Terry Laughlin, founder of Total Immersion swimming method, acknowledges that swimming is often the toughest discipline for triathletes to master.
"Focus first on swimming easier, letting more speed be a natural product of your increased efficiency," he says.
It may not be as simple as it sounds. Some triathletes who are in great shape find themselves completely exhausted after just a few laps.
"So they do yet more laps, hoping it will come," Laughlin says. But if you're an unskilled swimmer, all those laps do is make your struggling skills more enduring. No matter how many laps you do, you'll never have enough fitness to compensate for the energy you waste.
The solution? Invest your time and money in learning proper technique. Attend a clinic. Join a Masters group with experienced coaches. Buy a book on swim technique. Have a friend videotape you swimming.
You don't have to buy a salt machine to bike in the winter. While many people continue to ride outside, there are a number of indoor alternatives that you can do on your own or with a group of fellow triathletes.
Cycling videos have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Spinervals DVDs, created by multisport coach Troy Jacobson, have been around for several years and provide workouts that range from 45 minutes to two hours in duration.
While all 11 of the Spinervals videos have a place in your winter training repertoire, Jacobson recommends the Time Trial and Recovery and Technique videos for triathletes. With one-legged drills and super spin sets, Jacobson says these videos are helpful for triathletes who tend to push high gears.
For longer workouts, try Mental Toughness and Have Mercy, which last 1 1/2 hours and two hours, respectively.
Carmichael Training Systems also has a Train Right line of cycling DVDs. Utilizing the same workout techniques used by Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, these videos are designed to develop climbing power, efficiency and strength.
Beginning with a preliminary field test to establish heart rate zones, the CTS videos concentrate on intensity and RPM. CTS Climbing and CTS Mountain Bike offer intense 60-minute workouts with inspirational footage of the United States Postal Service Cycling Team and the Trek/VW Mountain Bike Team.
If being with a group gets you motivated, invite friends to bring their bikes and trainers over to do a video group session. Or consider regularly taking a Spinning or other indoor-cycling class. Remember to focus on proper form and, if possible, bring your own bike shoes/pedals to class.
Running outside in the winter can be a peaceful experience. It can also, however, be sheer agony. Dress appropriately when going on outdoor runs in the winter.
Don't wear a down parka when it's barely freezing outside. Wear a hat. Don't wear cotton. Cover your ears and face when it's cold. It's not a fashion show. Just be careful to not overdress your torso.
As a guideline, dress as you would if temperatures were about 20 degrees warmer. If you can't stand to run outside, there is always the dreadmill.
As with riding, focus on endurance and strength during the winter months. Run long, slow distances and get yourself climbing those hills. Plan to run a longer winter race (at an easy pace) to get running on a consistent basis. There will plenty of time for speedwork in the spring and summer months.
Become a Groupie
If riding in your basement and running in the cold don't sound like fun, group workouts are great motivators. Look for group rides, or join a local cycling or triathlon club. Or book a weekend trip to a triathlon coaching clinic.
No doubt about it, what you do in the winter months can really affect your summer racing season. In short, follow Friels advice: Focus on endurance, strength and form. You may just find that next summer is your best yet.
Laurie Kocanda is a freelance writer and multidistance triathlete in the Twin Cities area.