A triathlon coach once told me before training for an event, “first find out how much time you have available“.

He said most athletes begin with the desire to compete and a training program but they fail to customize it to their specific situation. Some unintended consequences are lack of sleep, increased fatigue, decreased recovery time, and stress on relationships-  it becomes critically important to plan around time availability.

I remember first getting into triathlons and thinking the more I swam, ran, and cycled, the more prepared I would be. What I didn’t realize was how the additional training affected the rest of my life. I started waking up earlier and sleeping less during the week. I also found myself training every weekday after a full work day so chores were left undone and all other activities were put on hold. I had no social life and obsessed about whether I was doing enough. Weekend mornings were also booked solid for long bike and long run training days. In the afternoon, I was too tired to do anything else but rest. Priorities shifted and my life was out of balance.

Through the years, I’ve discovered that training is fundamentally about managing your time and your energy. Once you’ve determined how much time you have to train, the next step is to maximize the use of that time.

Here’s one strategy that’s helped me with cycling:

About two-times a week, I would rush to the gym to attend a one-hour spin class. If you’ve never been you should really check one out. There are many advantages: music, company, a great cardio-vascular workout, and motivation. A good instructor can get you to work harder than you normally would on your own. The increased workload translates to improved road performance because you work at a higher threshold.

The down side is the lack of specificity. It’s ultimately better to train on your bike as close to race conditions as possible. In addition, it’s hard to find a good instructor. Many are led by someone who’s never actually been on a bike outside of class.

While spinning was great, I had to find an alternative. The commute and the workout combined totaled about two hours. Unfortunately, I often rushed through traffic arriving late, or worst, arriving on time only to find a shortage of bikes. I ended-up riding my indoor trainer at home or missing the workout altogether.  I began exploring using my bike as an alternative form of transportation.

I found many sites devoted to people thinking about or already biking to work. There’s a ton of resources on how to overcome obstacles to commuting like how to transport your things (e.g., clothing, laptop); how to secure your bike; what to wear; what routes to take, etc.

What I learned was most Americans live within 5 miles of where they work, yet, many opt to drive instead. Equally important, the commute to work accounts for only one out of five trips taken by drivers each day.

According to the Bicycle Institute of America, most trips per day break down this way:
Social and recreational = 14 miles
Home to work = 12 miles
Other personal business = 9 miles
Shopping = 5 miles

The sites encourage you to be creative.  What I’ve since done is take the bus to work about two times a week and ride 15-miles through the canyon back home. It takes about an hour and I get both my workout and commuting done at the same time. Taking the bus in morning also solved the problem of having to carry my work clothes and shower before work.

I can’t say how long this will continue but if you’re looking to maximize your limited training time or thinking about alternative forms of transportation, biking might be the answer. You’ll feel great, get your work-out done early, save gas, and help the environment.

Oh, and by the way, if you decide to take the plunge, now may be the best time to do it. Many bike shops are offering discounts and goodies since May is national bike-to-work month.


SamG is a middle-of-the-pack recreational triathlete. Overweight and out of shape, he got into triathlons in 2006, starting with the shorter Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. He has since completed a number of half-iron distance (70.3 miles) and a full-ironman distance triathlon (140.6 mile).