Confessions of a commuting noob
I road to work and back yesterday and the day before for the first time. 17 miles and 90 minutes each way.
Even though I MTB a lot (18 days straight just recently) and run and swim ~ 3 times each per week, I was quite surprised to see how fatigued my legs were upon getting home. I suspect there is a lot of difference between how I ride trails and how I rode to work.
First off, the reasons for commuting:
Yeah, yeah, it’s green and saves gas and all but I decided to commute to provide some variation on my mtbing. I feel like I miss out when I go a day or two without riding and was starting to burn out riding the same trails all the time 5 – 7 days a week (spoiled, for sure) so I decided to try the whole commuting thing (planning to commute maybe 3 days a week).
I have two bikes that I ride a lot (Turner 5 Spot and Fatback) and two old hard tails which only get ridden by visitors. I picked my 1982 GT Zaskar as my commuter bike for the week and wiped the dust off, oiled the chain and off I went. I figured that I was getting one or two three-hour mtb rides in every week so how hard can this be? I am riding from Green Mountain just West of Denver to just shy of the Denver tech center and I am blown away by the route (google maps – ha!). The bike paths are fantastic nearly all of them go under the roads meaning I hardly have to stop at all. There is one light near my house and one outside the office and in between is just a go (spoiled again).
As much as I hate the geometry on my Zaskar it does the job and I wanted to get a decent work out and not just cruise in so I pushed it fairly aggressively (and had a heavy back pack of stuff with me) and felt fairly good but in the back of my mind am still going ‘heck, it’s only 90 minutes, am I really getting a good work out?’ The last mile home is a hill and on day one I was cranking up it and wondering why the heck I was feeling so tired (I did a 50 lap swim at lunch too - ). It go to the point where my head dropped and I was no longer looking to the top of the climb – LOL). I was noodling over this all day yesterday and decided that an experiment was in order. Hypothesis: my commute is not very long but it is a constant high gear push with almost no ‘breaks’. I don’t get out of breath and don’t go anaerobic until the last hill but my legs must not be used to the constant high gear pedaling. Much of my mtbing is up and down longish hills where I am frequently out of breath and heavily anaerobic but also have lots of recovery (of a sort – even the downhill is a work out) on the downs. Soooo… no recovery time on the commute = a very different work out than the usual mtb rides. Experiment: the last mile and a half bike path goes past a park with dirt trails that are much more up and down and far less consistent in grade. I was pretty beat when I got to them but took them anyway. One of the dirt sections is a fun teeth gritting, granny-gear buster that is following by a little flowly flat section. I ended up going past my turn off on the dirt trails and back-tracking to get home and I felt a whole lot better – I could feel my legs responding to the dirt trail’s effort changes and I felt (at least, mentally) refreshed when I got off the trails. It feels that my body and riding is very conditioned to the style of trails in my area and it will take a while to adjust to the ‘style’ of commuting. I am excited to think that the different style of commute riding may actually help my overall fitness and show dividends in my trail riding down the road (hah!).
Commuting everyday can be very wearing....that is why it is good training....but you must take rest and recovery days off...
Usually at least one day a week.
a lazy pedaler
rmac, you must commute by bike as much as you feel comfortable with... is a personal thing and no-one could tell you how much or how you should do it... what we all will agree with (I think) is that you shouldn't try to commute every single day..... we could talk a lot about your bike though
to stay OT...I'm starting my 3rd year of bike commuting and I started this one with the promise of doing it everyday...last Monday the streak ended...and must confess, I'm kind of happy it did, yeap I said it...it wasn't intentionally ended....but as Jeff said...it was very wearing...and my commute is only 11 mi round trip...truth is my rides during weekends just weren't happening...in fact, if it wasn't for the money I put on the races, God only knows if I would actually ridden on weekends this year.... only one recreation ride so far is a proof of it
now that the streak is over I would be replanting my commute schedule for this year...probably letting me not commuting one day per week average for the year or something like that....something that allows me to ride more often outdoors...too much asphalt isn't that good.
Welcome to the club rmac.
And I know what you're talking about. I sprint way more and way harder when I'm commuting than when I'm just out having fun. Especially if there are cars behind me that's a huge motivation to accelerate as fast as I can, and to just ride-ride-ride to try to keep up. It ends up being pretty high-speed and high-cadence for blocks at a time, which isn't much like mountain biking, but it has had a huge impact on how I ride on the dirt.
Random interval training, chase cars, only on the way home though... too sweaty for arrival at work.
I have a 33 mile round trip commute and find that more than three days in a week generally tires me out too much and I don't have any gas for the fun riding on the weekends. The only way it works out is if I do a very slow & easy recovery ride for days over three in a week but it's hard to keep from hammering...
What the new guy said..
AgileCarbon pretty much nailed it. You can ride all week long but need to ease up a couple of days out of the week.
A big part of the reason my blog is titled with part of LeMonds infamous quote is that I used to always ride hard. "It never gets easier, you just go faster"...
This may be true up to a point. But after too much, you just go slower.
Jump in, Rmac- hope you enjoy it! I think you`ll find that the main reason for most of us to bike commute is just because we like it, the green part and money parts are just nice side effects.
It surprises me that you got so tired, too- I imagine your theory about it being constant rather than working in pulses is right. Oh, and that heavy backpack can`t make it any easier! I don`t ever ride all out, but still I get knee/back/foot issues when I go too far on the road and it seems that those parts NEVER bother me on mtb, which you`d think would be even tougher on the body. Maybe for the same reason that mention. Anyway, I hope you get a good plan worked out and keep at it.
Get that backpack off and onto a rack, it makes things so much better.
Very interesting and insightful thread.
I'm going to start hitting the local MTB trails here soon. I started commuting to work last June ('10) and was wondering how I was going to do on the trails as far as endurance, etc.
Staight ride to work is 10 miles each way but I started taking longer routes the last few months. Last week I did 30 miles TO work ! And then did 15 miles on the way home. And this is after a 12 hours shift.
What's cool is the fact that right up the street from where I work is a major MTB trail corridor.
2012 Cannondale Trail SL 29ER 4
1994 Cannondale Super V 1000
1996 Cannondale F500 rigid-fork 69'er
It's easy to over-train doing what OP described day in and out, and it might take a month to recover to normal energy level... if you start sweating the sheets at night it's too late.
if you're commuting w/ knobbies, take 'em off - it makes a big difference...
Honestly... ahh I give up