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Commute as training - just ride hard?

Old 10-03-16, 12:50 AM
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scott.undefined
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Commute as training - just ride hard?

Hi all,

I've been reading a lot of stuff about training but I'm still not sure what to do. A coach is not out of the question (in a few months...I'm just getting back on the saddle.)

My current status. 36 year old male. Dabbled in cycling over the last 15 years...but never took it seriously. I'm starting a commute - 16 miles each way, Tues, Wed, Thurs. That's about 6 hours of riding...although I could extend some rides as needed...shortening them would be a bit more difficult. I'm also planning to do some MTB riding on the weekend (likely late night). No long road rides are possible (not with family etc.).

I'd like to start taking it seriously. I'd like to get fast. That is all. I'd like to be able to hammer for about an hour (or two), feeling like a champion. I'd also like to have a simple program with my rides. I used to train hard for running so I know how my body feels when I'm pushing it too hard.

Questions:
- Do I hammer every ride and just see if I get faster?
- Mornings with intervals and evenings more constant speed?
- This Z2 (80%) to Z5 (20%) thing? I don't think I have time for this.
- I also used to finish each ride with balls to the wall for the last 5 miles...a good idea still?

Can it be this simple - Ride hard? (Given my lack of hours on the saddle?)

Thanks!
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Old 10-03-16, 04:53 AM
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I don't know anything about training, really, but 32 miles divided by 6 hours is about 5.3 mph, which seems kind of slow (no offense!). Maybe your commute is either further or shorter than you think.
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Old 10-03-16, 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by bikeclub View Post
I don't know anything about training, really, but 32 miles divided by 6 hours is about 5.3 mph, which seems kind of slow (no offense!). Maybe your commute is either further or shorter than you think.
I'm starting a commute - 16 miles each way, Tues, Wed, Thurs. That's about 6 hours of riding

That's 96 miles a week. 6 hours makes it 16mph.
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Old 10-03-16, 06:59 AM
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I'm no expert, but I read a lot, and I'm very similar to you: currently 36 male, dabbled around in occasional commuting since the early 2000's, but started riding more seriously alone and with a bike club about 1.5 years ago. So my answers are based on fitness experience I observed in myself from both commuting and club riding and focused solo training:

Q1 - The simple answer is that you WILL get faster if you do just go "hard" (hard is relative) those 6 rides/3 days. No question, you'll see fast cardio gains, and as long as you listen to your body and don't injure yourself, your leg muscles and tendons will increase their toughness.
---HOWEVER, the general consensus is that you don't want to do very hard workouts 3 days in a row, AND that you will see MORE results if you have at least a recovery day in between, allowing your tuesdays and thursdays to be even harder. I think most people would say this is a better plan than the potential of going really strong tuesday, doing ok but not quite as good wednesday, then really being sore/tired ready to be done on thursday...

Q2 - In my case, I had a tentative goal of arriving to work in the morning with as little sweat as possible. So I rode very slow and easy in the morning, then tried to push it going home, knowing I could shower when I got home.

Q3 - I also don't have the time for this, and in fact can only ride about 3 hours/week, one 1.5 hour fast group ride, and 2 short 30-minute rides. I have seen the biggest gains when I focus one of those rides on sprint intervals, and the other on climbing the steepest hill close to my house. (always a rest day between rides...a recovery easy ride would be even better, but i have no time.)

Q4 - Especially As we get older (36 qualifies as starting the down-hill), a cool-down period tends to help our bodies acclimate and recover from hard efforts better than 5 minutes all-out followed by jumping of the bike and collapsing on the ground. So I would think you would feel better if you did your "final" 5 minute hard effort about 10-15 minutes from home...use some land-marks to pick out a good stretch....then once you finish, do some easy spinning the rest of the way home. I think you might find you fell better the next day.

Don't let anything I've said stop you from riding hard if you feel good. Intervals are just a way of pushing your body harder than normal and then letting it recover, and you body adapts. From all I've read, Riding more will make you faster, riding farther makes you faster, riding faster makes you faster, but the general idea is that going 7-8/10 effort for an hour is never going to be as effective as occasionally going 9-10/10 for short repeated sections of that hour, with easy pedalling recovery in between.
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Old 10-03-16, 07:35 AM
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I wouldn't worry about going 'hard' until you have some miles in your legs. That might take a few months. The you can start adding intensity. If you try to go hard every time you'll get faster but your 'hard' won't be hard enough. You'll invariably get with a group or a race and find that what you considered hard won't be hard enough. A long winded way of saying that you need to mix up your intensity levels.

