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Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #9 (4/20/2013)

Go, riders!

Now that we've rocketed past the century milestone, each of our rides is nothing less than epic. Our group of 20 riders (including one who overslept but still managed to join us almost on time) experienced a little bit of everything yesterday: jubilation, excitement, wonder, frustration, and even some disappointment along our 113-mile route. Eighteen of us made it back to Mountain View under our own power; we had one minor collision and one minor medical issue, but nothing serious. Big thanks to super SAG driver Keith and rest stop volunteer Tom, without whom the day would not have been possible.

We got to see a little bit of everything that the South Bay (and beyond) has to offer: the big city, small towns, agricultural flatlands, rolling foothills, secluded highlands. And we got to do a lot more open-road cycling than we're normally able to do on our rides closer to home. This was a significant change for a couple of reasons. Your overall pace might have gone up a little bit because you weren't stopping and starting so much. But also, riding nonstop for miles on end can feel a lot different if you're not used to it. Those of you who were riding with me from San Jose to Morgan Hill in the morning saw this when, after several nonstop miles, I simply couldn't maintain my ambitious pace any longer and had to let you go on by.

There's nothing wrong with slowing down during a long segment ... or even stopping safely to take a short break. If your sense of pride interferes, just whip out your camera or cellphone and tell others that you're taking a photo break! (But be sure to take plenty of true photo breaks, too. There's a lot to see between here and Los Angeles.)

This ride also strongly demonstrated the need to pace oneself. We started with 40 miles of almost perfectly flat riding, some of it even assisted with a generous tailwind that started at just about the optimal time. Early in the day with full energy reserves, it's tempting to open up and give it everything you've got, especially if you find flat-terrain cycling to be not the most exciting thing in the world. But, of course, we had plenty of climbing after that, including the return around the reservoirs that, to me, always ends up being much more difficult than the numbers suggest, no matter the ride.

That's also the case in June. While there's no shortage of climbing, there are also many stretches of long, flat cycling ... and once you've seen your first 63 agricultural fields, it can seem like you've seen them all. But endurance, not racing, is our long-term goal. Sure, it's OK to naturally go a bit faster on flat terrain, but if you're monitoring your heart rate either electronically or informally, my guess is that you probably don't want to be hitting your peak heart rate on flat terrain in the middle of nowhere.

I mentioned frustration and disappointment, too. Any time that you don't complete a ride as planned can wreak havoc with your head. Even though we aren't racers, many of us take a dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) personally and let it fester into all sorts of toxic manifestations.

Last Saturday, I went to an 80-mile ALC training ride on our off weekend, and my ride did not go well at all. I finished every mile, but I was grumpy and sore at the end, and my body didn't get back to normal for several days afterward. I went out on my bike a few times in the past week, but each time, it felt like 30 or 40 miles was my limit, and by the end of each ride, I really wasn't wanting to go another foot. I was more than a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to complete yesterday's ride, and I had formulated backup plans to sweep the whole day or even drive a SAG vehicle myself. I had talked myself into believing that I couldn't do it.

Of course, I did complete yesterday's ride, and I finished strongly. My stats compared to last year were about the same. (See the "nerd detour" below.) The part of the ride from Gilroy back to San Jose was certainly difficult for me, but when I realized that I was going to make it, there was a sea change in how I approached the rest of the ride.

The moral is that most of us have bad days, and you can't let them get to you. Alas, I'm also well aware that it's much easier to say this that than it is to do this.

(Stats nerd detour: Last year, I recorded my ride with the Strava Android app. Yesterday, I recorded both on Strava and on my Garmin device, mostly because I was worried that the battery on the Garmin wouldn't last the whole day. The Strava stats showed me about 3.5% faster than did the Garmin stats -- something I've consistently seen when recording other rides with both devices. Again, the moral is that any of the stats we record using GPS devices are inaccurate and are only estimates, and it's generally not helpful to get bogged down in the precise details, but rather to look at long-term trends.)

What's next? It's the big one: the sixth annual Altamont Pass Double Metric. Our 200-kilometer (125-mile) journey takes us into the East Bay for the world's longest one-day ALC training ride. Like yesterday, it's a giant mix of urban and rural conditions ... but it has a little less climbing than yesterday's ride, and no giant hills at all. The biggest climb is the short westbound climb of the Dublin Grade, which is over in just a few minutes (last year, for me, 12 minutes).

The weather is the biggest factor in determining how tough the Altamont Pass ride can be. We've had days in the 60s, and we've had days where the temperature has exceeded 100 degrees. We've had light winds and strong winds. We've had a couple of light showers but, fortunately, no heavy rain. At two weeks out, it's rather pointless to make any predictions, but the early AccuWeather guess is suggesting cloudy skies, possibly cool temperatures, and perhaps some moderate wind.

