Q & A Coaching Forum: Training on a Commute


I have been cycling seriously for a little over a year now. My racing goals focus mainly around triathlons (Olympic distance) but I would like to give straight cycling races a try. As a result of the time commitment involved in the multisport training regime and life in general, I get a large portion of my cycling miles in on my commute to and from work (I do this once or twice a week). My work commute is broken up by stops about every 4 miles so it is not ideal cycling (details below). Can you give me some advice on how I can maximize these commuting miles?

Depending on which way I travel my commute can be 17-30 miles one way, with 1-2 sizable climbs (a few miles long each). I have noticed that my engine is never at 100% on the morning ride, I am assuming this a result of not waking in the middle of the night to load up on nutrition. My strategy at present is to treat the morning ride as light (zone 2) ride and the evening ride as a more intense workout with some intervals and stronger attacks on the climbs. When the day is done I am pretty much shot given the other training that goes on during the week. Is this the optimum way to use this riding time? Is it better to split the commute (ie. ride in one day and home the next day)? Are there other training drills I can do during these rides to gain fitness? I understand these aren’t ideal training conditions, I am just trying to work with what life is offering me in the best way that I can.

Thanks for reading and your help,

Scott Saifer responds

Hi Matt,

Many people find it difficult to raise the heart rate or generate normal power in the first hour or so after waking up. Sleep is so important to recovery and performance that I would not recommend waking up at night to eat, even if I though that would make a difference. You didn’t mention how much sleep you normally get or whether you wake spontaneously or with an alarm clock. If you wake with an alarm clock and you really want to improve performance, I’d suggest getting to sleep incrementally earlier until you can wake without an alarm. Commuting by bike is an excellent way to sneak in extra training hours in an already busy schedule. Four mile blocks with short rests really is worthwhile training. If you were stopping every 10th of a mile, that would be different, and less valuable other than maybe as sprint training.

Riding has to be of good quality to be valuable as training. Quality training means you are going fast compared to the effort, making good power compared to the heart rate compared to your own previous rides. Any time you are tired or slow, pushing for anything harder than zone 1 is counter productive. You are making yourself more tired without getting the benefit of a quality ride, practicing pushing hard to go slow. I bring this up because you mentioned being tired from all your other training.

So, assuming you will be smart and go the short way at a recovery pace any time you are tired, I’d have you go the 30-mile way anytime you feel decent. Triathlons reward only sustained aerobic power, not jumping, attacking or sprinting ability. Bike racing rewards those other abilities, but only if you can already keep up with the group, breathing less hard and breathing hard less often than the competition.

I agree with using the morning ride as a zone 2-endurance building ride. If you are already about as fast as the competition for sustained efforts. Doing jump and attack sorts of things on the way home makes sense. If there is any question though, you’ll do better to do more aerobic, less fatiguing riding on the way home. If you feel very fresh and you are already keeping up with group rides, do the 30 miles as a half-hour warm up, then alternate your 4-mile chunks at LT and in zone 2 until you are close to home, spinning easily for at least 10 minutes at the end.

If there is any question that you are able to keep up with the your race category, do the evening ride as intervals of 5 minutes done at bout 60 rpm and 5 minutes done at about 90 rpm, all in zone 2 for a while.

Let me know which level you put yourself at, and how the training goes. It will be time to change things up in a month or two.

One last rule: You should only be training hard enough to get really tired one or two days per week. The other days should all be more comfortable, finishing still strong.


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