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Cat-3 Distance Training 2010 -- save the dates

I'm not sure I should say "by popular demand," but because so many folks have been asking ... yes, I will offer the Cat-3 Distance Training rides out of Mountain View again beginning in January.

The tentative dates are every other Saturday beginning Jan. 16. This looks like it should avoid any conflict with the major SF-based ALC events, but I will adjust if necessary.

One change this year is that, because Day 1 is so late on the calendar, we actually get a total of 11 ride days with this schedule. As in past years, I'll make Ride 10 on May 15 our big ride -- the 3rd annual Altamont Pass Double Metric -- and on May 29, one week before ride-out, we'll have a shorter celebration ride, something we haven't done in past years.

Watch this space in a few weeks for more details. If you're a TRL and are interested in helping, drop me a note.

(Are you a first-year rider wondering what this is all about? These are rides for intermediate to advanced riders who can maintain an average in-motion pace of 12-15 mph on gentle to slightly hilly terrain. We start at about 40 miles and gradually build up to 200 km -- 125 miles -- in one day, the longest single-day training ride on the nationwide ALC calendar. First-year ALCers who cycle at 12 mph or greater are especially welcome!)

Ride report: Seismic Challenge 2.0 'All Ride'

Whipped my butt, it did. Today's ride was the "All Ride" for Seismic Challenge, where 36 riders got together just three weeks before the start of this year's event.

The 71-mile route from San Francisco to near the Marin-Sonoma county line and back is challenging in its own right, but today's weather made the ride even more challenging, if not downright dangerous. The numbers that I've found show a high temperature today in Nicasio (on the route) of 97 degrees ... and 103 degrees just off the route in San Rafael. (103F was also recorded in Santa Rosa today, so it's a safe assumption that we encountered triple-digit temperatures for at least part of the day.)

I was doing fine up through the lunch break and turnaround point at the Cheese Factory, but my general state deteriorated quickly as soon as I got back on the road. By the time I got past Nicasio on the return, I could feel classic symptoms of heat stroke setting in: nausea, muscle spasms, lack of hunger. (And, if you must know, I didn't pee at all between mile 19 and the end of the ride, despite taking in something more than a gallon of liquid.) So I immediately went into self-preservation mode: taking lots of short stops in the shade, slowing my pace, keeping my heart rate under control, forcing myself to eat both of the emergency Clif Bars that I had brought along, and doing my best to drink more water and take in some electrolyte-replacement gel. (Update: One of the other ride leaders ended up in the emergency room Saturday night due to dehydration, so conditions were indeed harsh. He's OK now, though.)

Long story short, I eventually made it back to San Francisco under my own power without major injury and with a rolling average speed of about 12.6 mph. But my actual elapsed time for the ride was a much slower 7:50. (A pace at that elapsed time would not have been sufficient to complete either day of Seismic Challenge before sunset.)

If you were on today's ride, though, you don't really care about my physical foibles. You want to know how today compares to the ride in October. Here's the good news: We did almost as much climbing today as we'll do in all 108 miles of Day 1 (approximately 4,800 feet today vs. 5,300 feet on Day 1, using the numbers from Bikely). If you handled most or all of today's ride in this brutal weather, then you should feel confident about October.

Of course, as I jokingly said to a couple of other riders today, it's also possible that when we ride three weeks from today, the weather will be windy and cold ... maybe even wet. There's just no telling with our weather anymore.

Photo credit: Susan Fish

If you liked 80 miles, you'll love 87 miles

I've finalized the route for our Oct. 3 giant loop around the South Bay, and it's about 7 miles longer than first anticipated. I added some rolling hills near the front of the ride, but I eliminated the slow climb up Mission Blvd. (through the construction zone) to Ohlone College.

If you did the ALC Cat-2 or Cat-3 South Bay century loop earlier this year, much of this ride follows the same route. But there are some differences. This will be, I believe, our first official training ride to ever cross the new part of Warren Blvd. over I-880 -- a much nicer route that eliminates dealing with the crazy traffic at the Auto Mall/880 interchange in Fremont.

We'll again have a SAG vehicle on this ride, so come on and join us! Details and RSVP here.

Hate that Dumbarton Bridge frontage road?

Yeah, I do, too. Well, sometime in the next four years, your wishes for change will come true ... but with a little intermediate pain along the way.

The San Francisco Examiner reports:
While work to replace the eastern span of the Bay Bridge continues, Caltrans is preparing to make $220 million in seismic upgrades to another commuter span — the Dumbarton Bridge.

Construction is slated to begin next year on the retrofit of the 1.6-mile bridge, which connects Menlo Park on the Peninsula to Fremont in the East Bay.

... In addition, Caltrans also plans to include about $3 million in other improvements around the bridge, including enhanced public access outlooks, resurfacing the existing parking lots and frontage roads on the bridge approaches, building a new bridge overlook and widening bike and pedestrian access, according to BCDC documents.

On the downside, however, the article also points out that "several weekend closures" of the entire bridge will be necessary to raise the deck by 5 inches -- temporarily taking away the only direct bicycle access from the Peninsula to the East Bay. This could make planning rides somewhat dicey unless we get word of the closings far in advance.

Planning your pace for Seismic Challenge

One of the big differences between ALC and Seismic Challenge is that, because the latter takes place in October, there's much less daylight. Here are some very important numbers for you:
Oct. 17 sunrise in San Francisco: 7:19 a.m.
Oct. 17 sunset in San Francisco: 6:30 p.m.

Each day of the ride is about 107 to 108 miles long, and there are six stops along each day's route -- four rest stops, one lunch stop, and one water stop. You need to budget your time so that you can finish each day's route before darkness arrives and the route is closed.