Our meet time is 5:30 a.m., only half an hour earlier than yesterday, and you'll have until about 7:30 p.m. to complete the route. April has graciously volunteered to be a bike tech for us, and she'll be at our Livermore rest stop (mile 60) to take care of any mechanical issues that might arise. The route is mostly the same as last year, although we'll go back to riding through the McCarthy Ranch area on the way back instead of by the Great Mall, which was sometimes just a bit too stressful for so late in the day. We'll also ride a little bit more on Mission Blvd., now that most of the construction work is finally done after all these years. To find out more and RSVP, go here. (Also, I'm still looking for SAG drivers for the ride. If you know of someone who can help -- or if you'd rather drive than ride -- let me know.)

Thank you for being part of another epic day, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

ALC12 Distance Training #11: Saratoga Gap (5/18/2013)

Date: Saturday, May 18
Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Parking lot at Villa and Franklin streets, Mountain View (across from the Tied House) (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 3 - moderate-fast pace (12-15 mph)
Terrain: 4 - long climbs
Miles: 62

Description:

It's the end of the sixth season of Distance Training rides, and we're wrapping things up in style with an all-new celebration ride this year.

This isn't just some simple run up the street to the next Starbucks and back. Noooooo. We'll climb all the way up Highway 9 from Saratoga to the top elevation of 2,673 feet -- that's higher than Mt. Tam -- and then enjoy an amazing backcountry descent on West Alpine Road into the community of La Honda. Then we'll climb Highway 84 back to the summit (only 1,477 feet in this direction, quite mercifully) and return directly to Mountain View on Alameda de las Pulgas and Foothill Expressway. No surprise hills near the end, no golf course, no La Cresta, no quarry ... we promise!

Total climbing on this ride is about 5,000 feet, but most of it isn't all that steep. For this celebration ride, our ride-out time is late enough that you can take Caltrain to get here in time for the start.

Click here to RSVP
RSVPs are requested but not required.

Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #8 (4/6/2013)

Go, riders!

Cycling 100 miles in one day is one of the sport's signature achievements. Only a very small percentage of those who take up the sport ever complete even one century ride. But today, each and every one of our 22 riders completed Every Friendly Inch of our 100-mile route ... including at least three for whom this was their first century ever! Special thanks to SAG drivers Taryl (welcome back!) and Tom for being there when needed.

Calling any century ride "easy" wouldn't do justice to the amazing achievement this represents. But I believe it is fair to say that today's near-ideal weather certainly made things at least a bit "easier" for us, especially compared to last year's running of this same ride when temperatures soared to over 100 degrees.

And while today's route had (more than) its share of urban traffic, stop signs, and signals, everybody finished well within the time limit. Today's route was similar in difficulty and conditions to Day 4 of the event, so now we've done rides that are at least as challenging as six of the seven days of the event. We are in great shape with nearly two months to go!

Today's ride was not without its challenges, of course. We had several flats, many of which were no doubt caused by the vast amounts of broken glass and debris on the streets of the East Bay and San Jose. It seems as if this is becoming more of a problem for us, particularly in areas where budget cuts are affecting street maintenance, and particularly in areas where people seem to be acting more rude and inconsiderate of others. In June, fortunately, the route is checked each day by our awesome roadies, and most glass or debris is swept up long before we would ever see it. But that doesn't mean it never happens ... and when you're riding in a large group, it's important to call out (and, where safe to do so, point out) debris because other riders might not be able to see it.

There was only one significant climb today. But, unlike other rides where I've placed the big climbs near the beginning of the ride, today's climb was about two-thirds of the way through.

As climbs go, it really wasn't that bad, but even for me, it felt a whole lot different at mile 66 than it would have felt at mile 12. That's also a good simulation of what happens in June: While most big climbs are indeed early in the day, the day-after-day grind can make little hills feel much bigger later in the week. (And even the little McClellan Road hill probably felt a bit tougher than usual when I deviously placed it at mile 94.)

There are almost certainly no double-digit uphills on the event. I can't say that it won't ever happen, because it happened once a few years ago due to a rerouting, but it is definitely safe to say that we've done hills this season that are far worse than anything you'll encounter on the event.

As we get closer to the event, don't forget the ALC rules. I saw a few cases of side-by-side riding today, and that's not allowed on the event (even though, in a bike lane, it's legal in California). Remember that we need to leave a clear path for other riders to pass us. And don't forget to call out "car back," especially when we're not in a bike lane. There were a couple of times when I should have heard a callout from another rider. The ALC rules apply to all of us, regardless of our pace.

