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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