If you're only riding for three days I wouldn't waste any on recovery but they don't need to be the same level. I commute 5 days a week about 50-60 km/day. I sometimes have a plan but am usually unstructured and ride by feel. I ride with a powermeter so have a good idea how hard each ride is. I have a few hills which can be sprinted or used for VO2max intervals. Some days I'll sprint on all the overpasses. With a tailwind I sometimes do a 30 min TT on a nice section of highway.

It depends to a large extent on the layout and traffic on your commute. It's not quite long enough to do traditional interval sets like 2x20 or 6x5x1 but you should be able to do some harder efforts. I would consider 'hard' days the ones with VO2max efforts. These are constant effort, all out for 3-6 min with similar rest in between. You could physically do them every day and see good results but they're not much fun. You could try VO2max on tue and Thur and tempo or 'sweet spot' on Wed.

It will take some time to figure out what works. Get a powermeter if you can to track progress.
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Old 10-03-16, 07:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Xherion View Post
I'm starting a commute - 16 miles each way, Tues, Wed, Thurs. That's about 6 hours of riding

That's 96 miles a week. 6 hours makes it 16mph.
Sorry, I missed the three days a week part. That's why I shouldn't reply to any email before morning coffee.
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Old 10-03-16, 11:48 AM
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I almost have the opposite issue with my commute: My ride home is hard. My ride home is ~1000 feet elevation gain, and most of it is in the last section. One of the worst slogs is just before my house =/. I did a ride last week trying to keep it easy and limit my power output, but I wasn't very successful. In my lowest gear going ~50 rpm, I still blew my power target by 50+ watts. My heart rate was significantly lower overall, even on the hills, but I still spiked during the uphills. It was not a pleasant ride, and I'd rather spin slowly on a trainer or spin bike than try to repeat that process.

As mentioned, I would alternate hard and recovery days. If your route is mostly flat, you have a ton of wiggle room to change up a "hard" day to meet your needs.
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Old 10-03-16, 12:49 PM
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Hammering short distances to work and back got (and keeps) me in somewhat decent shape, but it has its limitations. Doing it too many days in a row leads to fatigue, and possibly burnout. It's really good to mix in longer, low-intensity rides to improve fat-utilization and build endurance as well as for recovery.

Why have you chosen T-W-Th, and not M-W-F? The latter would build in recovery time so that the need for recovery rides would be reduced.

Consider getting a trainer or some similar device so that you can do some easy spinning while at home.
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There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
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Last edited by ThermionicScott; 10-03-16 at 01:42 PM.
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Old 10-03-16, 01:24 PM
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Hi all,

Thank you so much for your responses. Some things that I have gleaned from the responses so far:

(1) Hard is good, but not everyday. I'm thinking Tues/Thurs to be "hard" and Wednesday to be more pleasant.
(2) I am interpreting hard as intervals and pleasant as tempo. :-)
(3) If you want, go hard near the end, but not at the end...taking some time for a cool down.
(4) Doing math early in the morning is hard.
(5) Riding on the flats makes it a lot easier to have an easier day. Mine is completely flat, so no problem there, although the return trip faces some serious headwind.

Your contributions are helping me formulate a plan. One more question: Do you have any recommendations on how to treat two rides on the same day? If Tuesday is a 'hard' day, does that typically apply to both the morning and evening ride, depending on how I am feeling, of course? Or, is there a better approach?

Regarding my flexibility in choosing the days, I don't have a choice...but you make an excellent point, ThermionicScott! I live in Washington State but work in the Bay Area. So, the bike commute is for the days I work in the Bay Area...I don't have a car there. When I am in WA, I am planning on going mountain biking as time allows so that would give me some non-commute day spinning. That's more for fun than anything - singlespeed on a mountain - a mix of mashing and relaxing.
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Old 10-03-16, 01:45 PM
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Ah, well, one of the best ways to ensure you can stick to something is to keep it fun!
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Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
Originally Posted by noglider
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Old 10-03-16, 01:57 PM
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One thing I would add: you're 36 (I'm 37). It's not the same as being in your 20s. Since you're just starting this commute, I'd recommend just doing it at an easy to moderate pace for a few months. Start slow and progress slowly. An injury will set your progress far more than being conservative. If you're not regularly riding, you will make progress (at first) simply by being on the bike more.
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Old 10-03-16, 02:02 PM
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Are you training for racing? If so, then there are racing forums here (the 33 is one of them). Regardless, I'd highly recommend to cyclecommute. Even if you didn't do any targeted training, you will feel the difference after doing it for a year or two. The key for me is consistency. I try to commute on the bike every weekday and leave the weekends off for family. Starting out 2 to 3 days a week is good. If you want to ride every weekday, then you could break it up a bit with park and ride (if you have a car). Or as you get into better shape, you could put more miles on select days. I have been cyclecommuting for three years now solid. I only miss vacation days and snow days for the most part. I've experienced a big improvement in my riding just doing that and no real targeted training. Hills help also. Finally, I wouldn't recommend going hard all the time. You will burn yourself out too quickly. Others recommend to only go hard for about 20% of the time. My general measurement is if I feel crappy (or a little more tired) on Monday, then I take an "easy week." Either reduce the mileage for the week or ride one or two gears lower on the same ride.

