Upcoming rides I'm leading:
Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

Show blog entries about: Upcoming rides | Ride reports | My own training

Distance Training #4: Crystal Springs (2/19/2011)


Date: Saturday, February 19
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 61

Description:
This time, we head up the Peninsula to the Crystal Springs Reservoir, although the ongoing dam closure has led to a couple of interesting changes in this year's route. We start by heading up through Portola Valley and Woodside to our first rest stop. After that, it's the long but very popular cycling route up CaƱada Road to Highway 92, followed by a little bit on lower Skyline Drive to Bunker Hill Drive and a nice, long descent into San Mateo.

That's where it gets interesting. We'll take the part of Alameda de las Pulgas that rarely shows up on training rides. The climb past Hillsdale gets quite steep (we're talking "San Francisco steep") in places, although there are plenty of breaks where you can pull over and catch your breath. The reward is a nice descent into our second rest stop in Belmont, followed by a mostly easy return down Alameda de las Pulgas all the way into Menlo Park, and then along the Bryant Street bike boulevard through Palo Alto and back to Mountain View.

Total climbing for this ride is about 2,400 feet.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Ally Kemmer, Genevieve Breed, Thomas Fortin, Terri Meier, Amir Barzin, Paul Vargas, Randy Files

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride report: Distance Training #2 (1/29/2011)

Go, riders!

Thank you for being part of, yet again, the largest AIDS/LifeCycle training ride ever to be held in Mountain View. Our intrepid group of 43 riders and two SAG drivers encountered a little bit of everything today -- city streets, rural backroads, sun, clouds, and even a few showers. And in the process, we got some excellent previews of what life is like on the ride in June.

There's a reason that our safety speech concludes with an admonition to "practice patience": Having 2,500 riders on the road can make things a bit crowded at times. And we saw today that having even just 43 riders can make a bike lane sometimes feel like the Sunol Grade on a Monday morning commute. I spent much of the early parts of the ride in a group of about 20 riders as we made our way into Saratoga, and while we were moving along at a good pace, there were times when I wanted to go faster but couldn't. (There were also times where folks seemed to speed up when I wasn't ready to follow suit.)

A fact of ride life in June is that you often have to ride in a long line, particularly at the beginning of each day, and especially on Day 1. The ride isn't just about you getting to Los Angeles safely; it's about all of us, as a group, getting to Los Angeles safely. There's no prize or trophy for the first, second, third, or last rider to finish each day; sometimes, it's best just to go with the flow and hang with a group of riders who generally go about the same speed as you.

Don't be in a hurry to pass a long line of riders, especially when you'd have to enter a traffic lane for an extended time. And never, ever, ever pass another rider on the right. One of my trusty ride leaders told me he was passed on the right a few times today -- that's something that can get you pulled from the ride for a day or longer. Don't do it. (We might feel obligated to clear stuff from our noses just as you're passing on the right. Ew.)

Another experience today that doesn't often happen on South Bay rides was that our rest stops started to become a bit crowded. When 2,500 riders are passing through a rest stop in June, there can be lots of crowding ... and, if everyone tried to hang out at the same rest stop, there simply wouldn't be enough room for everyone.

A good skill to practice is getting in and out of rest stops as efficiently and quickly as possible. Get your food and liquid, take care of any restroom needs, stretch a bit, check the route sheet for the next segment, and move on out. This makes space for the next group of riders to arrive -- and it goes a long way toward giving you a time cushion. While you'll have about 12.5 hours to finish most days of the ride in June, your mind will be much more at ease if you have some time in reserve to handle any physical or mechanical issues that might arise.

In June, each rest stop has strictly enforced closing times, and if you miss a closing time, you're done for the day at that point. We've got closing times on our Distance Training rides as well, and while we aren't quite as draconian about them, they're calculated to match approximately the times that you'll encounter in June, so this is a good time to get used to them. (And, for the record, we've all been way ahead of our closing times this season, so nobody has anything to worry about there.)

And finally, the weather threw us a couple of wet surprises today. We weren't supposed to get any rain, but depending on where you were on the route, you might have gotten anything from a few sprinkles to a good-sized brief shower or two. Rain in June along the route is rare, but it certainly can happen, and you need to be prepared for it because we usually ride rain or shine (unless, as happened in 2009, the rain becomes so heavy as to make the route unsafe). Much more common in June is thick, dense fog in the morning that can make you every bit as wet and drippy as a shower.

Wet pavement, even just from fog or a few sprinkles, significantly increases the chances of flat tires, and we had more than a few of those today as well. And it seemed to me that many of the shoulders hadn't been swept in quite a while, leading to more debris than usual. I suspect that, in this era of budget cuts, that's something we'll be facing more of. If you're not already riding on flat-resistant tires, you might want to consider them. The technology has improved considerably just in the past few years, and there's now virtually no weight or firmness penalty in using flat-resistant tires. They do cost more than regular tires, but think of all the money you'll save on tubes! Ask your cyclist representative, any of the ride leaders, or your local bike shop.

