I have an excel spreadsheet - my training outline. It's got all the dates for the next several months on it, and for the past six weeks or so I've been recording what riding and other exercises I've done. It helps me look back on the last week, and on to the next week, and think, Okay, did so many miles. I should plan for another longer ride on Thursday; and I should make sure to do leg workouts on these three days. And ride rollers for an hour tomorrow morning.
I'm really just starting my commitment to training - my season of racing in '08 was largely based on my fitness and strength as a commuter. One of the things that's regularly on my excel spreadsheet is an entry - "15C." Many days- 15 miles, commuting pace. It's a conservative estimate of the ride in to my delivery job, a few nonsense miles during my shift, and the ride back. A busy day is probably more like 20 miles - nothing to brag about. Getting the blood flowing in my legs. Spinning quickly up 10th Avenue, back down 9th. Bikerattling romps over cobblestones in the meat packing district. And, in weather like last week, slipping and sliding around a fair amount.
It's not much of training. It's not endurance, I don't do intervals, and though I do put effort into my accelerations it's not like I'm launching Monster Sprints in my low-geared fixed workbike. So what good is it? Well, it keeps me on the bike. It keeps my legs supple. It lets me feel my progress, my fatigue and my strength, as I work out indoors.
I think that it also fertilizes a useful stubbornness - a willingness to ride as far as it takes for as long as it takes, in as much discomfort as it takes. The cranky commuter mentality just might be a lot closer to the classic definition of the cycling "hard man" than your average road racer. Those of us who are out on the streets day in and day out, whether commuting or working on our bikes, have a different relationship with the bike. It's not a toy, not a hobby, not a beloved exercise machine. An integral part of every day life - no choice, but simple fact. It's a prosthesis, and with it we are coordinated, adept, as smooth as if it were a part of us. Last week, I stubbornly pulled on a pair of pants over my tights and two pairs of socks as I set out in temperatures touching down at 15F. I snarled at the weather and launched myself head first in to it. I had to get to work. It's not like in New York City we've got a whole lot of room indoors in which to train, anyway. I set up my rollers in the kitchen doorway, with just enough clearance from the refrigerator (behind me) and the couch (in front of me).
I never trained for my first season racing - I just commuted every day, about 24 miles round trip from the Bronx, through the cold months, the rain and the snow, the traffic, the darkness, and into the spring and summer, into the insistent heat and humidity, the perpetual sweat. Fatigued? Saddle up - you've got another forty minutes of riding before you get home.
Maybe it will make me stronger, more bullheaded. Maybe just provide that chip on the shoulder, that motivation to work hard, to train with my body, to race hard on used bicycles, to prove to myself and anybody who might listen that a scrappy punk-rock underdog with a slim budget can race with the big boys. It's a story I play out largely in my head, the old trope about the outsider.
Maybe it's a little bit silly since I've never been made to feel like an outsider while racing.
But there it is.