Is commuting an effective way of training?

For most triathletes juggling their training with a full time job and perhaps family life, efficient and effective sessions are key to successful training. Building a routine is hugely important in making sure you cover all areas you need to train. It’s why clubs and groups with coached sessions are so effective, since it takes some of the guess work away.

Even with good planning, many still struggle to get enough volume of training in, especially if stepping up to longer distance races. Commuting, for many of us is dead time that we don’t get back from our day. Maybe you already walk, run or ride part of or all your journey to work, or maybe you’re considering it but aren’t sure how to make it an effective part of your training. In this blog we’re going to look at some of the pros and cons, and how we can make our commute time useful.

Pros of cycling or running to work

  • It’s free! With increasing rail fares and fuel costs, it’s great to be able to save some cash… which we can then spend of more kit. (we are triathletes after all).
  • It’s good for the environment, less pollution and reduces congestion since bikes take up less space on the roads.
  • It’s free time. If your commute to work takes 60 minutes, but you can cycle it in 70 minutes, then technically your workout has only cost you 10 minutes extra in your day. In cities, it can often be even more efficient than that. For example, in London, my cycle commute is just under 40 minutes, public transport is 45 and driving would be well over an hour. As more and more cities invest more infrastructure in cycle networks and public transport as an incentive to reduce car usage, this will further validate running and cycling as a method of transport.

Cons of cycling or running to work

  • The weather. While many die hard commuters will go out in all weathers, it can take a while to build up to this. And sudden changes in the weather can throw off your best laid plans. However, despite this, even fair weather commuting will give you some training effect. And, these days there’s plenty of good kit to keep you warm and dry.
  • Safety! While cycling infrastructure is improving slowly, is some areas it’s far from perfect and for those less confident, the thought of riding to work can seem daunting. Especially as there are still a minority of narrow minded road users that don’t treat cyclists as equals on the road despite the law and highway code. Hopefully in time this will change. However, look at planning routes that might be slightly longer but avoid busier roads, or commuting only part of your journey by bike.
  • Pollution. When we exercise we breath more heavily, and in cities, this means we’ll be breathing in more harmful pollutants. While you can get masks for cycling, these aren’t always comfortable, and you can’t really wear them when running as you usually breath more heavily. One solution is to use your commutes to run or ride at a more gentle tempo, working on your lower heart rate/endurance base, perhaps adding in some harder efforts where the streets are clearer.

How to make your commute effective for your training

For beginners just getting into triathlon with a basic level of fitness, just getting out and running or riding will have fitness benefits. Running and riding outside will teach better pacing, demand more balance and stability, and in the case of riding your bike handling will improve. Therefore, it’s not overly important that you add much structure to your commutes.
Those with a little more experience may wish to make their commute more challenging, and add in some structured efforts. Look at your journey and see if there’s anywhere en route where you can do this. If for example you go through a park or any quiet streets, you can do a few loops, or hill repeats.

What if where you live is too far from where you work to commute the full way? Perhaps you can cycle or run to a local station, or get off a few stops early on your way to or from work and run/ride the rest of the way. Sometimes a folding bicycle is a better option for this. But if you do it regularly enough, then as an investment it’ll pay for itself in no time. Plus, with a folding bike there’s a little more security in being able to take it with you.

Tips for your commute

  • Don’t always ride or run the most direct route. Pick a route with less traffic so you’re safer and exposed to less pollution, and your run or ride is more enjoyable.
  • Be creative with your route, vary it where possible to keep it interesting and if there’s the opportunity to do so; add in some extra distance or use quiet, uninterrupted stretches to pop in some efforts.
  • Use the natural stop-start nature of commuting to practice getting up to a pace, or as natural interval training. For cycling it is also good practice at clipping in to your peddles.
  • Be safe and be seen; ensure that you’re in reflective gear if running in poorer light, and if running in unlit areas look at getting a rear light and even a head torch.
  • Plan your logistics to make it easier; no one likes carrying loads of kit when they’re riding or especially running. Leaving stuff at work to pick up the next day, so you can run home with just your phone, wallet and keys can make it a lot easier.
  • If you do need to take kit with you look at getting a proper running backpack; usually a lot smaller and with straps that hold the bag in place better so it doesn’t bounce as much when running.
  • If you’ve access to showers and changing rooms at work, or a gym near work, this can make things a lot easier. You could even incorporate a short stretching or gym session or even a swim before work.
  • When the evenings get lighter and a little warmer it can be a good opportunity to add some more miles to your ride home, especially as we come into race season.

Coach Phil

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