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Ride report: Distance Training #3 (2/5/2011)

Go, riders!

If this were June, we'd all be amazed that weather for our ride could be so wonderful. But here in February, today's official high of 76 degrees in Mountain View under sunny skies was nothing short of incredible. That brought out the riders, and today's group of 53 riders plus two awesome SAG drivers was by far the largest ALC training ride ever held in Mountain View ... breaking the record set just one week ago!

Perhaps the outstanding weather gave you something to admire while you were chugging up hill after hill after hill after hill after freakin' hill. I said to expect a hilly second half to this ride, and you quickly found out that I wasn't kidding. Westridge is about as tough a hill as I ever put on a training ride (well, almost), and a question that you might be asking is how Westridge compares to Quadbuster, the most notorious hill on AIDS/LifeCycle.

I looked up both climbs on the Strava online ride tracker, and I overlaid the two elevation charts on top of each other, adjusting for the difference in elevation. Purple is Westridge, and green is Quadbuster:

So, Quadbuster is certainly much longer than Westridge (indeed, about twice as long), but it's not as steep. If you didn't figure it out today, the key to happiness on such climbs is to pace yourself and take as many breaks as you feel necessary to keep your body happy ... and don't be afraid to walk (aka "cross-train") part or all of the hill. And if you had trouble with Westridge today, don't worry! It's only February, and the ride is still months away. In fact, use Westridge as a yardstick -- come back later in the season and visit it again on your own. (No more Westridge on this season's training rides from me ... I promise!) There's a lot of value in discovering your limits early in the season so that you'll have something to compare it to in the future.

Of course, Westridge wasn't the only hill in the second half of the ride. They just kept coming and coming! Is there really that much climbing on ALC in June? The answer is no ... not usually. However, the beginning of Day 1 does have this much climbing packed into such a short distance, although most of it isn't as steep as Westridge.

Using the traditional Day 1 route from recent years and allowing for the Crystal Springs dam closure, you're looking at about 2,580 feet of climbing in 23 miles starting at the intersection of John Muir Drive and Skyline Blvd. in San Francisco. By comparison, today we had about 2,100 feet in the last 24 miles of the ride.

On Day 1, however, your adrenaline likely will be in full force, and chances are that you'll find the climbing not nearly as difficult as today's. (You'll also be at the end of your training season.) You'll also be around 2,500 other riders all doing the same thing. And that's a huge psychological edge that you shouldn't dismiss.

When I did Westridge today, it was with many of you. When I did it a few weeks ago on my test ride, I was solo. Today's climb up Westridge felt a whole lot easier for me, even though the numbers say I did only about as well as I did when I was solo. But my mood at the top of the hill was much better. Don't discount the energy that you can receive (and reflect back) from the rest of the group -- it's a powerful force that can help you get to Los Angeles.

The climb up Westridge also came at about the two-hour mark in today's ride for many of us. Two hours also just happens to be the point at which most cyclists' bodies stop being able to run entirely on stored energy. On rides as long as the ones we're now doing, you need to regularly replenish fluids and electrolytes, and you need to take in a steady but manageable stream of calories.

Depending on your body size, a typical day on the ride might require anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 calories or more above your normal daily intake. And this can't be only junk food or pastries from the bakery case at Starbucks (but oooh, they're so good). When your body runs out of energy, you'll start to bonk, and the symptoms can be anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to quite serious and life-threatening. This is the time to be figuring out your body's needs (everyone is different) and learning what foods and liquids work best for you.

ALC is hosting a free workshop on "Nutrition for Endurance Cycling" at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17, at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's new offices on Market Street. At this workshop, you can learn a lot about what your particular body needs; it's part of the same training that many of our ride leaders get. Find out more and RSVP here.

As I mentioned during our orientation this morning, freeway cycling is a necessary part of getting to Los Angeles. Depending on the route from year to year, about 8% of the distance is on freeways or almost-freeways. Our rides in Mountain View this season won't be going on any actual freeways (in the past, we've gone onto I-280 for short stretches, but the Crystal Springs dam closure has changed some of our training routes), but we will be going back to Central Expressway a few times between now and the end of the season.

