Off season. A time for relaxing. Recovering. Enjoying the festivities.
Off season. Cold. Wet. Long winter miles.
Ah yes, the irony of the off season. In principle, it sounds like an athletes holiday. In reality, it’s when the majority of the tough grind and hard slog is done. And if you’re a northern hemisphere dweller it also conveniently coincides with winter. Bliss.
As an elite athlete, I have the luxury of freedom. Freedom to escape the harsh winters when it sleets in your face for 4 hours straight for one ride too many. Freedom to explore lands that have daylight before 9am and after 3pm. Freedom from bib-longs and frozen thermal undies. Yes, I’ve roamed the globe in search of the eternal summer, and although I’ve yet to explore its entirety, I’ve been lucky enough to experience some pretty nice spots over the years.
So these are my top picks for winter training destinations. Pros and cons included where necessary.
Potchefstroom, South Africa
Located a few hours outside of Johannesburg, this small university town is a bit of a Mecca with elite athletes, especially track and field. Southern hem means it’s hot and sunny during our winter months, with the added bonus of sitting around 1500m above sea level; just high enough to reap some altitude gains. Perfectly manicured grass tracks and cricket ovals, along with endless dirt tracks, make for low impact running that’s varied and interesting. The cycling is manageable, good for SA I’m told, if you can tolerate flat, out and back riding. You need to stick to the quieter roads to avoid drivers who are unfamiliar with sharing the road with bikes. There are several outdoor swimming pools around the town, although cleanliness is questionable. We favoured the 25m at the sports complex hotel.
The town itself is small, but there are a few nice cafes and coffee spots and some great restaurants to get some good South African steak. The locals were welcoming, I generally felt safe, and the lack of jet lag is definitely a win!
Easier to say than you think, this costal city is around 75minutes south of Sydney airport. It boasts beautiful beaches and coastline and is easily accessible from the big smoke, minus all the chaos and traffic that comes with Sydney on a day to day basis.
Its summers are warm and enjoyable, and the ocean heats up enough for some great open water swimming. One of my favourite features of the area are the free to access ocean pools all along the coast. Ocean filled and 50m, you often get waves crashing in while your swimming which adds an element of interest to your normal session! Cycling is good, but be prepared for Australian drivers to be impatient and rude. If you follow the coast North you end up in the beautiful National Park with some great climbs and better views.
Head south for rolling hills, quieter roads and some landscapes that always remind me of home. If you’re prepared to run up and down mountains and risk snake sightings, there’s some brilliant trail running around the area, but if like me that’s not your scene, then it’s best to stick to the ocean side bike path, which can be repetitive, but the views make up for it somewhat.
Wollongong is great if you’re able to get away for a good few weeks, and are looking for somewhere with more than just triathlon going on. Check out Eat Street every Thursday evening in the centre of town for local street food and live music.
The major benefit is that this Spanish costal town is pretty close to home, and just a short flight from the UK to either Alicante or Murica. This does, however, mean that warm sunshine isn’t guaranteed, but you’re probably going to get better weather than home. I’ve visited a few times in January and its always been dry and warm enough to ride in nothing more than jersey, shorts and some arm warmers.
The biggest advantage of Aguilas for me is the cycling. I’ve always really enjoyed the variety in terrain available, from flat-ish coastal roads to rolling hills and mountain climbs. The road surface is good and generally really quiet in the winter months. The running is average, but from my experience of Spain, pretty standard. If you’re prepared to explore a little you can find lots of gravel trails around the infamous cabbage fields surrounding the town, but beware of yappy guard dogs, and getting a bit lost in the never changing landscape!
Swimming is limited in the sense that there is one 25m indoor pool; you’ll want to book lanes in advance or risk the pretty fresh sea, that’s doable if you’re brave!
There’s plenty of traditional Spanish restaurants to enjoy of an evening, and a 1euro cortado with Spanish tortilla is never far away. I’ve always enjoyed a couple of mid winter weeks in Aguilas, and recommend it if you prefer something quieter.
Lanzarote, Canary Islands
The first time I visited one of the more popular sports resort in Lanzarote, I was new to triathlon and naive beyond measure, not quite ready for the world I was entering into. Within a few hours of arriving, I called home slightly bemused, slightly terrified, reporting that I’d landed into some sort of compression clad Butlin’s on crack, or more specifically, on too many caffeine spiked energy gels. It was windy, the people were eccentric, I was overwhelmed, and I hated it!
However, I have since visited many times and my opinion of the Island and this resort specifically, has dramatically changed. It’s convince is significant. Multiple 50m pools to choose from, fitness centres, running tracks, breakfast buffets, dinner buffets, poolside bars, all literally on your doorstep. There are gravel trails that run for miles, and the cycling is scenic and varied if you’re prepared to endure the signature canary winds. Yes it’s fitness mad, and you’ll probably be woken most mornings at 7 by U2’s “Its a Beautiful Day” blasting out from the morning “Stretch” session, but everyone’s friendly really, and lets be honest, if you’re there you’re probably just as eccentric as the rest of them.
So Happy Holiday-ing, ummm, errr, Training I mean…
The winter grind doesn’t have to be completely miserable!
Non Stanford. October 2018.
Non Stanford is a British professional triathlete, the 2013 ITU Triathlon World Champion and an ambassador for Pedalcover.