Because everyone on today's ride finished the entire route, each of you has now qualified to ride in this year's Altamont Pass Double Metric on Saturday, May 4 (just four weeks from today). If you RSVP by next Sunday the 14th, you'll also get a free commemorative T-shirt that will look great on you in camp. Find out more here. If you didn't ride with us today, you can still qualify by completing at least one ride of at least 100 miles before May 4.

And I just happen to have another chance for you coming up in two weeks! Join us on April 20 for our 113-mile ride all the way to Gilroy and back. We'll be using the same route that we debuted last year: through downtown San Jose and along Monterey Highway into Morgan Hill, then up into the hills near Gilroy Hot Springs, with a return around the south valley reservoirs. This is a fascinating ride, and it's just about as long and as hilly as Day 2 -- the longest day -- of the event. Find out more and RSVP here.

Note that the meet time for our next ride is 90 minutes earlier than today. (Ouch!) We meet in the dark at 6 a.m. and ride out at 6:30, just after sunrise. This helps us get through San Jose as early as possible before any traffic builds, and it gives us a full 13 hours of daylight to complete the ride (a little bit more than what you'll get on Day 2 in June), so nobody will need to feel pressured to go too fast. Pacing on such long rides is absolutely essential! I hope you'll join us for this memorable ride.

Congratulations again on a job well done today, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

2013 Altamont Pass Double Metric FAQ

Last updated April 23
What is a double metric century?
Who should ride the Altamont Pass Double Metric?
Is qualification required?
Is pre-registration required?
Must I be registered for AIDS/LifeCycle?
What happens on ride morning?
Can I use the toilet at the nearby police station?
What's the weather going to be like?
Will we ride if it's raining?
What's the route?
Is the route marked?
Will we encounter other events along the route?
How much does the ride cost?
How fast do I need to ride?
Can I really ride just 12 mph?
Can I bring bicycle lighting and complete the route after sunset?
What happens if I'm not riding fast enough?
Do I have to ride the entire 200-kilometer route? Can I take a short cut?
What types of SAG service will be available?
Are hotels available near the meeting location?
Got more questions? Email me. Items of general interest will be added to this list.

What is a double metric century?
A double metric century is 200 kilometers, or approximately 125 miles, of bicycling in a single day.

Who should ride the Altamont Pass Double Metric?
This ride is designed for AIDS/LifeCycle riders who desire an extreme challenge to mark the culmination of their training season. The longest day on AIDS/LifeCycle is only about 109 miles, so you do not need to do this ride to be ready for the event. However, many riders have found that taking part in the double metric helps make the longest days of ALC seem a little bit easier.

Is qualification required?
You should have completed at least a 100-mile ride before May 4. Otherwise, the jump in mileage might be too much, and you might not be able to complete the ride, or you might injure yourself just a few weeks before AIDS/LifeCycle 12. You don't need to tell us what century you've done, but please honestly assess your abilities.

Is pre-registration required?
No; but we'd really appreciate it if you did. This will let us give an accurate roster to the SAG drivers so that they can identify or locate you if necessary during the day. To RSVP, use this link to send email.

Must I be registered for AIDS/LifeCycle?
No; this ride is open to everyone who can ride fast enough and who agrees to ride according to our rules. If you're not yet part of ALC, perhaps this ride will persuade you to register for next year's event!

What happens on ride morning?
Our meeting location is next to condominiums (and a police station), so please be quiet and respectful when arriving. You should plan to arrive at the meeting place in downtown Mountain View by 5:30 a.m. so that you have plenty of time to unload your bicycle and sign in. At sign-in, you will receive a frame number for you to affix to your bicycle frame. (This is separate from your ALC rider number.) The frame number will be important throughout the day for SAG drivers and other riders to identify cyclists who are part of this ride. Warm-up exercises and the route briefing begin at about 5:35 a.m. All riders must be already signed in, present, and attentive at 6:00 a.m. for a mandatory safety speech. Ride-out is at official sunrise, 6:09 a.m.

Can I use the toilet at the nearby police station?
Sorry, no; the police station isn't open for public access that early in the morning. Please take care of your restroom needs before arriving, and make sure your water bottles are full and ready to go.

What's the weather going to be like?
In short, could be just about anything. Past years of this event have seen temperatures above 100 degrees, but in 2012 the weather was near-perfect. In 2011, we had a chilly, windy day with midday temperatures only in the 50s with a brief but strong evening rain shower, and in 2010 we had a pleasant day in the 50s and 60s. The historical temperature data for Livermore on May 4 shows an average high of 73 degrees and a record high of 96.

