Take It Easy: How NOT to Increase Your Weekly Mileage

I needed to heed a piece of advice from The Eagles.

“Take it easy, take it easy.
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”

I so very definitively did not take it easy in going from a one-mile flattish round-trip commute to a round trip that consists of more like 22-24 miles (depending on choice of route) with hills no matter what.

My legs paid the price. As always, I’m more than happy to share my mistakes for your educational benefit.

And the heck of it is, I really do know better. I live with someone who trains for racing and uses spreadsheets to track his data and examine his training stress score. If he has ridden hard he takes a day (or more) off for recovery. I got carried away by the memory of the miles I used to be able to ride without too much aftermath, if any, but those miles are long gone.

You truly do get “miles in your legs” if you ride regularly, and those endurance miles are there when you need them. When I lived in Spokane my regular round-trip commute, if I did absolutely nothing else, gave me 25 miles a week, with half of those on an uphill climb. Add in a few trips to downtown or somewhere a little farther away and I could end up with  more like a 35-40-mile week without too much effort. This made it much easier to jump up to longer mileage on a weekend ride.

Two big changes stand between that Barb and the one who did too much last week. One is the simple weekly base mileage that I have not been putting in for the past 9 months.

The other is that the kind of commute I now have represents a sustained effort of 11+ miles start to finish, not a series of little 2-3-mile rides that are the easy ones to knock out and that don’t deplete your muscles (at least not the way I rode them).

Back in Spokane this kind of ride of 11-12 miles would have represented a training ride, or something I would have done on a weekend for recreation to chase down a cup of coffee. Now it’s a commute. And a darned long one given my current level (lack) of basic conditioning. Despite successfully completing 30 Days of Biking in April, I didn’t keep the bit of build-up I did in March when I put in more miles than usual.

Thinking of each day as having the potential for two big rides–one to work, one home–here’s what I did last week and why it hurt:

Monday: No ride–still moving into the new place.

Tuesday morning: Rode to work with Sweet Hubs as my companion to check out the route for the first time. 11.1 miles, with one long 6% climb near the beginning on 35th Ave. NE  and mostly flat or shallow climbs after that to get to the Burke-Gilman Trail for a nice flat stretch to the University Bridge, then through downtown.

It probably took us 90 minutes–I’m built for comfort, not for speed, and especially now! It was work and I felt it, but my legs weren’t wiped out and I felt pretty optimistic about the new challenge.

Tuesday night: Rode to the downtown condo we’re leaving (my old friend the half-mile trip), finished the last cleaning, and put the bike in the car to drive home with Sweet Hubs.

Wednesday morning: Express bus to downtown for a 7 a.m. meeting–no way was I going to try to leave the house ready for a meeting at 5:30 a.m.! Easy 1.6 miles from there to work.

Wednesday night: Rode home using a different route for about half of it than I’d used on my way in Monday morning–11.4 miles. Someone had mentioned that 20th Ave. NE made a nice route so I got to that and it was indeed a nice stretch of quiet residential street with roundabouts and stop signs on cross streets.

It ended at a spot that meant I used Lake City Way northbound for quite a few blocks–kind of fast and busy and I took the sidewalk for a bit where I figured a curve in the road made a line-of-sight issue for drivers coming up fast from behind me, but manageable. Lake City Way was mostly downhill with lots of nice coasting and then flat.

Thursday morning: Ah, here’s tactical error #1! Remember that the night before I put in 11.4 miles. And here I am, 12 hours later, heading out to do that much all over again. My legs felt tired and heavy when I left the house–your easiest indicator of overtraining. I simply should not have tried to ride to work this morning.

Tactical error #2: Trying to get back to 20th Ave. NE to use it northbound. Oh, my, the elevation gain I had to fight for more than once! Stupid street doesn’t go through where you want it to and I made the wrong decision about how to deal with that. I persisted–rather grimly, as time went on–and finally got up top, so to speak.

At one point the only thing that got me up a hill was hearing the sounds of an elementary school playground at the top of a climb and wanting to set a good example for the kidlets. When I got to the school I realized I had a little plateau and then yet another steep climb ahead. That’s what walking and pushing are for, children–to keep moving under your own steam.

Tactical error #3: Not finding the Burke-Gilman Trail as quickly as I could have, and getting snarled up in the campus with the great big W at the entrance…. (My many friends in Cougar Land can get a kick out of this.)

I’ll tell another story about two experiences along the way in another post. Suffice it to say this ride had a lot of story value in it.

During the day I had a nice charlie horse–ran the entire length of my leg hip to toes. That got me up and hopping around but I didn’t listen.

Thursday evening:  For some completely wack reason I thought I could try the ride home. We had an event for the Bicycle Alliance at The Sixgill in Fremont, so that at least promised to break the ride into two chunks. For some reason I thought this meant my legs had in them the ability to do this.

This is where “tactical error” and “optimism” overlap to create “crazy-stupid.” I rode about a mile–all uphill–from the office to the stretch of 4th Ave. in downtown Seattle where a loooot of buses stop. My legs already felt heavy. Insert drawing of light bulb over head–I took the bus to get to Fremont.

My legs heartily approved of this decision. From Fremont, Sweet Hubs provided a rescue ride home. My bus transfer had expired and the trip planner told me it would be a while before I got home if I caught the bus so I took the easiest way out, but one way or another I wasn’t pedaling home.

Friday morning; Having spent a highly restless night suffering from yet more full-length charlie horses, I took the express bus.

Friday evening: My legs still felt heavy and this time I listened. I ran one little errand during the day by bike, then took the bus home. (On days I bus I do get a little downhill/flat pedal from the last stop to the office.)

My new transportation plan: No more back-to-back trips until I’ve built some mileage back up! Bus to work in the morning when the time pressure is greater, ride home in the evening when I have lots of time, give myself permission to bus both ways every other day if the legs tell me that’s the right thing to do. The days are getting longer, the temperatures will be in the mid-70s, and it will be lovely. My legs will thank me.

There’s another Eagles lyrics that comes close to fitting, except for that highway business:

“So put me on a highway and show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time.”

Ultimately, though, ZZ Top has to have the last word:

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4 Comments to "Take It Easy: How NOT to Increase Your Weekly Mileage"

  1. […] to say I had my first jerk encounter with a Seattle driver during my first week of a much longer bike commute. The happy part is that I’ve lived in Seattle a full 9 months and this is the first negative […]

  2. […] When I started this commute I was seriously out of shape for this kind of distance. I came to some painful realizations about this in the first week or so–quite a few of said realizations involving charlie-horse cramps running the full length of the leg, up to and including cramps on the tops of my feet (where, just for the record, there isn’t much to cramp, meaning that spasms are drawing those little tendons tight right over bone. Son of a gun, that hurts.) […]

  3. […] I had listened more to my legs the first week I added all that mileage, maybe they wouldn’t have had to scream at me quite so loudly, what with the charlie horses […]

  4. […] Take It Easy: How NOT to Increase Your Weekly Mileage (2013) […]

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