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Ride report: Distance Training #8 (4/16/2011)

Go, riders!

If you had any lingering doubts about whether you're ready to ride in June, I hope today put those doubts in the trashbin of history. Our group of 42 intrepid riders -- the most ever for an ALC century ride in Mountain View! -- conquered a challenging 100-mile route that had hills, headwinds, and even some temperatures warm enough to be slightly annoying at times.

Except for two riders who had made earlier plans to leave the ride early, each and every rider completed the entire route. That's an amazing accomplishment, not just for each of you as individuals, but for all of us as a group. The way that I saw riders helping one another today is a perfect example of the teamwork that will get you to Los Angeles in less than two months.

That's not to say that today's ride was easy. It wasn't supposed to be! Whether today was your first century ever or your 37th century (that would be me), 100 miles in one day is a singular achievement that is universally recognized as a pillar of achievement in the sport of cycling. And I can assure you that they pretty much don't ever become "easy."

We got a good sample today of how the weather can change dramatically during a long day of riding -- and that's an important lesson to remember for June. From a fairly cool start to the day, we went into a little light fog, with the sun peeking through now and then and quickly warming things up for a couple of minutes, then back into the clouds in the East Bay, and into some warm and windy conditions as we went farther south. By the time I got to Los Gatos, I was wishing I had worn leg warmers instead of long-legged pants because they were too much for even me.

Dressing in layers is essential in June, because the temperature extremes can be even greater than what we experienced today. Ride-out temperatures are often in the 40s, even at the coast, and on a day such as Day 2, afternoon temperatures can easily rise into the 90s or even higher. You need to keep your body warm when it's cool, but you need to let your body breathe when it's hot -- and you need to do it with clothing that you can carry with you all day. There are two reasons for that: There's no clothing drop along the route during ALC, but you wouldn't want that anyway, because you'll often be adding layers back toward the end of a day as it gets cooler.

You also probably noticed that your calorie requirements went through the roof today. Depending on your body, you probably burned anywhere from 3,500 calories to 7,000 calories or more on just this one ride. It's usually not practical to replace all of that while riding (your stomach would probably be quite unhappy if you tried), but you need to put a steady stream of calories into your body during the ride ... usually about as many as you can comfortably take, which is about 300 to 400 an hour for many cyclists. This is one of those magic numbers that you should be learning for yourself during these final weeks of training.

One way that ALC differs from our training rides is that there are usually more rest stops during the day. Most days have four rest stops plus a lunch stop; a few days have an additional water stop. (And that's just the official stops. There are many other unofficial stops that have become established parts of the ALC lore. In fact, the unofficial artichoke stop on Day 2 is now so well established that it has a closing time just like the official rest stops!) This means that you'll be able to stop more often to take care of your various needs. But remember: Don't linger at rest stops; you need to make steady progress during each day to stay ahead of the rest stop closing times, which are usually set at a little more generous than what you've seen on our rides.

On very long rides, it's all too easy to start forgetting about the ALC safety rules, particularly toward the end. That's unfortunate, because that's when the safety rules are often most important -- precisely because so many riders are heavily exerted by then and perhaps not as likely to always do the right thing on the road. Even at mile 90, always call out and use hand signals.

Another of the ALC safety rules is that we always ride single files -- even in marked bike lanes. This isn't required by the California Vehicle Code, but ALC requires it because our group is so large that cyclists need room to safely pass. Catching up with friends is better left for the rest stops and campsites. Another thing that the CVC doesn't prohibit is playing music through speakers while riding, but ALC doesn't allow that either because it could potentially interfere with riders communicating safety information.

We don't have safety patrols on training rides, but in June there will be staff vehicles dedicated to observing cyclist behavior and noting the rider number of anyone who breaks the rules. Don't get a dreaded ALC ticket attached to your bike in camp -- or, even worse, don't return to bike parking the next morning and find that the staff has impounded your bike until you come talk to them. It takes time and it's embarrassing, but it's done because safety is so important to ALC.

Apologies are in order to a few riders who got confused at the intersection of Clayton and Story in San Jose. The street sign wasn't very visible, and a few folks missed the turn. When I got there and saw the situation, I started doing traffic control, but the faster riders got there before I did. That was part of the "new" section of the route this year, and the lesson is learned -- next time, the route sheet will be more explicit about what that intersection is and what to do once you get there.

How do you follow up a successful 100-mile ride? By riding again the next day, of course! If you're not doing it already, this is the time to be adding that second day. That's the extra "oomph" that will set you apart from "mere" century riders and give you the added skills to successfully complete ALC10. Don't feel obligated to ride tomorrow, especially if this was your first century ever, but if you are riding tomorrow, consider one of the many ALC training rides around the Bay Area. Down here, the Sunnyvale Cat-2 group will be running a 75-mile "kinda hilly ride," but it's running at the slower 10-12 mph pace, so you can take your time. It's got an early start tomorrow, but you can still RSVP here.

And don't forget next Saturday's official Day on the Ride in San Rafael. It's "only" 65 miles (only!), but it's got quite a bit more climbing than we did in our entire 100-mile ride today (although it's about 10% less climbing than last year's Day on the Ride). It's a challenging route that will take you into parts of Marin and Sonoma counties that you might never have seen before -- and because the ride starts way up in San Rafael, you won't have to deal with the crowded riding conditions in Sausalito and Mill Valley. Day on the Ride costs $20, but that also gets you lunch and dinner plus amazing roadie support throughout the day. Tickets are required, and I hear that the food orders are going in on Monday, so now would be a good time to get your ticket here.

Our next ride comes in two weeks on Saturday, April 30, and it's another classic. It even sounds impressive to say, "I'm riding to Gilroy and back on a bicycle!" The first half of the ride is scenic with rolling hills as we go around the Uvas and Calero reservoirs. After we have lunch in Gilroy, we then head up the valley through Morgan Hill and back into San Jose on a route that's almost totally flat. But hold on. If the wind is blowing out of the north (like it did for part of the day today), that flat route can suddenly become very challenging indeed. On the other hand, if the wind magically comes out of the south (like it did on this ride last year), the return trip can be an unexpected, er, breeze. Anything can happen on this epic 111-mile ride, and you're invited to be part of it. Find out more and RSVP here.

And finally, a visit to the Lost and Found Department. I ended the day with another rider's fleece vest in my car. Because my mind was elsewhere this morning, I failed to note whose it is. So if it's yours, send me a note, and I'll make arrangements to get it to you ASAP. I know how important a fleece vest can be in the morning!

Congratulations to everyone on an amazing day, thank you for riding, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

All of the photos are from the top of Silver Creek Valley Road, a truly amazing hill in both directions! Mount Hamilton is visible in the background.