Although Central Expressway isn't legally a freeway, the part through Sunnyvale (from Mary Avenue to Lawrence Expressway) is very freeway-esque, complete with off-ramps and on-ramps, and rather high-speed traffic that often exceeds the posted 50 mph speed limit. We've decided this season that the ALC freeway cycling rules will apply on the freeway-esque part of Central Expressway. One of these rules that I mentioned this morning is that cyclists never can cross the white shoulder line to enter a traffic lane to pass other cyclists.

Unfortunately, some of our ride leaders saw this happen a few times this morning. That's bad for several reasons, not the least of which is that mingling with high-speed traffic can be deadly. Even when it seems like there's no traffic nearby, we still don't ever do it. Entering a traffic lane on a freeway is one of the few things that can get you kicked off the ride in June; the rules are so strict because the stakes are so high. Please get in the habit now of being patient on freeways. And if you're a slower rider who's delaying five or more riders on a freeway, it's your obligation to pull over safely at the first safe opportunity so that other riders can pass.

Another obligation of slower riders comes on descents. I'm usually one of those riders; I tend to take descents a lot more slowly than many other riders. I know that some of you live for adrenaline-boosting descents, and there certainly will be plenty of those on the ride in June, including the amazing 9-mile descent from the top of the Evil Twins on Day 4. But if you'd rather take your time like me and savor the descent, you need to stay as far to the right as safely possible so that faster riders can quickly pass you without any doubt as to where you're heading. Again, these situations can be very dangerous when riders (either slower or faster ones) do unexpected things, so ride as predictably as possible.

Also, please don't ride side-by-side except to pass other riders. Even though two-abreast riding on shoulders and in bike lanes is legal in California, it's against ALC rules. We need this rule because of our large group and the need for cyclists to be able to safely pass others without entering traffic. It's a good habit to get into now. (And yes, a few ride leaders were spotted riding two abreast today. The floggings have commenced.)

At the end of the ride today, all 53 riders were accounted for ... which made my afternoon and evening significantly less stressful, so I thank all of you for either signing out or communicating with our ride leaders or SAG drivers.

And I do owe a bit of an apology for the conditions at Rest Stop 1 in Palo Alto today. When I planned these routes a few months ago, I didn't expect to have anywhere near as many riders as we have, and we simply overwhelmed the place today -- especially the restroom. I'll be doing my best to plan rest stops that have better toilet facilities; for instance, the lunch stop on our next ride is in a shopping center with Subway and Starbucks next door to each other, so you'll have a choice ... and more than one restroom.

What about that next ride? Remember, it's in two weeks, as we go back to our every-other-week schedule for the rest of the season. And now that we're all warmed up, the distances start to go up significantly from here; we'll be adding about 10 miles on each ride from here on out. That means our next ride, on February 19, will be about 60 miles, and we'll head up the Peninsula to near the now-demolished Crystal Springs Dam. There's actually a little more climbing than there was today, but it's spread out over the entire day, so it should be much more manageable ... well, except for that one little hill I've got planned. We'll be climbing Alameda de las Pulgas southbound from Hillsdale in San Mateo, which is another 0.7 mile steep climb -- but on average, it's "only" about as steep as Quadbuster. Other than that, it'll be a somewhat mellower ride than we had today. Find out more and RSVP here.

On our "off" weeks, be sure to get out there and ride at least one significant ride. You can do this on your own or as part of any of the various ALC training rides that are offered around the Bay Area. Check the official ALC calendar to find rides in your area. There's considerable benefit in riding in new and unfamiliar territory and with different groups of riders. Our Distance Training rides will get you ready to ride 200 kilometers on May 14, but that's not enough by itself to get you ready to ride to Los Angeles.

Congratulations and thank you for coming to today's ride, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.