Commuting – It took 2 years to learn

I’m an ex-racer. I’ve raced on and off since I was 16. Even when I haven’t raced, ALL of my riding has been some kind of ‘training’ for benefit of getting fitter. Either distance or just fast so it creates discomfort, hurts a bit and I feel the rush when I’m done.

Now I don’t race. I simply ride to work during the week. I’ve been commuting reasonably regularly for few years. It started with hour long rides to and from my shop, two or three times a week when I was still racing. I used a very fast, light bike, top spec and I rode a lot and raced bit. It was great and easy(ish).
When I closed the shop, the racing stopped and after 6 months I got a job in Worcester. That commute from Stourbridge was just over 20 miles or just over an hour and I really struggled with it for a long, long time. My head was telling me 20 miles is easy as I was fit but for about a year I just couldn’t seem to do it. Every day I tried, my ride in would be fine but within 15 mins of my ride home I’d fall apart, grovel home and then need a couple of days off to recover. It was that bad. It went on for months to the point I nearly jacked cycling in altogether I was so low about it. I tried to change everything. My eating and drinking, my route. I eased off a bit which helped but I was just constantly struggling with it and it wasn’t much fun.
Then I moved to Bromsgrove and my commute shortened to about 16 miles or just under an hour each way. Things changed quite dramatically on the bike. My commute got easier. I was recovering better and I began to enjoy it more mixing the routes back with trips up the canal towpath for a change. Strava KOM’s on the canal came onto my radar and I secured a couple. It was fun again but what was the problem in the first place? Can 4 miles really make that much difference?

I’ve thought about it a lot recently because I changed jobs again in July and I now work in Redditch with a smaller commute of around 12 miles now. Having commuted there for a few months, its clear the smaller commute, ironically, has allowed me to ride more often and I do more miles in the week than I have probably done since I raced regularly. I now ride at least 4 days a week and during the summer I was extending rides home up to 90 mins+. My turbo is gathering dust now and I’m wondering if its worth the expense to have a big flash smart one now. I don’t think I use it enough to justify it.

Anyway, after two whole years I’ve come to this conclusion.

When I shut the shop in October 2015, the following April we had a club weekend away to the Peak District. Circa 90 miles on the Saturday and 40+ mile ride + loads of steep, famous Peak District climbs on the Sunday. To be blunt, it absolutely fucking destroyed me. I wasn’t fit enough and although I came away quite chuffed at what I did on the fitness I had, the deep seated fatigue it created ran on and on for months through the summer. I was fubar’d. I just never got over it and I was trying to commute (fast), knackered basically. To compound it, my outlook on my rides since I was a kid was to see every ride as a training session so I’d quite often ride in to work at near full gas. I was knackered, I was riding too fast, too far and at 40 years of age + I couldn’t recover quick enough. Only by seeing my commutes shorten, in particular the last few months I’ve now realised to ride every day you have to take it easy, rest, eat properly, plan and manage yourself through the week just to get through it. I’ve realised at my age i simply  can’t manage 2 x 45 min training sessions on 4  consecutive days a week.

Now I just love it. Fresh, crisp early mornings. Quite often I’ll ride through Arrow Valley Park and just lose myself as I leave the noise and traffic behind for a few minutes. I get to work and I’m charged up for the day. Proper facilities now. A secure bike shed, lockers, hot showers, kit and towel drying facilities and a decent canteen where I can fill my face with a hot bowl of porridge with honey for 50p.

Arrow Valley Park – Commuting at its best

I still get pretty tired. Particularly now its cold and the  body has to work a bit harder to keep warm. But that is the management process. Refueling properly and getting enough rest. My legs are generally caned after 4 days straight. I have the weekend off. I might do a spin on the turbo on Sundays to loosen the legs but by Tuesday I’m ready again and a little fitter. I’m still a racer in my head. Its still training but the big difference now is the training isn’t the speed or the distance, its the whole week. If I can get to Friday nights ride home and I feel ok, mission accomplished, training is done.


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