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Ride report: Distance Training #9 (4/30/2011)

Go, riders!

Our group of 37 brave riders had an absolutely awesome 55-mile ride today! Just one little problem, however: After we got to Gilroy, we had another 55-mile ride that most of us probably considered somewhat less than absolutely awesome.

Yes, the wind can give ... and the wind can take it all back. As we enjoyed the unusually brisk tailwinds around the reservoirs on our way to Gilroy, most of us figured out that our good fortune would soon come to an end. That's why ALC rides from San Francisco to Los Angeles and not the other way around! In June, the winds in coastal California are generally out of the northwest and west, and this gives us a big boost on several parts of the route, most notably the end of Day 2 and the end of Day 4.

ALC veterans who remember Day 5 of ALC8 or ALC9 probably felt a case of deja vu today. For the past two years, the Day 5 route has gone westbound from Solvang to Lompoc, directly into the wind. And that wind was even stronger than what we experienced today. The good news is that, this year, the Day 5 route has changed; not only is it about 25 miles shorter, it probably won't be subject to those nasty headwinds.

But weather is finicky, perhaps even more finicky these days than in the past. Last year, we even had some headwinds out of the east on part of Day 7. Although the route is designed to avoid traditional headwinds, anything can happen, and today you got some valuable experience in how to cope with headwinds, even if you don't particularly like them. Gear down, and aim to keep your cadence -- the rate at which you spin your pedals -- about the same as your normal rate. Don't worry about your speed being less. If you have experience riding in your drops, get down in that position to reduce your wind resistance (but don't lose sight of your surroundings). But remember, no drafting is allowed in ALC, even when the wind is crappy.

Conversely, when you have a nice tailwind, it often helps to sit more upright, even if you normally ride in your drops. By increasing the profile you present to the wind, you get an even bigger assist.

Even taking all that advice to heart, however, I was definitely feeling all used up by the time we reached San Jose today. And that was too bad, because conditions definitely improved somewhat after that. So I had to resort to a technique that I seem to use way too often: riding in a "degraded" mode in order to finish the day. I was generally down about two to three gears from where I'd normally be. I was taking many more short breaks (one to two minutes, perhaps every 5 miles or even more often). And, sure enough, I made it all the way to Mountain View, even though I came this close to taking the light-rail bailout. As always, it's a ride and not a race.

We also learned a few valuable lessons about weather and the environment today. This was a particularly dry day, much more so than on past rides, and the roaring wind didn't help either. And it was warmer than on most of our recent rides, with an official high today of 73F in San Jose. Most importantly, the relative humidity in San Jose at 3 p.m. was a bone-dry 17%. Did you notice that you needed much more water today than on past rides? And did you react properly to that? Alas, I did not, and one of the most telling signs of that is how often and how much you need to use the bathroom during a ride. I'll spare you the details, but I'm sure you're all too familiar with your performance in that area today. I could feel my throat getting dry, and that was a warning sign that I did not properly hydrate, even though I was taking in more fluid per hour than on any other ride this season.

In June, when we leave the immediate coastal areas and head inland, we often ride right into similar conditions, perhaps even a bit hotter. I can't stress enough the importance of proper hydration, particularly on multi-day events. And it's important that you hydrate with something more substantial than water; you don't want to run the risk of hyponatremia, which can happen when you don't adequately replace the electrolytes that your body is expelling. Today, my red headband was so covered in salt by Rest Stop 4 that I had to wash it in a sink -- and it was again covered in white by the end of the day.

And many of us also got uncomfortable experience with California allergies today. Whatever was in the air, it had many of us (including me) coughing and wheezing by the end of the day. Although it was unpleasant today, it was another good thing to learn before June, so you can medicate yourself appropriately to manage whatever effects you felt. Be careful with antihistamines, however -- they can put you to sleep, and the event medical staff can even pull a rider from the route if it's known that they've taken antihistamines.

How do I know this? Well ... this gets to another of today's many lessons. As we were riding on Day Road on the final stretch into Gilroy, I ran directly into several swarms of small insects, which proceeded to get all over my face. Fortunately, I did not have my mouth open at the time, or it could have been much more unpleasant. A few years ago on ALC, however, I was not as smart, and a bee managed to fly directly into my mouth ... and deposit its stinger inside my lower lip. I was riding by myself at the time, but I immediately dismounted and started giving a big thumbs-down signal. The first rider who came by stopped, and after I explained the situation, was able to reach into my mouth and locate and remove the offending stinger. My lip, of course, started to swell, so I stopped at the medical tent at the next rest stop. They told me I could just put some ice on it, or they could give me an antihistamine to reduce the swelling. But if they did, they'd declare me ineligible to ride the rest of the day. I declined their offer, and I learned that, fortunately, I was not allergic to bee stings. That's just one example of the many things that the ALC volunteer medical staff watches out for in the name of safety. They do an amazing job in June under very difficult conditions, with riders in a variety of emotional and physical states. Be sure to thank them!

Also thank the many volunteer bike techs who you'll see at every rest stop on the event. They're also there to help you, but they're not a substitute for a proper bike tune-up before June. If you haven't done so already, be sure to get your bike into a shop for a good once-over. It's important to schedule this now, because many bike shops have a backlog of work this time of year, and you obviously can't afford to be without your bike for too long during the peak of training season.

So ... what's next? If you don't know by now, we have just one ride left in our Mountain View rides for this season, and it's the big kahuna -- the fourth annual Altamont Pass Double Metric, two weeks from today on Saturday, May 14. And here's a piece of really good news: if you rode all of today's route, you're only about one hour away from completing the double metric! And since our ride-out time is one hour earlier than today, your finish time might be just about the same, if not earlier ... if the wind doesn't give us another unpleasant surprise.

Another piece of excellent news: the first forecast from The Weather Channel is out for ride day, and the early indication is that temperatures will be near normal, with a forecast high of 72F in Mountain View and only 76F in Livermore.

I won't go into too much detail here about the ride, because I've assembled a detailed FAQ list here that covers most of the important points. Find out more and RSVP here. Incidentally, it's very important that you RSVP for this event. I'll be assembling rider packets, and I'll be distributing rider lists to our SAG drivers so they can help keep track of everyone.

If you finished today's ride, you are more than ready to attempt the double metric. And if you didn't finish, you've still got one more weekend to complete the 100-mile ride (if you haven't done so already) that's required for entering the double metric, so don't fret. Why is this a rule for the double metric? Jumping directly to 125 miles from a much lower maximum distance can put you -- and the riders around you -- in a potentially dangerous situation, and that's something to avoid this close to June.

The Altamont Pass Double Metric is the longest one-day ALC training ride anywhere in the nation, and it's become part of ALC legend with epic rides and incredible stories. I hope you can join us on May 14 for the culmination of our training season together.

Today is just five weeks away from Day 0! Thanks again for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.