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Ride report: Distance Training #7 (4/7/2012)

Go, riders!

After weeks and weeks of crappy weather, we finally had near-perfect conditions for our group of 36 intrepid cyclists to tackle today's challenging 90-mile ride into the East Bay hills. (And special thanks to SAG drivers Terri and Andrew!) But as many of us learned (or already knew), cutting back on training in recent weeks had consequences.

Some of us decided from the outset today to ride something less than 90 miles. I salute those of you who made such a decision because that means you're tuned in well enough to your training to know where you are and how far you should stretch yourself. There are still eight weeks to go until the event, so there's plenty of time to build back to where you want to be, whether your goal is to ride Every Friendly Inch or every inch that you can.

Many of us who went for the full 90 miles started to feel it toward the end ... especially along Calaveras Road, where that "2.8-mile climb" certainly seemed to be more like 10 miles. (Most of it was rollers, really!) I was not immune; I took my own nutrition and clothing break along Calaveras when temperatures finally got too warm for my arm warmers. And although the last 15 miles of the route were nearly flat, the headwinds certainly didn't help, and every little overpass seemed to feel like a hill. That's not unusual toward the end of a "longest ride ever," whether of all time or just this season. Where miles 80 to 90 might have felt challenging today, remember that not too long ago it was miles 50 to 60 that seemed challenging!

The good news is that, if you finished today's 90 miles -- even with a little bit of discomfort or displeasure -- your training is right back on target. But if you didn't, don't worry; there's still plenty of time. You will, however, need to make an extra effort to ride either on your own or with one of the other ride groups, particularly next weekend during our dark week.

As our distances get longer and longer (and, wow, do they ever get longer from here on out), pacing and nutrition become more important than ever. For many riders, these extreme distances are not the time to be doing power sprints or -- in my own bugaboo case -- trying to set records in Strava. In fact, both last weekend and today, I often rode in one or two gears lower than my usual cruising pace. The idea is to stay in one's "happy gear" as much as possible, especially when the terrain is not particularly challenging and there's a strong temptation to hammer. Today, when you reached the first hills in Fremont around mile 18, did you already feel tired? Or did you feel like you were just getting started? Remember that we're training to do this for seven days in a row, so you don't want to go for broke in the first hours or the first days.

As for nutrition, your calorie expenditures are going way, way up, into the thousands. (Everybody is different.) You can't possibly replenish all those calories while riding, but you need to maintain a steady input (probably 250 to 400 calories per hour, depending on your body type) and then work to replenish yourself after the ride. The adage is true: This close to the event is not the time to be aiming for huge weight loss. Besides, as I can attest from several years of bad behavior on my part, such attempts this close to the ride often produce the opposite effect because your body can't properly respond to the stress you're placing on it.

On the safety front, most of us are riding within the rules, and we're setting a good example for the other non-ALC cyclists who are sharing the road with us. I only saw one mildly troubling thing today: On the freeway part of Central Expressway, I saw a couple of cases of riders touching (but not crossing) the white line into a main traffic lane. Remember that, when freeway rules are in effect, even touching the white line is a no-no. Also, it's essential that we ride truly single-file on freeways. Some years ago, the freeway rules prohibited any passing, but that changed in recent years to allow safe passing only when completely inside the white line. When we're not riding single-file, passing safely becomes impossible.

What happens on the event when you get caught breaking a rule? Imagine coming to Bike Parking in the morning, and you're all ready for another day, but your bike isn't there. Instead, a tag has been placed on the pole where your bike is supposed to be. Then you need to visit the ALC field office, plead your case, and maybe you'll get your bike back ... or maybe you'll be suspended from the ride for a day ... or, if it's extremely serious, you could be pulled from the event and forced to find your own transportation back home from camp. That's not a good story to tell your donors, so don't let it happen! The freeway rules are among the most strictly enforced on the event because disobeying them can have such serious consequences. And remember: We're not on just a couple of miles of freeway in June. About 8% of the total route (the exact amount varies from year to year) is on freeways or expressways.

What's next? In just two weeks, it's our first century of the season! The South Bay Century is, in my opinion, considerably easier than today's ride. There's a lot less climbing, and it's more urban, so there are many more short breaks at traffic signals. (Yes, that means your pace probably slows a bit, but those breaks help keep you happy all day long.) But it is 100 miles long, and any century ride really isn't "easy" at all. Last year, we changed the route around east San Jose to be a little less hectic, and it went well, so we'll be using that route again this year. And there's still a light-rail bailout available at mile 71 if you're not quite up to the full distance. Find out more and RSVP here.

We're just six weeks away from the Fifth Annual Altamont Pass Double Metric. Remember that it's a prerequisite for you to ride at least one century ride before Altamont Pass, and our South Bay Century certainly meets that requirement. Why do we have this rule? Because jumping to 125 miles from less than 100 miles is risky, especially so close to the event. And as some of us found today, making a big distance jump all at once can make for an unpleasant day.

Finally, lost and found department: Some yellow outerwear was left with a SAG vehicle but was not reclaimed. If it's yours, let me know, and we can work out getting it back to you.

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