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Old 10-03-16, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by scott.undefined View Post
I'd like to start taking it seriously. I'd like to get fast. That is all.
Buy the Cyclist's Train Bible: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934030201/
Read it.
Ride.
Get fast.

It will answer the questions you've asked and ones you haven't considered.

Don't feel like doing all that? Go hard for 2 of those 1-way commutes. Go easy on the commutes that follow those. Mix it up on the remaining 2 commutes -- do some spinning drills or sprints or more recovery rides. If you go kinda hard every ride, you'll be hungry and tired all the time, but won't get any faster after the first month.
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Old 10-03-16, 07:16 PM
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I've been commuting for a year or so. Initially on "workout" days I would ride easy in the AM, and them just do sweetspot/threshold all the way home (30-40 mins). I found I could do that 3-4 times a week for weeks at a time without ever feeling overburdened from the workload.

Now I'm doing a bit different with the workouts, but still generally have one way easy and the other really hard. I only do that twice a week now so the other days are easy both ways. It works out very well for me.

Training 101: keep the stimulus changing so the body has to keep adapting. Stimulus stays the same for too long, the body stagnates. I wouldn't do the same thing every ride, but if you're only commuting 2-3 x a week you could get away with it much more than you could doing it 5x a week.
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Old 10-04-16, 10:26 AM
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I think the consensus is pretty clear: try to go hard on Tuesday. If you are not feeling it, make it an easier week. After the hard on Tuesday (both morning and evening since I have a shower at work), take it easy on Wednesday for recovery. Use Thursday to mix things up and do whatever various things might be appropriate. I like this approach. Then re-examine in a few months to keep things interesting. Also, I am not as young as I once was - these reminders are legitimately helpful. I have a tendency of burning the candle at both ends. (Fortunately, I have yoga at work so that helps with the non-injury side of things!!)

Also, the above mentioned text has been acquired.

Thanks!!!!!
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Old 10-05-16, 04:44 AM
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Commute as training - just ride hard?

Originally Posted by scott.undefined View Post
I've been reading a lot of stuff about training but I'm still not sure what to do.A coach is not out of the question (in a few months...I'm just getting back onthe saddle.)

My current status. 36 year old male. Dabbled in cycling over the last15years...but never took it seriously. I'm starting a commute - 16 miles each way, Tues, Wed, Thurs. That's about 6 hours of riding...although I could extend some rides as needed...shortening themwould be a bit more difficult. I'm alsoplanning to do some MTB riding on the weekend (likely late night). No long road rides are possible (not with family etc.).

I'd like to start taking it seriously. I'd like to get fast. That is all. I'd like to be able to hammer for about an hour (or two), feeling like a champion. I'd also like to have a simple program with my rides. I used to train hard for running so I know how my body feels whenI'm pushing it too hard.
Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
Ah,well, one of the best ways to ensure you can stick to something is to keep it fun!
I’m in a somewhat similar situation, and I have developed my own program based on commuting, with @ThermionicScott’s advice in mind. I replied to this thread on the Training and Nutrition Forum, “Doing more with less? (time-strapped cyclist).”

Originally Posted by Jimfrom Boston View Post
...last year I developed for myself my" Time-restricted, Personally Ambitious, but Non-competitive Cyclist Training Routine," as discussed on this Fifty-Plus thread, “Riding versus Training” (also with other good training tips).

Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
About two weeks ago I described a new training routine for myself combining a well-established Ten Week Century TrainingSchedule of daily mileage goals with a personalized intensity scale based on ”Relative Perceived Exertion (RPE).” My basic premise was that I wanted to get significantly fit, within a busy work/family time-crunched life, but not suffer so much that I would abandon the program.

