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Ride report: Cat-3 Distance Training #1

Go, riders!

Today's high temperature of 63 degrees in Mountain View tied the all-time record for January 10, and we couldn't have asked for finer weather to begin this year's set of 10 Cat-3 Distance Training Rides. Our group of 28 riders was a good mix of first-year ALCers and veteran riders, and even though some of you have never bicycled 100 miles or more in a single day, that will change soon enough!

We hear a lot about how completing ALC is a physical challenge. But it's also a mental challenge, and for many riders, the mental aspects of the ride can be at least as challenging as the physical ones. For many of us, bicycling to Los Angeles requires 45 hours or more in the saddle, plus all those hours in rest stops, all those hours in camp, and all those hours waiting for burgers in Bradley. With all those hours to think about things, your mind can go off in very interesting and unpredictable directions. One of the main goals of the Cat-3 Distance Training rides is to help you get experience in dealing with what your mind says to you after hours and hours and hours of riding. I can't pretend to know what your mind will say to you, but I can predict with reasonable certainty that it will be something unexpected. It's much easier -- and much safer -- for you to start dealing with this before you're surrounded by 2,500 other cyclists on the way to Los Angeles.

But there still are the physical considerations, and safety is the most important of those considerations. Before today's ride, I mentioned all of the rules that we need to follow on training rides and on the ride in June. The rules are somewhat stringent and are more restrictive than many club rules. But they're there for a reason: to make sure that 2,500 riders of widely varying abilities all can get to Los Angeles safely as a group. So that's why, if you happen to break a rule, a training ride leader will probably tell you about it.

Some rules are broken more commonly than others. One of the big mistakes is not riding single-file. In ALC, we always ride single-file, even in bicycle lanes where state law might allow otherwise. This is particularly important on larger training rides and in June, because there is often someone wanting to pass. But what if you want to have a conversation with another rider? It doesn't work very well shouting back and forth, does it? Nope, it doesn't. That's why it's usually best to save the conversation for the rest stops. Some of you saw me break this very rule once today -- and another training ride leader promptly and correctly called me on it right away. Don't let it happen to you!

Another common violation is going into traffic to pass other cyclists -- especially when those cyclists aren't riding single-file like they should. There was a case on Foothill Expressway today where a rider passed two side-by-side non-ALC riders by going into the main traffic lane as a vehicle was approaching. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, but don't take the chance. If someone is blocking your path, you have two options: Ask them nicely to move ("Trying to pass on your left, please!"), or wait until there's a safe place to pass. In June, you'll often have to wait for an opportunity to pass, so don't let it upset you. Remember: It's a ride, not a race.

Skills and tactics such as those are part of the training that these rides help deliver. Riding in traffic, riding on different types of highways, riding in cities with lots of stop signs ... these are all things that we have to do in June, and that's another reason why our training rides sometimes differ from what you'll find on other club rides. We aren't out here just to see nice scenery or get away from it all; we're here to start experiencing conditions like what we'll be dealing with in June, so that's why we sometimes take an unexpected route.

Today's ride was fairly flat, and we all rode at or above the Cat-3 pace of 12-15 mph. But if you were close to the low end of that range, you might want to work on your training in the upcoming weeks. With extra climbing, our rides will be getting a bit more challenging (the next ride has more than twice as much as today's ride), and the hills tend to slow most of us down. The goal should be to improve your climbing ability so that you don't slow down too much. Fortunately, we're in an area where challenging hills are very close by; if you can't learn to love hills (I never will!), you need to at least learn to peacefully coexist with them. But also remember that there's no requirement that you have to attend all of the Cat-3 rides. If the climbing gets to be too much, the Sunday Cat-2 series in Sunnyvale is a very challenging series in its own right, and many of us will be using those rides as another key part of our training.

Finally, since I've been recovering from whatever's been going around lately, a note about hygiene. Get in the habit of washing your hands every time after you use a toilet on a training ride. Every few years during the ride in June, a nasty case of gastroenteritis makes it way around camp, and it can knock you right out of the ride. Portapotties and toilets are a breeding ground for all sorts of nasties, and your body under stress will be especially susceptible to whatever is lurking on those unclean surfaces. Many riders carry tiny bottles of hand sanitizer to use when there's no sink available. You might want to stop eating before reading this next part: When you use the toilet, always take off your cycling gloves before doing your thing, and don't put them back on until you're all washed up. Ewwww.

What's next? In two weeks, on Saturday, January 24, we'll take a 45-mile ride up the Peninsula as far as the Pulgas Water Temple on CaƱada Road. There's a bit more climbing on this ride, so it should be a bit more challenging. And if you're reading this and didn't join us today, it's not too late to start riding with us. Details and RSVP are here.

It's just 20 weeks to Day 0 of the ride! We have a fun season ahead of us, and I look forward to riding with you. Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

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