Beginner’s Guide To Winter Triathlons

author : KevinJonesJJ
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Winter triathlons are a great way to train year round and also train for something different. Winter triathlons include running, mountain biking, and cross country skiing.

 The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and if you haven’t gotten in your 2019 triathlon yet this year, then you might want to consider trying out a winter triathlon.

Participating in a winter triathlon is not for the faint of heart. With the cold factor alone, it is best if you have a decent fitness base before attempting one. However, if you are ready to branch out and try something new, here’s a beginner’s guide to winter triathlons to help you know the difference and prepare successfully to participate in a winter triathlon. 

Difference Between Standard And Winter Triathlons

In a standard triathlon, you have three events: swimming, cycling, and running. But in a winter triathlon, swimming is a terrible idea. So, the swimming portion of the triathlon is swapped out for cross-country skiing in a winter triathlon. Both freestyle and classic skiing are allowed, so you can choose which style of skiing you prefer.

Along with the change in one of the events, both the running and cycling portion of the standard triathlon is different in the winter variant. For instance, while there is a cycling section, it will need to be done on a mountain bike rather than a racing bike. 

You will need wider tires with an aggressive tread, as you will be racing on packed ski trails. The running portion will also occur on snowy trails, though the snow will usually be packed down so that you aren’t wading through snowdrifts.  

Winter Triathlon Race Lengths  

Winter triathlons are growing in popularity, but this type of race isn’t present in all states yet. You can check a triathlon race finder to try and find one near you. But before you start your search, you should consider the length of your prospective winter triathlon. 

The distance is variable even within a defined race, so a winter triathlon will generally be categorized by the distance of two out of three of the events, or by the bike distance. 

The four common winter triathlon race distances are as follows:

  • Short - Similar to a sprint triathlon, the short triathlon has a run of 1-3.9 miles (1.6-6.3K), bike for 5-18.6 miles (8-30K), and cross-country ski for 1.9-3.1 miles (3-5K). 

  • Intermediate - Next race length is the intermediate triathlon, which has a run of 4-8 miles (6.4012.8), bike for 18.7-31 miles (30.1-50K), and cross-country ski for 4.7-7.8 miles (7.5-12.5K).

  • Long - Not generally recommended for your first triathlon, the long winter triathlon, which has a run of 8-18.6 miles (12.9-29.9K), bike for 31.1-62 miles (50.1-99.9K), and cross-country ski for 12.4-18.6 miles (20-30K).  

  • Ultra - Like ultramarathon running, a winter ultra triathlon comes with a good deal of variation. The starting distance to be considered an ultra winter triathlon is a run of 18.7+ miles (30K+), bike for 62.1+ miles (100K+), and cross-country ski for 18.7+ miles (30.1K+).

Safely Train For Your First Winter Triathlon 

As a winter triathlon takes place during the coldest season of the year and involves a different event, there are some things you should be doing to ensure that you are safely training. 

Make sure you have the right gear

Obviously, with the swimming portion of a standard triathlon swapped out for cross-country skiing, there are some gear and equipment adjustments that need to be made. But you may also have to consider adjusting the rest of your triathlon gear.

For instance, if you have a favorite type of road racing shoes, how do they act on slipperier surfaces? You may need to invest in either racing spikes or racing shoes designed for inclement weather. Also, you will need a mountain bike with wide tires—from 2-2.4” width—rather than the sleeker racing bike that many triathletes use. 

Split your training between indoor and outside

To avoid becoming sick or endangering yourself, it is best if you split your triathlon training between outdoor training and exercising inside. A treadmill and a stationary bike are a good one-for-one substitute for your outside workouts, but simulating the cross-country skiing portion of a winter triathlon can be tricky. There are skiing machines you can purchase or hope that your local gym has one, or you can simply use an elliptical.

While the indoor workouts won’t have the same challenging weather conditions as training outside, you can compensate by turning up the resistance on your machines and doing speed workouts on your indoor training days. 

Wear layers while outdoor training

When it comes to exercising outside during the winter, layers are your friends. That way, as you heat up, you can peel off one or two layers then add them back on as you cool down again. Also, the layers help to trap the heat near your body. 

The bottom layer should be a moisture-wicking synthetic fabric, with a heavier wool or fleece layer, topped by a windbreaker to help keep the moisture off. Don’t forget things like gloves, beanies, and facemasks as well while you are out so that you can protect your extremities. 

Bike off-road when possible

Road biking can be dangerous when the conditions are dry and clear. But add in some snow, ice, and wet roads, and it is better if you take your cycling training off-road. That way, if you wipe out, you don’t have to worry about vehicles, just catching your breath. 

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated during your winter triathlon training can be a bit tricky, especially if you aren’t feeling particularly thirsty while working out outside. But, according to research, dehydration is a significant health hazard when it comes to winter training. 

Since your body stays cooler during winter workouts, you may not even notice that you need to drink. So, be sure to carry an insulated water bottle and set up times to pause and drink, whether or not you think you are thirsty. 

Strap on reflective gear and lights

Exercising outside during the winter is not only cold and slippery, but there is also a lot less light. With dawn coming later and the sun setting by 5 pm in many areas, it can be tough to stay safe while you are training. 

To help improve your visibility, be sure to always wear reflective gear and have lights on at least your bike when you exercise outside. Even if you leave when there is still light, night comes quickly in the winter, so be careful.  

By taking the right steps to prepare for your first winter triathlon, you will be able to keep your fitness up throughout the cold season and race the winter blues away. 

Kevin Jones is a long-time writer, a marathoner, and a triathlete-in-training. He enjoys contributing to Beginner Triathlete and promoting products that have benefited him.


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date: November 28, 2019


Kevin Jones has mastered a busy lifestyle with work and fitness combined with family life. He writes offering solutions for personal fitness and time management as well as keeping families fit together by utilizing activities and diet.


Kevin Jones has mastered a busy lifestyle with work and fitness combined with family life. He writes offering solutions for personal fitness and time management as well as keeping families fit together by utilizing activities and diet.

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