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Ride report: Distance Training #4 (2/25/2012)

Go, riders!

Except maybe for just a little bit too much wind, you really couldn't ask for a finer winter day for riding almost 60 miles. And our group of 51 intrepid riders handled the route and the conditions with skill and grace, with no major issues or incidents all day long. Terri and Ken, our wonderful SAG drivers, helped with a couple of flats (and transporting our more-than-ample supply of Girl Scout cookies), but we were again fortunate that their services were not needed for anything more serious.

Today's new piece of the challenge was the wind. As we move closer to spring, winds typically pick up in the Bay Area, so we'll be dealing with this more often. And the California coast in June can be very windy indeed. This is why we generally travel north to south: We get to take advantage of a prevailing tailwind on much of the ride. But there are segments where we travel in other directions ... and, as happened on part of last year's ride, freaky weather can reverse the wind direction and give us unexpected headwinds or crosswinds.

It's usually a safe bet that, while tailwinds are most prevalent in June, you'll get at least some stretches of strong headwinds or crosswinds, so you should be comfortable and skilled in dealing with them ... and doing so without the aerodynamic benefits of pacelines. (Really. ALC staff are serious in June about the no-pacelines rule. Don't think you can get away with it just because you're ahead of most other riders.)

Here are some good tips on riding in a headwind. (And it's tough to find such pages that don't suggest "draft other riders"!)

Another skill that becomes more important with every ride is pacing yourself. At 60 miles and above, most of us can't treat these rides as sprints. This also means that many of us probably shouldn't be striving to set speed records on extremely long training rides. I'm quite guilty of this; I wrote recently in my blog about the "Strava effect" and how training based in social networks can both help and hurt.

Today, we had more than 23 miles between rest stops 1 and 2. That was a lot, and at least some of us (including me) were getting a little bit worn out by the time we reached Portola Valley. Now, imagine that feeling during a seven-day ride. You don't want to be there! Again, the secret to ALC happiness (and endurance cycling in general) is to find a pace that you can essentially maintain forever ... and then stick with it. Some other riders will have a faster pace; some will be slower. That's fine. You need to make it your ride. Knowing that you're just 15 miles away from the end might make you want to go faster to get a ride over with. But doing so might just make you more unhappy instead of less. Stick to, as longtime rider Doreen Gonzales says, your "happy gear."

One interesting situation happened today, and it was partially my fault. For the first time that I can recall in six years of leading training rides on the Peninsula, we had three official ALC rides sharing parts of the same route at the same time. (This is a very encouraging development!) But I didn't mention this before our ride-out, mostly because I was lazy and forgot to check where the other rides were going today.

This is important because, as I point out in every Rider's Briefing, everyone needs to refer to our route sheet during the ride and not rely on other riders for direction. Alas, one of our riders ended up following some Sunnyvale riders back to their finishing point in Sunnyvale ... and picking up a few bonus miles to get back on track to Mountain View. So it's at least partially my fault for not reminding everyone that they will often meet cyclists doing other rides to other destinations. And an orange ALC tag is no guarantee that the other rider is on the same route as you. (But it does mean that they have impeccable taste!)

Just about everybody is doing a great job of following the all-important ALC safety rules. That means I can delve a little more deeply into some of the finer points of the rules and talk about how things work in the real world compared to on paper.

Case in point: "Keep at least one bike length between you and the rider in front of you." We know it, we know why it's a rule, and we generally obey it. But it's hardly a secret that this isn't always the case. We certainly don't do pacelining (really!), but we often find ourselves in a position where we're a little bit too close to the rider in front of us. That happened to me this morning, and something bad almost happened because of it. The rider in front of me kicked up a small rock from the surface. (Such things just happen; it most definitely wasn't the rider's "fault.") The rock traveled perpendicular to our line of motion, making a harmless "ping!" against the side of a passing car. But it just as easily could have gone backwards, toward me. That would have been bad, especially because I probably wouldn't have had time to react.

And sometimes, "one bike length" simply isn't enough. (That's the "at least" part.) Think about when you're descending at 30 or 40 mph; you need a lot more distance to react. It's just like when driving a car: You need reaction time, not distance. As with most other things, use common sense. Always give yourself time and space to react to unexpected events. Remember that, in June, you'll be sharing the road with riders of all different skill and experience levels, and some of them might do things that seem plain stupid and unexpected to you.

What's next? In two weeks, we're going on an all-new route for the Distance Training rides. We'll head to south San Jose and climb Metcalf Road, which is listed in Strava as 1.7 miles with an average grade of 10.6%. Compare that to Westridge from two weeks ago, which was 0.7 mile at 10.6%. The views, however, are well worth the effort, and climbing Metcalf will take us into some unusually remote territory that feels completely different from most of the other places we ride. Also, Metcalf is the only significant climb of the day, so the rest of the 69-mile route should feel quite tame by comparison. Find out more and RSVP here.

The Metcalf ride is our last ride of the season that will have a 9:30 a.m. meet time; subsequent rides will start getting progressively earlier, usually 30 or 60 minutes earlier each time. (I have to do this so we can all get back to Mountain View before sunset.) Unfortunately, this means that Caltrain won't be able to reach Mountain View in time for our rides after Metcalf, so if you're taking the train to get to us, I hope you'll be able to find some other transportation.

Also, let me take a couple minutes to tell you about another big event I'm producing later this year. Different Spokes San Francisco is presenting Double Bay Double 2, a two-day, 208-mile ride to benefit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. This year's event takes place Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30.

Last year, DBD1 was an amazingly fun weekend that riders and volunteers alike enjoyed and spoke highly of afterward. In fact, it often felt like one of our Mountain View training rides, just a lot longer. We ride 108 miles (rain or shine) on the first day from Mountain View to Santa Cruz and onto Marina, we spend the night at a hotel in Marina, and then we ride 100 miles back through Salinas, Gilroy, and San Jose on our way back to Mountain View. Except for Highway 1 from San Gregorio to Santa Cruz, and a few miles around Marina, the route is different from what you'll ride in ALC.

If you're familiar with the foundation's Seismic Challenge, DBD is very similar in distance and difficulty to the original two-day format of Seismic. But the foundation has decided to discontinue Seismic, so I hope to help fill the gap with DBD2. One big difference is that DBD riders are expected to be self-funding, buying their food along the route (or bringing it) and paying for their own lodging. The big win for the foundation is that they incur no event overhead, which means that every fundraising dollar goes directly to SFAF programs and services. Again this year, the foundation is being very supportive, and they're setting us up in Convio just like ALC, so the fundraising interface will be almost exactly what you're used to with ALC. Our fundraising minimum will be only $300 for each rider this year.

Registration for DBD2 is expected to open sometime in the next few days. We limit the event to just 50 riders (that's smaller than today's training ride, by one person!), so it's a relatively intimate event where you'll get to see a little bit of everything that the region has to offer. (That also means that the event could easily fill quickly this year.) Check the event website for details. You'll find many of the same smiling faces that you've come to know on our training rides!

Just 99 days until we ride out in ALC11! Thanks for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle, and I hope you can join us in two weeks for Metcalf.