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Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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Ride report: Distance Training #2 (1/28/2012)

Go, riders!

Our run of incredible winter weather luck continued today with near-perfect conditions for our group of 43 intrepid cyclists (one of whom, alas, didn't make it past the first mile due to a mechanical issue). We experienced a wide variety of cycling conditions, and we saw a lot of things that should help us get ready for the event in June -- and we ride out just 20 weeks from tomorrow. Special thanks to Terri for outstanding SAG service, and to Diana (who was a bit under the weather and didn't ride with us today) for the yummy baked goods.

Stop signs are a fact of life on the event and on training rides. Regardless of what you feel about them, and regardless of how desolate the territory or how alone you are, it's an ALC rule that we always come to a complete stop, with one foot on the ground and no forward motion, at every stop sign every time (unless law enforcement directs us to do otherwise). Sure, we love to ride miles and miles without stopping, and there's plenty of opportunity in June to do that as well. But since we're training, part of the training is to deal with what might seem like silly stop signs. Trust me: One $300-plus ticket from any of our local law enforcement agencies (and, trust me, they know where cyclists go), and they won't seem so silly anymore.

Also today, we transitioned repeatedly from city riding to country riding to residential riding, sometimes quite suddenly. This also happens in June; we ride through beautiful countryside, big and not-so-big cities, and even some quiet residential districts where you never know what might be backing out of a driveway. Another tip toward a happy ALC is being able to enjoy all these types of cycling and being aware of things to watch out for in each case.

Proper nutrition and hydration also become increasingly important with each successive ride. Your body can operate on its stored energy for only about two hours, and all of these rides are longer than that ... and they'll be getting a lot longer. You can try to randomly stuff yourself with whatever is available at the next rest stop, restaurant, or convenience store, but you'll probably be happier and ride better if you plan your nutrition as carefully as you plan the other parts of your ride. In June, you'll know each day's breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu the previous night, and you'll quickly learn what snack items are available at our official rest stops. And always carry some "emergency" nutrition with you -- something like a snack bar, an energy gel, sport beans, a bagel, or a banana -- so that you can take immediate action if you start to bonk.

Now, let's spend a couple of minutes in Nerd Corner.

If you record your training on a Global Positioning System (GPS)-capable device such as a Garmin, I hope you're using at least one of the many online training tools. And if you have an iPhone or almost any Android-compatible phone, you can do likewise. Many of us use Strava or RideWithGPS. (There are many other tools as well. They aren't just logs; most now offer a whole boatload of gee-whiz Web 2.0 social-media features.

I mention this because one of the features of GPS tracking is recording the total amount of climbing you do on a ride. And when I advertised this ride, I said it would have about 2,170 feet of climbing. That's what I got the last time I rode this entire route. Today, however, most of the riders who recorded elevation showed totals in the range of only 1,700 to 1,900 feet. What happened? Elevation can be tracked several ways. Your bike computer or smartphone might be able to use atmospheric pressure to estimate your elevation at any point. But this depends on your device knowing exactly where you are. Unfortunately, GPS doesn't provide that level of accuracy; it can usually position you to within 15 feet or less of your actual location. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you're in hilly terrain, the rounding error could record you as being off the road and partially up or down a hillside. The result is that the calculated elevation gain can vary significantly from rider to rider, and even from day to day. This is something to keep in mind when you see estimates of climbing.

OK, enough time in Nerd Corner. Let's look ahead to our next scheduled ride, set for Saturday, February 11. Westridge Plus. (Cue the ominous minor chord.)

What's the big deal about Westridge Plus? This is a true training ride -- not a pleasant recreational spin -- in every sense of the word. We'll start with about 20 miles that are almost perfectly flat. If you're one of our typical Mountain View riders, you might want to crank it into high gear and fly up and down Central Expressway. But -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- you probably shouldn't do that. Why? Because the rest of the ride is a festival of climbing, some of it not just steep, but very steep.

For most riders, Westridge Plus will help you find your limit. There probably will be some point on the ride where you'll want to just get off your bike. You'll probably walk up part or all of some of the hills, especially the very steep Joaquin Road in Portola Valley, and your head might even begin to go into some unhappy places. That's the idea. Because then you'll need to get past the tough part, get back on your bike, and keep riding, at least to the next hill if not beyond. (And if you truly need to end your day early, there are countless bailout options available to get you back to Mountain View by going only downhill or level.)

In June, all sorts of things can happen on the ride to mess with your head, and it's essential that you learn to deal with that effectively and safely, not just for your sake, but for the sake of everyone around you -- like a rest stop volunteer who really doesn't want to be snarled at because your day has turned sour. It's tough to simulate the stresses of a multi-day event on a training ride of only a few hours, but Westridge Plus will come close.

We've done Westridge in previous training years, and it's served as an early-season benchmark of your training level. It's often fun to return later in the season on your own and see how much you've improved. Even though this isn't necessarily a "pleasant" ride, I urge you to join us because there's an abundance of important lessons that you can learn from this challenging ride. Details and RSVP are here.

But when I announced this morning that the first forecast for the 11th was calling for sunny skies and 72 degrees, I hope I didn't speak too soon. As of tonight, the forecast for the 11th is calling for chilly, heavy rain and a high of only 51 degrees. Forecasts that far out are, of course, only a guess, so we'll see what develops. One good thing about this route is that, if the weather turns too ugly, we can easily return to Mountain View after the flat part without doing any of the nasty hills. Stay tuned.

Thanks for riding today, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.