What does this mean? Let's assume that you spend 15 minutes at each rest stop, an hour at lunch, and 10 minutes at the water stop. That takes away 2:10 of your day right there. And because much of our route this year is urban, it's not unreasonable to assume that you'll lose another 15 minutes at traffic signals. (Don't let your bike computer be your guide on pacing, because most computers stop registering average speed when you stop at a traffic signal.)

I'll assume a ride-out time of 7:30 a.m. (although that's strictly a guess on my part and is not official), which gives you 11 hours to finish the route. Subtract the rest time and wait time, and you're down to 8:35. This means that your average in-motion speed for the whole day would need to be about 12.6 mph. That's not extremely fast, but it might be faster than you're expecting, especially given the fairly hilly terrain that's especially prevalent on Day 1.

What if you're not a 12.6 mph rider? You can reduce your off-the-bike time. If you spend just 10 minutes at each stop, half an hour at lunch, and skip the water stop entirely, your off-bike time comes to 1:25, giving you 9:35, which would require your pace to average about 11.3 mph. That's roughly in the middle of the Cat-2 training pace.

And if you're unlucky enough to have a flat or other mechanical problem, that's more time that comes out of your pool.

That's why it's extremely important that you carefully manage your time throughout the riding day. For those of you on our South Bay ride this weekend, we'll run a little experiment in that direction. Our route sheet will have rest stop "closing times" for each stop throughout the day, roughly corresponding to the times you'd see on a day-long ride in October. We won't actually "close" the route throughout the day, but the times will give you an indication of how well you're progressing through the route -- and give you an early heads-up if you'll need to change anything before next month's event.

Photo: Rest Stop 1 on Day 2 of ALC8.

SAG on our next two rides

Here's some good news about our final two South Bay training rides for Seismic Challenge 2.0: We'll have a SAG (support and gear) vehicle on the road with us to provide emergency assistance if anything goes wrong.

For those of you who haven't had a SAG vehicle on a training ride before, the vehicle generally cruises the route and visits the rest stops along the way, looking for riders in need of assistance. The SAG vehicle usually has spare tubes, an air pump, and some emergency food and water, and sometimes other items as well. If your bike suffers a mechanical failure and isn't rideable, the SAG vehicle often can take you someplace where you can wait to be picked up by a friend, to a nearby bike shop if a repair can be made quickly, to a transit station, or sometimes back to our meeting point in Mountain View. This is similar to (but not exactly the same as) the type of SAG service you'll encounter during the ride in October. But please, view the assistance from a SAG vehicle as a bonus and not something to be expected. The SAG crew doesn't receive any compensation for driving or supplies, so please be nice to them and thank them for their help.

Giant thanks to Dennis and Taryl for being our volunteer SAG crew!

Photo: A scene from the route of our upcoming Sept. 20 ride, taken earlier this year when we did the same ride for AIDS/LifeCycle. (Photo by Susan Fish)

Closing the book on ALC8: $4,605 $4,655

Just today, I received notice that I've finally got the last corporate matching gift from the ALC8 fundraising season. This brings my total for the ride to $4,605. A hearty thank you to each and every one of you who supported the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and supported my ride with your donations, your transportation, your food, and your thoughts.

Update, November 10: Another matching gift of $50 just arrived today, taking the ALC8 total to $4,655. Thank you!

To clarify ...

I misspoke at the end of today's ride. Our next South Bay training ride for Seismic Challenge is in two weeks, but it's on Sunday, Sept. 20, not Saturday. I'll be up in San Francisco again on the 19th, helping certify new ride leaders for AIDS/LifeCycle. I hope you can make it on the 20th!

Weekend weather preview

If you're planning to attend either or both of my rides this weekend, the weather is looking mostly quite wonderful.

Saturday: For our ride from Mountain View to Sunol, temperatures should stay in the 60s and 70s all day. The biggest challenge might be a moderate headwind on the return through South San Jose, but we've seen far worse.

Monday: Even around Concord, the forecast highs currently are only in the lower 80s. And with only light winds expected, we shouldn't have much difficulty getting there. Also note that BART does not charge for parking on Labor Day, so if you're driving to our meeting point, you don't have to worry about that. Keep in mind, however, that the Bay Bridge is still scheduled to be closed all day.

Want to ride 200km on Sept. 12?

Here's a ride that I'll be skipping this time, but some of you might be interested in it. San Francisco Randonneurs are holding a 200km ride from Novato to Guerneville. The route has about 5,700 feet of climbing, so it's moderately challenging (it includes the Cheese Factory hill but not the Marshall Wall).

If you've never tried randonneuring before, this would be an excellent introduction if you're currently in shape for such distance. The riding style is very similar to what we do on ALC, except that most brevets (randonneuring rides) are self-supporting, with no organized rest stops and usually no SAG vehicles. You collect proof of passage through controles (checkpoints) along the way, often by buying something at a store and collecting the receipt. At the end of the ride, you turn in your card, and some weeks (or months) later, you receive the card back in the mail along with a certification that you actually completed the route. If you're a member of Randonneurs USA (which I am), then you can usually spend a few dollars to get an official medal to certify that you've gone the distance.

The ride has a 13.5-hour time limit, which is fairly generous but still requires you to make steady progress. It's roughly comparable to an ALC Cat-2 pace. Although finishing times are recorded, it's very much a ride and not a race (just like ALC) -- some folks aim for personal bests, but others plan their days to use most or all of the allotted time.

And because there is minimal support during the ride, registration is ridiculously cheap -- only $10 for a 200km ride.

I've taken part in one brevet -- the Chualar 200k offered by Santa Cruz Randonneurs in 2008 -- and I really enjoyed the day. If you're looking for the "next step" after ALC, this might be up your alley.

Learn more about the ride at the San Francisco Randonneurs website.