distress and a reduced ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles," says Palmer. "Significantly, a two per cent loss in body mass through sweating will cause as much as a 20 per cent drop in performance levels." So keep drinking, even if there's ice forming on your drinks bottle.

Be prepared

In autumn and winter the weather can change rapidly, so even if you set off on a bright, sunny afternoon you could soon find yourself running or cycling in poor visibility. "You need to be prepared for changing weather," says Ironman triathlete Anne Fallows. "I always make sure I go out in a waterproof, reflective jacket and gear that is as bright as possible." According to Thames Valley Police, wearing fluorescent clothing gives drivers three extra seconds' reaction time, which is the same distance as 23 family cars, and could mean the difference between life and death.

Layer up

If you feel cold before you start, your muscles will also be cold, which can increase your chance of injury. "I wear lots of layers when it's really cold; you can always take them off once you warm up," says Fallows. "And it's a good idea to start off more slowly than normal to allow extra time for your muscles to warm up."

Shine on

Putting lights on your bike is not just essential for your safety - it is a legal requirement. According to Ben Matthews, a Police Constable Support Officer, it doesn't matter if you go for flashing or fixed lights, as long as you have a white light on the front and a red one on the back, and they are clearly visible. "You can't put a price on your life, so the more you spend, the better quality lights you'll get, so it's worth investing money in them," he says. There is a huge variety of lights and reflective kit on the market. Turn to page 58 for a selection of the best kit to be seen in this winter.

Protect yourself

Even when it's freezing outside don't be tempted to swap your helmet for a woolly hat. "It might make you feel much warmer, but it's not going to protect your head if you crash," says Jenkins. "Instead, wear a thin hat or Buff underneath your helmet."

Matthews also recommends wearing glasses, even in low-light conditions, as certain lenses (such as persimmon) will amplify low or flat light and protect your eyes from debris. "You should also always wear gloves, even if you start to feel very warm, as you are more likely to slip on the road in winter conditions. If you fall off, the first thing you put down is your hands," he says.

Stop the music

When running in the dark, it's best if you leave the MP3 player at home. Wearing headphones can muffle the noise of oncoming cars, cyclists, dogs or any other potential threat. However, if you are determined to run to music when you're outside, be extra vigilant when crossing roads. Better still: when the weather's filthy save the music for treadmill running or turbo training.

Vary your routes

Not only will following the same routes every day become very boring for you and cause your training to plateau it could also put you at risk, especially when running in the dark. You're more vulnerable to assailants if your movements are predictable so try to vary the times you go out and the routes you take. "Use your common sense and try to run along well-lit roads and pathways," says Matthews. "And if you do run a regular route let someone know where you're going, or run with someone else - it provides motivation as well as safety." Or you could do what Fallows does and run with your dog.

Feet first

If you plan to run off-road, or just want to ensure you have extra grip for wet or icy roads, it's a good idea to invest in trail shoes and save your trainers for drier conditions. "I do a lot of muddy off-road running in the winter, so I switch to trail shoes rather than regular trainers as they have a bit more grip," says Jenkins.

Bright ideas

It's no secret that triathletes love buying new kit, so when the nights start to draw in, indulge in some guilt-free shopping by treating yourself to some new stay-safe gear. When it's dark or gloomy, it's a good idea to light yourself up like a Christmas tree to ensure you can see and be seen on winter training outings. Here are some ideas to get you started. And don't forget: more is more when it comes to reflective, flashing and fluoro kit. 

Best for trail running

Petzl Ultra, £300
Turn on the daylight at night with this super-bright head torch. Its six LEDs create a 350-lumen, 120m beam of brilliant light that will allow you to pick your way safely over harsh terrain. It comes with rechargeable batteries.

Hilly Deluxe Reflective Bib, £10.99
With 360-degree reflective piping, this reflective bib will help you stand out wherever you run. There's also a useful zip pocket on the front, elasticated side straps and a stuff sack for storing.

Best for commuting

Smart Lunar 15 Light set, £44.99
This new Smart light set offers 15 lux and has a lifetime warranty. The rear light is visible for up to a mile and provides 100 hours of light. Both lights mount without tools.

Sam Browne Reflective Belt, £19.99

This traditional safety sash can be worn over any cycling outfit and has adjustable straps and tough buckles. The yellow colour stands out in daylight hours and the reflective material will show up at night.

Cyberglow, from £1.85
You really can decorate yourself, and bag and bike like a Christmas tree with Cyberglow's reflective danglers and snap-rapps. The neon colours and reflective mayerials are sure to get you noticed.

Hi Viz Respro Hump Flouro, £24.99
Fix this cover to any rucksack or pannier and you'll be easily seen from the back and side. The waterproof fabric will also protect your kit when the rain comes down, while putting a red flashing LED light in the rear mesh pocket will add to your visibility.

Hi Viz Hang tags, £8.99
Dangle these silver tags off a bag or jacket and the movement they make, as well as the reflective material, will get you noticed. The built-in press studs mean you can fix and remove them easily, too.

Best for off-road riding

Nathan Streak Vest, £10.99
Created for runners who find vests uncomfortable or restrictive, this ultra-lightweight vest won't restrict your movements - in fact you won't even notice it's there. But others will.

Lupine Wilma 5, £450
If you need to see rather than be seen when you're riding, you can't beat Lupine's illuminating Wilma lights. There's also a Wilma 7 with a 7.5Ah battery for £499.00 and the Wilma 10 with a 10Ah bottle battery for £550.00.

Best for urban running

Petzl Tikka Plus, £37.50
The new Tikka Plus features a bright white LED as well as a red LED for night vision. On the brightest mode, the white LED delivers 50 lumens and extends 35m, making this a great bit of kit for biking, running and adventure racing.

Hilly Reflective Gilet, £24.99
Available in both men's and women's versions, this gilet is a great-value addition to your winter wardrobe. The lightweight water-repellent fabric will protect you from showers but is breathable if you heat up.

Nathan LED Wrist Runner, £12.99
Visible from a mile away, the flashing LED offers 150 hours of illumination. There's also a useful zip section for keys or change. 

Hi-Viz Nitesight Ankle Band, £14.99
Ankle bands are an excellent way of being seen. This reversible neoprene band is soft, wide and comfortable to wear. Velcro makes it easy to fit. 

also try...

Blackburn Flea £44.99
The Flea got its name because it sucks power from other battery sources. It's also super-light, bright and comes with Blackburn's lifetime warranty. Great when you need your lights to be powerful and portable.

Knog Toad, £22.99
If you have more than one bike, Knog's light range offers you the flexibility to switch the lights between bikes, thanks to its silicon mount and loop system. With five bright white LEDs, the Toad's two flashing speeds and a steady mode can be seen up to 500m away.

Petzl Signal, £12
The ultra-lightweight Signal weighs just 22g and its 180-degree red LED can be seen up to 1000m
away. It's waterproof to up to one metre - in case you take a watery wrong turn or the heavens open -
and it comes with a detachable, adjustable strap and clip, so you can fix it to almost anything.