I’m a 40+ year cyclist and I ride mainly for fitness. During nearly all of my 40 cycling years, my training has been by mileage. This year though, I decided to go for speed (intensity), and I use the semi-quantitative, standardized, but personally relavant system of (Borg’s) Relative Perceived Exertion (RPE), with my own particular adaptation…. I use cadence to chose gears to maintain my desired exertion….

I do have the advantages of a very nice minimum 14 mile one way commute that is easily extended; and a high end, very comfortable carbon fiber road bikethat encourages riding…
For weekly mileage, here’s the recommendation of two experienced cycle-commuters:


Originally Posted by tsl View Post
…I was concerned about getting decent miles in…It takes me 50 miles a week just to feel good and normal, I feel fantastic over100 miles a week, and like Superman over 150
Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
I particularly agree with your assessment of weekly mileage,though at over 150 miles per week, I call it hyper-fit
Finally,

Originally Posted by scott.undefined View Post
... Also, I am not as young as I once was - these reminders are legitimately helpful. I have a tendency of burning the candle at both ends.(Fortunately, I have yoga at work so that helps with the non-injury side of things!!)
Originally Posted by Jim from Boston View Post
My understanding of overall physical fitness is that the four components are endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. For me yoga incorporates flexibility and balance. For various periods of time I did yoga daily, and about six years ago I even could stand on my head. My practice waned…and I didn’t take it up again until last month.

I have found over the years it to be very effective for flexibility and balance though I don’t think it necessarily helps my cycling (endurance), but I think my cycling helps my yoga..

I usually do my yoga in our office suite after hours. I need at least a carpeted floor and a large space, at least about 10 x 10 feet with about a 7 foot ceiling to do my exercises. I tell various personnel who might be coming through not to look because it isn’t pretty.

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Old 10-06-16, 09:40 AM
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Thanks for reposting those mileage figures, @Jim from Boston. It'd been a while since I read @tsl's thread, but it reinforces that there is no substitute for a minimum amount of miles. This year has been somewhat tough for me, as most of my weekends were gobbled up by the process of moving to a new house which is closer to work (I know, whine, whine ), so if I'm not able to tack on miles somewhere else, I won't even get 50 in a week. Trying to compensate by riding hard each time just leads to fatigue, and my endurance has really suffered.
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Originally Posted by chandltp View Post
There's no such thing as too far.. just lack of time
Originally Posted by noglider
People in this forum are not typical.
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Old 10-06-16, 03:33 PM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
Thanks for reposting those mileage figures, @Jim from Boston. It'd been a while since I read @tsl's thread, but it reinforces that there is no substitute for a minimum amount of miles. This year has been somewhat tough for me, as most of my weekends were gobbled up by the process of moving to a new house which is closer to work (I know, whine, whine ), so if I'm not able to tack on miles somewhere else, I won't even get 50 in a week. Trying to compensate by riding hard each time just leads to fatigue, and my endurance has really suffered.
As you know I switched jobs at the city back in May. It's 2.71 miles each way. No problem because I was used to taking long looping routes to my old location, which was 4.57 miles each way.

Then in July a co-worker went out on medical leave and they asked me if I wanted to work her full-time position out-of-title. (That's civil service speak for working in a position different than what you were hired for.) The whole reason I switched jobs was because these hours worked better for finding a second part-time job. I hadn't worked full time since the 90s and this was a offer I couldn't refuse.

Between longer hours at work, the heat this summer, and major construction that closed a section of the bike path (detouring cyclists right into the construction constriction) my miles dropped hugely. July and August I got in just over 200 a month, in months where I ordinarily turn in 600 or so. Boy, I felt it too.

With the cooler weather I started doing long rides to work a couple of days a week. I've always been a night owl and getting up at what my body thinks ought to be bedtime has been a real challenge.

Anyway, it felt like March all over again, since January and February are also 200 mile months for me. Every little roller feeling like Everest, no real power to speak of, no speed, and no endurance. Today was the first day I really felt myself again on the bike.

Tomorrow was supposed to be my last full-time day. You can only work 90 days out-of-title. Today I found out that HR is beavering away trying to fit me into another out-of-title position in my department. (We had a staffer transfer out.)

All this because the next Civil Service test for a full-time version of my job title isn't until the 22nd. Afterwards, I could probably be appointed provisionally until the scores come back in a couple of months. Then if I scored 95% or better, the job would be mine.