Will we ride if it's raining?
Probably yes. We will cancel the ride only if there is steady, heavy rain on ride day or if there is a likelihood of thunderstorms or other severe weather.

What's the route?
You will receive a route sheet on the morning of the ride. We expect that the route will be mostly unchanged from last year, although there are a few changes in Pleasanton due to road work, and we'll be returning through McCarthy Ranch instead of by the Great Mall. This year's preliminary route is here. Last-minute changes are possible due to road work and other unforeseen events.

Is the route marked?
No; there are no pavement arrows, signs, or other markings. There are approximately 55 turns on the route, so you will need to refer to your route sheet frequently during the ride; consider a map holder or binder clips. On some parts of the route, you will see pavement arrows of various colors and styles; these are for other events to other destinations, and you should not follow them.

Will we encounter other events along the route?
The Mountain View A La Carte & Art Festival will be set up on Castro Street all day. This means that you will need to access the meeting location from Shoreline Blvd. and Villa Street. If you finish your ride before 6 p.m., police might direct you to dismount your bicycle and walk across Central Expressway through the fair area onto Evelyn Street. (On the plus side, great food will be available for purchase.) The Rowell Ranch annual rodeo will not be taking place along Dublin Canyon Road on ride day this year.

How much does the ride cost?
It's free! Our six rest stops are all at coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores, so you will need to buy or bring your own food and liquid. If you use any of the nonperishable supplies from a SAG vehicle, such as extra tubes, please consider making a small donation to the driver to help cover the replacement cost of these items. The SAG drivers also pay for gas, food, and water and are not reimbursed by ALC, so you are encouraged to help cover their costs if you are able to do so.

How fast do I need to ride?
This ride is designed for riders who can maintain an average speed of at least 12 mph on flat to rolling terrain. We love all cyclists, but the 12 mph pace is necessary to complete the route before sunset.

Can I really ride just 12 mph?
Yes! There will certainly be riders who are faster than 12 mph, but if you ride a steady 12 mph pace and do not take too long at rest stops, you can finish this ride in 13.5 hours or less. There will always be at least one ride leader at the back of the group, so you are guaranteed to never be the slowest rider. Here's some math: If you take 20 minutes at five of the six rest stops and give yourself an hour for lunch at one rest stop, and if you assume that you'll spend 20 minutes waiting at traffic signals and stop signs, then you need to average 11.9 mph to finish before sunset. Plan on going a little faster on flat terrain and a little slower uphill.

Can I bring bicycle lighting and complete the route after sunset?
Sorry, no. AIDS/LifeCycle rules require at least one ride leader to be behind the last rider at all times, so you can't finish on your own. This is for your own safety!

What happens if I'm not riding fast enough?
Each of the six rest stops will have an official closing time noted on the route sheet, timed to allow you to complete the ride within the 13.5 hours of daylight on ride day. This is to help you gauge your progress throughout the day and keep you on track to return to Mountain View before sunset at 8:01 p.m. If you are in a rest stop at its closing time, you will need to resume riding immediately, or you can choose to end your ride there. In some cases, a SAG vehicle might be able to jump you to the next rest stop and allow you to resume riding, but this service is available only if SAG vehicles are not otherwise occupied with more important tasks.

Do I have to ride the entire 200-kilometer route? Can I take a short cut?
There is no official "short route" for this year's ride. However, there are several places along the route where you can skip ahead from 5 to 37 miles, and several BART and VTA light rail stations are on or near the route. If you decide to shorten your ride or leave the route, you must let a ride leader know, either in person or by leaving voicemail or a text message on a ride leader's cellphone. Phone numbers will be on the route sheet that you receive on ride morning. Also, if you skip far ahead of other riders, you will be out of the coverage area of SAG vehicles, so you will not be able to receive support. The SAG vehicles need to be available on the official route for those riders who are attempting the full 125 miles, so if you leave the route, you'll be on your own.

What types of SAG service will be available?
We will have several volunteer SAG drivers stationed along the route and at rest stops. Most will have basic supplies like water, ice, light snacks, and some basic bicycle equipment such as a floor pump and extra tubes. In some cases, the SAG vehicle can transport you to a nearby location if you are unable to continue riding. Please note, however, that the SAG vehicles are not a personal taxi service, and if you decide to stop riding, it is your responsibility to get transportation for you and your bicycle back to Mountain View or some other location. Please respect and thank our volunteer SAG drivers who are helping make your ride a success.

Are hotels available near the meeting location?
If you are coming from far outside Mountain View, you might want to consider getting a hotel for the night before the ride, so that you can arrive on time. Several hotels are available in a variety of price ranges within five minutes of the meeting location; any of the online booking services can steer you in the proper direction.