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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.