An interesting question to Coach Fred in this week's issue of RoadBikeRider.com Newsletter:
How Should I Use Commuting for Training?
Q: I bike commute 13 miles (21 km) each way and would like to turn these rides into actual training. But I'm not sure how. Should I use my morning ride into work as recovery and then hammer out some high intensity on the way home? Or should I recover one day with two easy rides and then go hard the next day? -- Phil P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I get quite a few questions about merging training with commuting. There are three important principles at work:
First, commuting can be hard on your recovery processes, especially at the mileage you mention. Although 26 miles a day may not sound like too much, when it's day after day on top of a job and other responsibilities, your recovery can be taxed.
Second, it's usually difficult for riders who work full time to do more than two or three hard workouts per week. More than that and they can't recover and improve.
Third, it's important to go really hard when you go hard and really easy when you go easy. Most riders, and nearly all commuters, go medium-hard all the time. They don't go slowly enough for recovery and never go fast enough to create significant improvement.
So, I recommend riding slowly during both commutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, ride slowly in the morning and go hard on the way home -- perhaps an interval workout or a time trial simulation. Coupled with a challenging weekend ride (fast group, hilly solo or race), you'll get plenty of stimulation to improve.
There's another difficulty about merging commuting with training: often your commuting route is not conducive to going all-out, flat-knacker. Your 110% effort might be interrupted by an endless stream of traffic lights, heavy traffic, poor road conditions, and so on.
Another thing worth noting is that bike trails are not the place to "go hard". Too many times I see people, obviously in "hard workout" mode, passing dangerously and generally being selfish and impatient. These guys should slow down or find another route. I know for a fact that I don't want to end up in a wheelchair or in court following a bike trail collision.
I treat my 5 mile each-way commute as a series of interval sprints - when I'm up to it. But I'm glad to hear that I'm not going slowly enough on the lazy days - my times don't vary much at all, perhaps 25% - and most of that is wind (up to 25kts induced) .
What would be a reasonable variation between "flat out" and "recovery"?
How about using the commute to do some cross training? For instance rollerblade, run or nordic-walk. Although maybe not 21kms........Leave the bike at work and then bus in the next morning. I guess it depends on your actual route, but I rather think that being part of traffic -during rush hour no less- leaves very little room for "training" whatever that may be.
I don't try to hammer on the whole commute - it's interval time. I know the spots that lend themselves to 90 seconds of CHARGE!!! However, training is secondary to blending well with traffic. Period. Therefore, the charge chances are finite.