Friday, January 21, 2011

My commute to work

My commute by bike (green), car (blue) and on foot (red)
Thanks to the amazing invention of Google Earth, just over a year ago I was finally able to figure out how to get to work by bike or even on foot. My bike route is quite a long way round (about 16km) but it is the most picturesque, passing through several pine forests and virtually not touching tarmac. On a normal day, I can make it in in about 45 mins, pedaling at low intensity (below my aerobic threshold). On days like today, the route can become quite technical - think frozen bike tracks in the mud - and I ended up going over the handlebars at one point. Nothing more than a little scratch but I think my keys must have also gone flying so I'll have to look out for those on the way back... It was also freezing cold - my beard froze and so did my gear cables for goodness sake - and my hands were extremely painful when I got inside, despite wearing gloves. Its a bit of an art working out how many layers to put on: put on too many and you sweat too much, too little and you freeze- not a problem I have when running.

I'm enjoying running in much more these days. I go by a shorter route which is also cyclable but it involves going on more roads; when running you always have the option of the pavement. The technical bits are not a problem while running: I've found that trail running is excellent for speed, balance and strength (not to mention boredom limitation). One thing is key, though, and that is a little head lamp to light up the trails. You can actually cause yourself more injuries running always on flat surfaces because you are consistently stressing the same little muscles in the feet and they can easily get strained or out of balance. Also, the extra effort to get your feet off the ground when they sink into the sand or mud means that you really fly once you hit the tarmac. The route is about 12.5km and there is very little traffic (if any) along most of the roads - it takes about an hour running at my aerobic pace.

The only hard thing is getting out of bed an hour before I normally get up. The night before I pack my little rucksack with a clean shirt and underwear and try to make it as simple a matter as possible to get out of bed and into my kit. Then, I've got it all organized. I have a spare suit hanging up in the work gym (the staff let me use their locker) and a pair of work shoes under my desk. I get to the gym, shower and change and then cycle up to the office in my suit. Then I lock my bike to some bars in the underground parking and hang out my kit to dry for the return journey (the bars double as a handy clothes horse). Once a security guard asked me if the bike and the kit belonged to me. I thought at that moment that the game was up but it turned out that he was just worried that someone might steal it and that I would hold them responsible for it! Having said that, I did once leave my cycling shoes in the gym and someone had pinched them by the time I went back that afternoon and my feet are not the most common size (size 48 EUR / 13 UK!). Maybe the culprit had had a hard time of sourcing shoes for his equally outsized feet.

Logistics aside, the feeling of having got to work under your own steam is incredible. It sounds like a trivial thing but it's not; neither does the journey itself seem like "dead time" nor does the exercise you would otherwise be doing on a static bike or treadmill seem pointless. I've seen cats, rabbits, snakes, frogs and even foxes on my route. You arrive in so much of a better mood than if you have had to sit in a car for even as little as 15 minutes, which is what it could take me on a good day. The time I spend commuting by bike or on foot, I treat differently to the rest of my training time which I take more seriously: I may listen to music or I may mull over what I am going to do when I get to work or think over conversations I have had during the day. Its my meditation time, my private time when I am passing through the woods, hidden from sight from the cars in their parallel universe. All this is what it is like commuting in January; when the days get longer and warmer it is so much more pleasant. I'll post some pictures in the next few weeks of some of the striking sunrises and sunsets that I see.

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