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Perception is not always reality

Although I write ride reports for all of the training rides that I organize, I also participate in many other training rides throughout the season. This weekend was no exception; I did a 22-mile ride out of Palo Alto on Saturday and a 20-mile ride from Sunnyvale today. (I rode to and from both rides as well, so each one clocked in at just a little more than 30 miles.)

Today's ride in Sunnyvale was the first ride in the South Bay series of Cat-2 (10-12 mph) training rides. In recent years, these rides have acquired a reputation for being somewhat hilly, so I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I looked at the route sheet for today's ride and saw a twisty path through the hilly side streets of Los Altos Hills. I remembered those hills from past rides, and I groaned just a little bit inside. Some of those hills are steep! As in really steep!

So I did the ride with a smile on my face ... and an average speed of about 14.8 mph. Then I came home and mapped the route to see just how hilly it was. And the answer surprised me. In that 20-mile route, the total climbing was just a little bit more than 700 feet. Only 700 feet. We do nearly that much climbing just in a "flat" loop around the South Bay! My upcoming ride this Saturday has nearly three times as much climbing! Yet I don't freak out over those routes. What's the deal?

All of today's hills were very short. But they were indeed steep. Sometimes I could count on momentum to get me as much as halfway up them. The rest of the time, the climbing never lasted for more than about a minute, if even that much. Compare that to the 1.3-mile climb up Highway 84 to Woodside that we did on Saturday's ride: not as steep, but much longer, and probably more tiring. And later on this season, I'll be taking us back to that old nemesis, Old La Honda Road, where a 3.3-mile climb gains more than 1,000 vertical feet.

Yes, today's hills were steep. But they were not long at all. And the strategy for riding a short, steep climb is often very different from riding a longer climb. One thing is for sure, though: The Sunday Cat-2 rides from Sunnyvale will offer plenty of experience in climbing, and I recommend them as a weekly companion to my own Cat-3 Distance Training rides.

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