Kimberley not only races professionally full-time, she’s working full-time too. So you have to get in training where you can. So she’s commuting as a part of her training. Read more!
About four months ago I entered into the previously foreign world of bike commuting. I had accepted a full-time research assistant position working on an SAMHSA-funded integrated care grant at Aurora Mental Health Center, and a primary consideration was how to maintain the level of training required to continue to race at a high level. I didn’t make this decision lightly — it was more agonizing than you can imagine, despite being what would still be classified as a first world problem. After lengthy discussions with my coach, and asking one of the more unique pre-hire questions my future supervisor had ever heard (“…but is there a shower?”), I accepted the position.
In doing so, I moved away from a fairly flexible, purposefully-pieced-together, part-time job which had accommodated a high-volume training schedule while still leaving me enough time to foam roll and watch an episode of Orange is the New Black before leaving for work. I look back on those days the way working athletes with children must look at me — with a bit of nostalgia, envy, and the wistful whisper of “she has no idea how good she really has it.” I remember when that life felt jam-packed!
The biggest challenge of this chosen transition lies in the fact that despite taking a full-time, “real adult” job, I fully intended to continue to train and race at an elite level. Which brings me back to bike commuting. I work close to 20 miles from my house, which, at the times I’d be traveling, would be either a horrendous 50 minute drive, or ~70 minute ride. For me, the choice was clear. I might as well have asked myself, “would you rather sit in a car and waste close to two hours a day and come home angry, or be on a bike for those same hours getting your base miles, and skip the car ride?” No question. I was lucky to find a fairly straightforward route, and even luckier that the answer to my odd pre-hire question was a confused “yes.”
In the weeks leading up to my transition, I contacted to friends who I knew rode their bikes to work, and began to research cycling backpacks, panniers, and other commuting essentials. Like most other domains of my life, I was approaching this whole bike commuting endeavor with the attitude of “If I’m going to do this, I need to do it RIGHT.” We’ll save the discussion on whether or not that’s a healthy life strategy for another blog post 😉
Three weeks later and a few hundred dollars poorer, I was ready. I had my cross bike repaired after cracking the frame in my first (and last) cross race of last season and turned it into a bonafide commuter, complete with fenders, a rack, and an annoying little bell for even more annoying hipsters I might encounter along the way. I bought a pretty great chrome backpack for nice days when I would ride my road bike in. I ordered ortlieb panniers so one or two days a week I could pack it full of food and clothes for the other days, so I didn’t have to carry as much. And a college friend who designed an awesome new line of high-visibility bike lights called Orfos (http://www.orfos.bike) sent me a demo pair for me to try out, in anticipation of the dusk ride home. (Full review on those coming soon).
I was all in, and strangely excited to step into this new world. In a way, it felt similar to those biologists who dedicate themselves to observing the habits of some elusive species, following them, learning about their dynamics and behavior, and then somehow, at some point, the researcher finds himself feeling at home in their world. But I didn’t feel at all at home stepping into my new found role of “bike commuter”. Despite the thousands of miles I’ve ridden, this was foreign. I was out of my element. You might point out that the bike is paramount to both bike racers and bike commuters. And yet in spite of this shared mode of locomotion, there are fundamental differences between these two species, an assertion I feel confident most racers and commuters would support.
Now almost four months later, I have been accepted into the commuter tribe. There’s something communal and warm about seeing the same people almost every day as we make our way to wherever we all go. People I feel like I’m starting to know but have never talked to. Some are going the same direction, and we pull up to the same stop light around ~7:45 each morning. Others I pass on the trail, with a curt head nod, or friendly wave. Like the woman whose bike is so heavily loaded with packs I first thought she must be riding across the country, but after seeing her every morning and evenings for months, have come to infer she must actually need that much stuff every single day. Or the man who pulls a cart behind his bike, carrying an aging rottweiler curled up in a bed. Then there’s the youthful mom, who rides with a small backpack and glances back every few pedal strokes at her son furiously spinning his legs behind on his pint-sized piccolo. These people, and more, are becoming endearing.
The balance has been tough, don’t get me wrong. After my commute home, I drop my bag or switch bikes and am back out for another hour or two of intervals or steady riding. I get home, shower off, eat dinner, and pull out my Trigger Point kit while we watch an episode of True Detective. Almost every night I am in bed by 9:30. Getting in bed this early is a more difficult task than I expected, but experience has taught me that insufficient sleep makes everything harder, and turns minor challenges into insurmountable obstacles. I now deeply regret those days of childhood when I refused to take my naps, and instead sneaked out the window to play outside instead, so proud of evading something I now see as an indulgence.
I would be the first to say this is not an ideal schedule for someone pursuing high-level racing goals. But it’s what I have, and every day I do the best I can. When all is said and done, the fact that I get to ride and race my bike makes me pretty darn lucky, and I never want to forget that. The sacrifice, meticulous planning, and balance required are tough, but racing my bike is glorious and strangely restorative. I do not make that statement naively. I know crashes and illness and injury, broken bones and broken dreams. But there’s a reason I keep coming back. When I am racing I feel free. My soul is happy. My heart is light. And that makes everything that it took to get there worthwhile.
I have found a certain sense of serenity in choosing not to allow one or even a few things to define who I am at my core. I race my bike, and want to keep doing it at a higher and higher level, but my identity should never be solely tied to being a bike racer. I love training hard and pushing my body to new levels, but a Sunday ride to ice cream is not without merit. Sometimes it’s ok to release a bit of self-imposed pressure and trust the journey. Something you take a chance on something that feels scary and uncertain. And sometimes you enter into a new world and find yourself feeling more and more charmed by the people who inhabit it.