In this guest post, cycling blogger Andrew Montgomery writes about how to turn your bike commuting routine into a training programme for longer distance cycling events.
After completing the inaugural 100-mile RideLondon sportive, Andrew has written a free ebook guide to help other beginner cyclists complete their first long distance cycle ride.
Take it away Andrew…
Lack of time is a common frustration amongst cyclists looking to improve their fitness (as well as just about everyone in western society).
You’ve signed up to undertake your first organised long-distance bike ride (RideLondon, London-to-Brighton or another sportive) and now you’re wondering where you’ll find the time to train.
But if you’re already commuting by bike then you have an advantage. With a few little tweaks to your daily routine, you’ll have the makings of an effective training programme. You might not be challenging Chris Froome or SirBradWig for speed, but you’ll get round the course and have fun doing it.
In this post I’m going to look at training hacks for commuters. Everyone seems to love a good hack these days.
Disclaimer: some of my ‘hacks’ are, shall we say, a bit tongue in cheek. Please don’t do anything foolish, simply because I suggested it. Use your common sense…
Right, onto those hacks.
1. Have a plan
Just because your daily (or whatever) commute doesn’t fit neatly into the sorts of training plans that you can find on the internet (such as this one), it doesn’t mean you can’t spend some time thinking about adapting them to your needs.
Training plans tend to be built around hard efforts and recoveries, intervals and longer endurance rides. Plan out your commute rides (yes, on paper or a spreadsheet) and try to fit these elements into your schedule.
Your commute/training plan hybrid doesn’t have to be perfect. Just try something. What’s the worst that could happen – on some days you get to work that little bit quicker?
2. Add a training ‘bolt on’
A lot of time is consumed preparing for a training ride, even before you’ve set off. You need to assemble and put on your kit, fill water bottles and find Jelly Babies, check your bike and pump your tires. Before you get to the meat of the session, you’ll spend time warming up (and afterwards, warming down).
As a bike commuter, you’re doing the majority of these things already. A training session that, for non-commuters, might require a 90-minute time window, you can achieve by adding just 45 minutes to what you’re already doing.
Try to find a way to add an extra loop into your commute, where you can focus on meeting your training objective for that ride (intervals, tempo ride). You don’t have to do it every day – some rides should be solely for (active) recovery.
3. Sprint for the lights
Stopping at lights can be a frustrating part of your commute (you do stop, right?). Turn them into an advantage by using lights as motivation for extra effort. Tell yourself you’ll sprint to the next set, where you’ll be able to take a breather.
If you get to the lights and they’re still green, result! Go hard until the next set.
Murphy’s Law dictates that the first time you try this you’ll get the perfect sequence of lights that mean you don’t stop until you find yourself throwing up under a bush. Embrace the pain.
4. Practice on-bike eating and drinking
When people think about training for their first long cycle event (or any form of endurance exercise), fitness (or overcoming the lack of it) is what first springs to mind. But there are other elements worth practicing, some of which are just as important as fitness.
Nutrition (or the art of remaining fully fuelled and hydrated throughout the ride) is one of these disciplines. Get it wrong and you might not even get far enough around to discover whether your fitness training was worth it.
Organised sportives have drink and food stops (RideLondon has a huge number of water stops). As the name suggests, you can stop, eat and drink. But what about the miles in between, or if excitement overtakes you and you decide to miss a stop? You need to drink (most importantly) and eat whilst riding.
Your commute is the perfect place to practice these skills (yes, they’re skills) without veering into the middle of the road and/or dropping your water bottle.
5. Discover what works for you
Dedicated sports drinks, bars and energy gels are very high in simple carbohydrates (since these are what primarily what your muscles will be fuelled by as you ride). They’re not always easy on the gut, potentially causing stomach cramps and discomfort.
Use your commute to try out different brands and flavours. Find out whether you prefer gels to energy bars, sports drink to water. If you don’t like any of the specialist fuels, try other alternatives, such as flap jacks or (my own personal favourite) Jelly Babies.
6. Train on your heavy commuter bike; Fly like the wind on your race bike
Not so much a hack as an observation (and possibly not a very helpful one if you own just one bike).
Using your commuting steed to train equips your muscles to deal with propelling a heavier bike, making them stronger and more efficient. When you switch to your feather light (middle weight?) racing thoroughbred, the psychological (and actual) boost in speed will be considerable.
7. Learn (appropriate) hand signals
As a commuter, you’re more likely to be using hand signals that make clear to the recipient that you’re ‘somewhat disappointed’ with what they’ve just done.
In a mass participation cycling event (such as RideLondon) hand signals (sometimes with an accompanying shout) are an important way to maintain safety on the ride, informing riders around you of potential hazards and cyclists slowing in front.
Having familiarised yourself with the basic signals (take a look at this British Cycling group riding guide), practice using them on your commute.
It takes a ‘special sort of person’ to embrace signals wholeheartedly on their commute (and it’s not always safe if they end up confusing your fellow commuters and motorists). Instead, spend some of your ride thinking about what signals you would be giving as you encounter potential hazards. You could even do mini ones, just to get into the habit.
Come sportive day, you’ll be wind-milling your arms and shouting, ‘Clear!’, with the best of them.
8. Practice riding in the ‘Peleton’
In larger sportives, you’ll be riding with a lot of cyclists. You can use your commute to practice the skills to ride safely when in a group (or if you’re being regularly passed by faster riders).
Hopefully you’re doing this anyway, but take the time actually to think about riding in a straight line (‘holding your line’ in sportive world) and a non-erratic fashion. Don’t undertake. Be aware of other cyclists around you and how your riding is impacting upon them (and vice versa).
9. Embrace a puncture
Not literally. Having a cuddle with your flat rear tire is, at best, going to cover you in dirt. At worst it’ll have you sectioned.
Getting a puncture (or any other mechanical failure) on your commute is frustrating, but put on your zen hat and view it as an opportunity to practice your bike repair skills. When you’re against the clock on your sportive (or trying to beat one of the timing cut-offs on RideLondon) you’ll be quicker and less stressed.
If you’re not sure where to start when replacing an inner tube (or any other bike maintenance task) I can recommend an excellent app.
10. Take a day off
What a great hack to finish with.
If you commute by bike every day, introducing too many hard intensity efforts risks over-training (excessive fatigue, greater propensity to get ill etc). Do this and your performance will suffer. Your fitness might even go backwards.
Make sure you have the odd full rest day. Time your rest day to coincide with that day of biblical rainfall and you avoid that feeling of having wimped out of your commute – you made a sensible training decision.
If you have to bike commute every day (the idea of taking public transport fills you with dread), make sure that plenty of rides are done at a very easy pace indeed.
With a little thought, your cycle commute can be adapted to achieve many of the objectives of a dedicated training plan.
As a commuter, you already have the motivation to get out on your bike regularly, come rain or shine. A few tweaks and you’re well on your way to completing your first long sportive, comfortably and enjoyably.
If you’d like more advice on tackling your first long distance sportive ride, you can download my free guide: ‘4 Steps To Your First Long Distance Sportive’ at my blog, the Grimpeur Heureux.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.