My office is 16 miles from my house. That’s via the most direct route, which is frequently slow in a car because the backroads are actually main streets, and it passes through four town centers—Milford, Holliston, Sherborn, and Natick—each of which brings traffic to a crawl. It’s usually faster to take 495 and the Mass Pike; sure it’s 8 miles longer, but it usually gets me there in 30-40 minutes depending on when I leave. Coming home has been a crazy-making experience the last few weeks. Yesterday, I spent 90 frustrating minutes in the car crawling along to get home. I actually went 20 miles out of my way, going past the interchange I needed and then taking some roads I know from my weekend bike outings.
When I ride my bike from the house to the office, it takes 60-70 minutes depending on how energetic I’m feeling and whether I throw in some gratuitous hills. If I leave my car at the lake after swimming, 40 minutes later I’m at work. On the return trip, lately I’ve been choosing routes home that have me riding for 80-90 minutes, either home or back to my car at the lake. Sometimes it’s so that I can miss a particularly rough or busy stretch of road, but mostly because it’s so nice to be in the saddle. By the time I’m home I’ve done my workout(s) for the day, and I can help out and settle in for the evening.
Last night, as I grumbled to myself while going nowhere in traffic, I decided to commit to something I’ve been thinking about for a while: I should bike to and from work more often. I’m happier when I ride, and it seems to take almost as long whether I’m in the car or on a bike. Plus, it will help my training. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. And here comes the tricky part. I’m going to have to slow down most days when I ride. (I’m not sure how many days each week I’ll be able to ride because of weather or after-work commitments or really long swim sessions at the pool. Although that last one might not be a thing. I’ll have to think about it some more.)
Slowing down is going to be hard. Riding a bike is fun, especially in that “I’m kicking ass!” kind of way. My legs and lungs and heart have a set-point where we like to be: just at the edge of too hard. The pedals are always turning, and there’s the hint of a burn on my muscles and the knowledge that, while I could go faster, I’m moving right along. My PM commute is often my hard bike workout for the week, and I push the pace according to my training plan. Riding three or four days a week isn’t going to be sustainable if I always take the long or hilly route or if I treat it as a tempo ride. I figure I need to drop my speed by 1-2 MPH and my heart rate by 10-15 BPM (basically from zone 3 to 2) in order not to commute myself into over-training. It’s going to be a challenge to do and to feel okay with. (And I’m also going to have to figure out how to fit my running and recovery days into this plan.)
I was thinking about this last week on one of my rides to work, and I shared the following reflection on a Facebook fitness group.
I opted for the 20-mile route on my ride into work today. It’s kind of a beautiful morning out there in New England. I did my very, very best not to treat the commute in as a training ride by keeping my heart rate low. (The ride home is the training ride.) I mostly succeeded.
I’ve noticed on my rides recently that, the more traffic there is, the harder I push myself. I think I have some kind of need to “perform” the activity of cycling to all of the drivers out there. And riding “slow”—even if it’s what the terrain or the PLAN requires—is very difficult to be okay with. What’s wrong with me?
I don’t feel this need very much when I’m running, and I don’t care so much about getting passed by other cyclists. I pass tons of people, and if you’re stronger than me today, you are awesome, too! (Although that one time when the teenager with sagging shorts passed me on a mountain bike going up the big hill into Grafton when I’d bonked… that was a tough one to be okay with.) I kinda feel like I have to prove that bikes belong, and it’s harder to feel that way when I’m going 10 mph up a hill (because the PLAN) than when I’m pushing myself to go a few mph faster. Or if I’m just leisurely tooling around on my commute vs. throwing down and (almost) keeping up with traffic.
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.