Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bike Commuting as Training

Last weekend I "competed" in the the Test of Metal mountain bike race in Squamish (B.C., Canada). This was the first cross country mountain bike race that I have been in for about 12 years. I used to be a road/track racer in the '80's and early '90's, competing at a provincial and national level. I actually moved to Vancouver so that I could ride all year round, and then 'life happened'. I went to University, found 'all the other things life can bring' and gradually gave up bike racing. I continued to ride though, I took up mountain biking in the late '80's and have loved it ever since. But why did I decide to race again? I guess there were a number of reasons. First of all I had some demons to concur after my last race 12 years ago -- there was the flu, the heat and an epic bonk that made a 3 hour race into a 4 and a half hour death march, but that is another story -- my kids are getting to the age where I can actually have some time to train, and, the big one, I turned 40 this spring.

Because the race sold out in a record 4 hours and 19 minutes, and I signed up 3 hours later, I was relegated to the "wait list" at 145. I thought there was no chance of making it into the race so I didn't really get a training regime going. I found out two weeks before the race that 145 people actually did surrender their positions so that I could participate -- thank you all.

So my training consisted primarily of commuting to and from work, something that I have done for 20 years or so in varying degrees. I now have a dedicated commuting bike -- a hybrid, with all the things that racers hold in contempt -- fenders with mudflaps, flat handle bars, panniers and a rack, lights, a bell, and, for the love of God, a mirror! Now I am a 3 -4 day a week commuter doing 15 km each way to and from work, with about 1000 ft elevation gain at the end of my ride. So I get a bit of a work out with the hill at the end of my ride.

I mentioned that I have kids, two in fact. One is 6 and one is 3. So I am just seeing a bit of light at the end of the toddler stage tunnel. This gives my wife and I a bit or our own time -- either together or exercising, she has taken up trail running I have returned to mountain biking after a 5 year hiatus. We still don't have a ton of time to train though so the bulk of my mileage on the bike is commuting. I see commuting as "free fitness," I have to get to work somehow, we have just one car, I am lucky enough to have shower and locker facilities at work, so why not use them? Bike commuting in my eyes is the easiest form of fitness. I get 30 km per day 3 or 4 times a week -- that's 90 - 120 km a week without even thinking about training! But is enough for a 67 km cross country race with 5000 ft of climbing? I wasn't sure. So there was some augmentation of my regime. Every Wednesday I would ride my mountain bike to work and then on the way home ride up into the mountains and do 30 -35 kms (double my usual ride with an offroad component). This only added an hour or so to my commute, not much of a time commitment -- I have to get home anyway and I was only an hour later than normal -- good value.

So I guess your wondering how I faired? Well, I wasn't competitive in the true sense of the word. I had a bad start and a mechanical failure (which cost me 10 minutes), but I passed a ton of people, I didn't cramp in Crumpit (Crampit) Woods, I had a smile on my face and I felt pretty good at the finish and I was on my commuter Monday morning continuing the "training".


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