What's next? We ride again next Saturday, without a week off this time. This is to get our schedule in sync with the upcoming major ALC events in San Francisco: the Expo (in March) and Day on the Ride (in April). Our next ride is a challenging 49-mile route with an unusual structure: The first half is almost totally flat, but the second half hammers you with a series of short but steep hills ... including Westridge, a hill in Portola Valley that's similar to the infamous Quadbuster of Day 3 in June. (It's a little bit shorter, but it's also a little bit steeper, complete with a false summit just to play with your head.)

Why? Because being able to pace yourself is an essential skill to make your June ride successful. When you see miles of flat road ahead of you, resist the temptation to ride all-out because there's almost always some climbing waiting for you further down the route. When I've offered this ride in the past, even some experienced ALC riders have run into difficulty in the later stages of this ride because it was just way too easy to cruise down Central Expressway at 20+ mph. Also, you'll get to see some parts of Portola Valley and Los Altos Hills that you might not have seen before, and which you can use on your own as part of your individual training.

Beginning with next weekend's ride, our official pace for the Distance Training rides advances from 10-12 mph to 12-15 mph. But don't let this concern you. Everybody on both of the Distance Training rides so far this season is already at Cat-3 pace or higher. You specifically do not need to be a 15 mph rider!

And if the prospect of all those hills scares you, here's an interesting statistic. When I did ride #3 on my own a couple of weeks ago, my average speed for the first half of the route was about 16 mph ... but my pace for the second half was only 9.5 mph. And that includes the descents! Nonetheless, I still finished within the Cat-3 pace, even though I still dislike hills with a passion. Don't worry about being slow on these hills!

Find out more about next week's ride, see the route, and RSVP here.

Thanks to all for a wonderful ride today, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Distance Training #3: Westridge and friends (2/5/2011)


Date: Saturday, February 5
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with some steep climbs
Miles: 49

Description:
This is a training ride with a specific message: Pace yourself. Although the first half of this ride is nearly flat, a lot of climbing is packed into the second half, and you'll want to resist the urge to ride all-out during the easy part. This is a skill that will serve you well during the event in June.

We'll begin with a ride down Central Expressway to Santa Clara and then back up Middlefield Road to Palo Alto. After we pass Stanford Shopping Center, we'll begin to climb -- slowly at first, but then more steeply as we tackle Westridge Drive in Portola Valley, a hill that's a lot like the infamous Quadbuster. After that, we'll head into Los Altos Hills and climb Elena Road and Taaffe Road to the top of Altamont Road, where an exciting steep descent awaits. And just for some added fun, we'll return to Mountain View via the Los Altos Hills quarry and golf course.

Total climbing for this ride is about 2,250 feet, but all of it is in the second half.

Beginning with this ride, the Distance Training rides move up to a 12-15 mph pace. But you do NOT need to be a 15 mph rider to do these rides! Our experience has been that many cyclists taking part in Cat-2 training rides actually ride at a Cat-3 pace. And it's perfectly OK if you're at the lower end of the Cat-3 range.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Kathy Sherman, Thomas Fortin, Bob Katz, Amir Barzin, Larry L'Italien, Paul Vargas, David Gaus, Randy Files, Bruce Der-McLeod

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride report: Distance Training #1 (1/15/2011)

Go, riders!

After all the cold and rain of December, it's nothing short of amazing that it was sunny and almost 70 degrees in Mountain View at the end of today's 42-mile Distance Training kickoff ride. And the amazing weather brought lots of you outdoors -- our group of 39 riders and three awesome SAG drivers was the largest ALC training ride ever in Mountain View!

For some of us, today's ride was just another medium-distance, off-season ride. For others, it was a challenge unlike any other so far. And for still others, it was a gentle reminder that even experienced cyclists can get somewhat out of shape in the off season. Whichever you are, there were plenty of lessons to be learned from today's ride.

On the safety front, most folks did well, but I saw a few bad behaviors today. A stop sign in Woodside seemed to be optional for a few of us, and that's a really bad place to blow through a stop sign -- the local law enforcement loves to ticket cyclists. In June, running stop signs is one of the leading sources of complaints as we pass through the more than 50 jurisdictions that have to give us permission to ride. And I saw quite a bit of side-by-side riding. Even in marked bike lanes, where two-abreast riding is legal in California, we don't do it in ALC. This is so that faster riders are able to pass more easily. Save the chit-chat for the rest stops. Now is a good time to start practicing the riding rules that we all have to follow in June.

The second lesson is that the route sheet shouldn't be just a souvenir that gets all wet and folded up in your jersey pocket; it's an essential tool to get you through each training ride. Unlike the main event in June, training ride routes aren't marked with signs or route arrows, so you need the route sheets to guide you through the often-labyrinthine twists and turns of the Bay Area streets and hills. Most training rides have dozens of turns and other notable events, and you need to be able to quickly and easily refer to your route sheet while you are riding. When you don't refer to your route sheet often, it's all too easy to miss a turn or make a wrong turn and go off course, adding "bonus miles" to your day. And it's also very important to see the cautions and other warnings on the route sheet while you're riding.