That could still happen, but there would be probably a month between now and when I could be appointed provisionally that I'd be back to part-time.

As a cyclist, I was kinda looking forward to having more time again, and autumn is my favorite part of the cycling calendar. But you know, doubling my paycheck is awfully nice too.

Guess which I chose.
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Old 10-06-16, 03:53 PM
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For years most of my cycling has been commuting and errands. And unfortunately, I don't think I ever got very fast.

I have increased my mileage considerably in the last couple of years as I've gone mostly car-free.

I also recently joined Strava. Some of the segments make fun challenges, and an incentive to go faster, at least for short distances.

I'm looking at my YTD mileage of 5300 miles, in part due to the silly Strava monthly challenges.

I don't know if I'll ever get much faster. Maybe a little, but I just hope to keep life interesting.

Oh, also, don't just train for that same old 16 mile ride. Shake it up a bit. Add in a few extra hills some days. Try a couple of century rides. Do 100 miles, and 20 just seems short.
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Old 10-06-16, 04:00 PM
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Having read the OP now, depending on your training goals, commuting can work.

If your goal is endurance, you can pretty much forget that. Not many people want to commute much more than an hour each way. Over the years I've found that on weekend rides, it's right around an hour that I first want to take a break. Working through that can't really be done commuting.

If you want to work a highly structured and regimented program, commuting isn't going to help either. Nobody's going to wave you through a busy intersection simply because you still have 45 seconds on your interval. And if you're watching the clock instead of traffic, you'll soon be a statistic.

But I've found stop-and-go city traffic is great for natural, unstructured intervals. Stoplight intervals are crucial for me to build and maintain acceleration, speed and power. If I'm doing minute on, couple of minutes off intervals, I hope to catch red lights every quarter mile or so. Two minutes on, I want to hit every other one on green. And so forth.

Racing the cars is also a lot more fun than watching a clock or using a trainer. I once pissed off a Porsche driver doing my stoplight intervals in traffic. He just couldn't shake the stupid old guy on a bike. Finally, he blew a red light just to get away. You don't get entertainment like that on a trainer.

Loaded panniers on hills or into spring and autumn headwinds will make you hate your ride. Right up until you see what it does to your ride on the fast bike over the weekend. Then you'll be pissed if the wind is calm, or you don't need panniers on a windy day.

Last edited by tsl; 10-06-16 at 04:07 PM.
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Old 10-06-16, 04:21 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by gregf83 View Post
I wouldn't worry about going 'hard' until you have some miles in your legs. That might take a few months. The you can start adding intensity. If you try to go hard every time you'll get faster but your 'hard' won't be hard enough. You'll invariably get with a group or a race and find that what you considered hard won't be hard enough. A long winded way of saying that you need to mix up your intensity levels.

If you're only riding for three days I wouldn't waste any on recovery but they don't need to be the same level. I commute 5 days a week about 50-60 km/day. I sometimes have a plan but am usually unstructured and ride by feel. I ride with a powermeter so have a good idea how hard each ride is. I have a few hills which can be sprinted or used for VO2max intervals. Some days I'll sprint on all the overpasses. With a tailwind I sometimes do a 30 min TT on a nice section of highway.

It depends to a large extent on the layout and traffic on your commute. It's not quite long enough to do traditional interval sets like 2x20 or 6x5x1 but you should be able to do some harder efforts. I would consider 'hard' days the ones with VO2max efforts. These are constant effort, all out for 3-6 min with similar rest in between. You could physically do them every day and see good results but they're not much fun. You could try VO2max on tue and Thur and tempo or 'sweet spot' on Wed.

It will take some time to figure out what works. Get a powermeter if you can to track progress.
I would just point out that there is no rule requiring you to only take the direct route to work.
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Old 10-06-16, 08:15 PM
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Thanks for the continued responses. Adding to the list: organic challenges like lights and cars can be a fun way to integrate intervals and also with electronic challenges like Strava.

Also, an excellent point about general mileage and how you feel based on the weekly mileage. I can increase my miles on the weekend (midnight mtb) or on one of the rides.

My route is from Menlo Park to Santa Clara on the edge of the bay so not too many cars at all. Unfortunately flat flat flat but gravel roads are also fun! In WA I live on a mountain so that should count for something!!
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Old 10-11-16, 08:16 AM
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Thanks again. The advice to pick up Joe Friel's "the cyclist's training bible" was just what I needed. So much good stuff!
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