Many riders use a map holder for route sheets. They're available in various sizes and usually cost only a few dollars. Others use binder clips to attach the route sheet to a brake cable next to the handlebars. And others have large handlebar bags that hold all sorts of stuff and have a slide-in spot on top to hold a route sheet. Using a route sheet is one of the few skills that isn't essential in June but which you need to use on training rides. If you'd like advice on map holders, ask any ride leader or your local bike shop.

Today's third lesson is a reminder to practice healthy nutrition while riding. Because all of our Distance Training rides are longer than two hours (yes, even for our fastest riders), your body cannot make it through the day solely on stored energy. You have to regularly replenish your body's store of nutrients. Everybody is different in this area, so I can't make a recommendation that works for everybody. Especially if you're new to long-distance cycling, this is the time to start experimenting to figure out what works for you.

For me, I often start out well but then don't take in enough during the later parts of a ride. That happened to me today, and while I didn't bonk, I could feel my mood turning sour in the last few miles -- especially on those last devious hills around the golf course in Los Altos Hills. (Who was the idiot who put those hills on the route anyway?) I've learned several times before that I need to continue to take in calories -- not just at rest stops, but while riding or on short breaks. In June, you'll have anywhere between 8 miles and 25 miles between rest stops, so it's likely that you'll need to refuel on your own at least a couple of times. Be sure to carry the foods and liquids that work for you, and be sure to replenish your electrolytes, even in winter.

Although today's ride officially ran at a pace of 10-12 mph, it's no secret that most riders were above (or even far above) that pace. Riding among riders who have such a wide range of speed can be intimidating for almost anyone, regardless of your normal pace, but it's one of the inescapable facts of life in June. Even though I'm a bit faster than I was a few years ago, any hill above about a 4% grade causes my speed to go way down, and everyone who is riding along with me just flies on by. And even though I know in advance it's going to happen, it still frustrates me to hear "On your left!" 10 or 15 times in a row.

Such times are when I remind myself that our training rides, just like the main event in June, are indeed rides and not races -- there is no competition with anyone except yourself, and you are the only person who gets to define the terms of that competition. And yes, I also realize that taking that message to heart is far more easily said than done, even for me.

What's next? We ride again two weeks from today, on Saturday the 29th. Our 45-mile route takes us to Los Gatos and a little bit beyond. Our big climb of the day is Kennedy Road eastbound, but I've got a couple of extra surprises planned as well, including a return to a little hill in Saratoga that we haven't visited for a few years. But overall, the total climbing is only about as much as we did today, so no worries. Find out more and RSVP here.

Along those lines, a small request: Please RSVP for any ride that you're planning on attending, even if you're not 100% sure that you're going to make it. This lets the ride organizers know about how many people to expect, so that we can plan resources such as support and -- importantly for you -- route sheets. Because today's weather was so nice, lots of un-RSVP'd riders showed up, and we just barely had enough route sheets to go around. I bring a few extras, but we got inundated today. I'd rather bring too many route sheets than not enough, so don't be afraid to RSVP. I won't get mad if you don't show up!

And don't forget the official ALC10 Northern California kickoff party next Saturday, the 22nd, in San Francisco. Don't forget to dress in red! Find out more and RSVP here. Word on the street is that it's going to be faaaaaaabulous.

Be sure to follow my blog for information on upcoming rides and other events. It's also where all of these ride reports are posted during the training season. I try to email a ride report to everyone whose email address I can figure out from the sign-in sheet or an earlier RSVP. If you don't get a report in your email, it's because I couldn't read your writing; it's not because I don't like you.

Welcome to our new season, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Photos by Dennis Soong

Distance Training #2: Los Gatos (1/29/2011)


Date: Saturday, January 29
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Heavy rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 46

Description:
Even if you missed the first Distance Training ride earlier this month, it's not too late to join us.

The Distance Training rides are for intermediate and advanced riders who want to increase their physical and mental endurance on long-distance rides. This set of 10 rides gradually increases to a mid-May finale of a double metric century: 200 kilometers (125 miles) in a single day. These rides should be just one part of your overall AIDS/LifeCycle training program -- such as in conjunction with the weekly Cat-2 rides -- and are not sufficient by themselves to prepare for the event.

We'll start by taking a gentle route to Saratoga (no Mount Eden) and then heading to Los Gatos. After that, we'll climb Kennedy Road east of Los Gatos in the easier direction, taking us briefly into San Jose, and then we'll return to Los Gatos along Blossom Hill Road into Monte Sereno. From there it's mostly downhill back through Saratoga, Cupertino, and Sunnyvale. Total climbing for this ride is about 1,800 feet.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Ally Kemmer, Thomas Fortin, Bob Katz, Terri Meier, Amir Barzin, Linda Kemmer, Paul Vargas, David Gaus

RSVPs are requested but not required.