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Ride report: Distance Training #5 (3/6/2010)

Go, riders!

With a weather forecast that played games with us all week long, just about anything wouldn't have been unexpected today. Just about anything, that is, except for the near-perfect conditions that made for a beautiful day of amazing cycling. Our group of 22 riders plus a SAG crew of three (thank you, Dennis, Gloria, and Ken!) completed a 70-mile ride to the Calaveras Reservoir without any major incidents.

Now that we've crossed the 100-kilometer mark on our rides, the mental aspect of long-distance cycling becomes more important than ever. And that's one of the most difficult aspects of cycling to write about because everyone is different and reacts different ways to the same things.

For example, after we finished our long stretch on Calaveras Road today, one cyclist told me that for the first time on these rides, they "felt like a real cyclist" because of the terrain and scenery. But for me, that part of the ride was the most challenging and, I dare say, even the least enjoyable despite all the magnificent scenery. Why? Because of the lack of landmarks to gauge progress. After just a few minutes, every curve looked just like the one before it and the one after it, and I started to feel like I wasn't going anywhere, despite the miles accumulating on my cycle computer. It's rare on our rides to go 15 miles without making any turns or encountering any significant landmarks, and I just wanted it to be over. When we crossed into Alameda County, I started to focus on the tiny mile markers by the side of the road (did you notice those?) -- they gave the distance to the I-680 junction and helped me feel better.

Now, you might think this is all rather silly -- but that's because everybody's experience is different. But the lesson is the same for everyone: Listen to what your mind tells you while you're riding. Embrace it, understand it, and react as appropriate. Get experience now with what your mind does during long rides so that you don't have a freak-out moment in June when 2,500 other riders are around you.

Although today's ride wasn't specifically designed to reinforce the importance of pacing yourself, that lesson certainly was there as well. The first 18 miles of today's ride were very flat, and almost all of us moved along at a very fast clip into Rest Stop 1 in Milpitas -- just about everyone was riding at a Cat-4 pace (15+ mph). That's all well and good, and if you can maintain that pace through an entire ride, you have my respect. Because I, on the other hand, am a mere mortal, I have to budget my limited energy to last through an entire ride (or an entire multi-day event such as ALC).

On the ride in June, the route sheet you get each morning shows the elevation profile for that day of riding. (In fact, if this year is like recent years, the elevation chart will look exactly like the ones you've been getting from my rides, with the same horizontal and vertical scales.) Use the elevation profile to plan your riding for the day. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by 20 or 30 easy miles when some challenging climbing is next.

And also with our rides becoming so long, proper nutrition is absolutely essential -- so essential that you can damage yourself by not taking in enough fuel to get you through a ride. How many calories is enough? For a couple of reasons., that's a tough question to answer. First, there are about a million and six "bicycling calorie calculators" out there on the Web, and each one seems to say something different. Also, your calorie total is dependent on your weight, on your pace, and even on the terrain. I know of at least one rider whose computer told them that they burned more than 4,300 calories on today's ride. That's probably accurate for some of us; it's probably too high for others. And, of course, you can't run out to the pasta house right after the ride and down 4,300 calories of fettuccine, either. As with so many other things, nutrition is a deeply personal matter, and this is the time when you should be learning about your specific needs. One thing is for sure, though: On a ride of more than two hours, your body cannot function on just stored energy. One recommendation is to have an hourly caloric intake in the low hundreds of calories while you're riding; some folks need more.

Our SAG drivers reported that our safety performance was mostly good today, with only a couple of cases of rule-breaking. If you haven't already read your "Monthly Spin" email from ALC World HQ that you got last week, I strongly urge you to go back and read it. (And if you aren't getting a Monthly Spin email, check your spam filters and/or contact your cyclist representative.) There's a story in there from a rider who recently passed through one of our host cities and got a very chilly reception when they said they were part of ALC.

That's sad, that's scary, and that's dangerous. Sad because we don't want a bad reputation, scary because that bad reputation could make it more difficult for us to get permission to ride through these communities, and dangerous because losing the ride would take away more than $10 million a year from our beneficiaries. As we're fond of saying, it only takes one rider breaking one rule in one jurisdiction, and ALC could be no more. With so many other cyclists breaking rules and not riding considerately (we sometimes see them when we're out riding), we have to work extra hard to make sure that our reputation stays intact and positive. Every one of us is responsible for helping make this happen, on every training ride, on the event in June, and even just any time you're cycling around town in your favorite ALC jersey or jacket.

What's next? We've got an 80-mile ride on tap for Saturday, March 20. We're going almost all the way to Morgan Hill via a scenic backcountry route around the Calero and Uvas reservoirs, and then we'll come back through San Jose. The total climbing goes back up to about 3,500 feet -- the most we've had on any of our rides so far this season -- and that includes the moderately challenging Kennedy climb between Los Gatos and San Jose. Also, depending on the weather, strong headwinds might challenge us as we return northbound from Morgan Hill. (In this weird, wacky weather year, however, who knows?) We've got four rest stops planned, so there's plenty of opportunity to pause and refuel, and there's even a light-rail bailout available after 51 miles if it's just not your day. Details and RSVP are here.

And don't forget to save the date for just 10 weeks from today: Saturday, May 15 is the third annual Altamont Pass Double Metric, our 200-kilometer (125-mile) epic training ride. More details in the weeks to come.

Thank you for riding, and thanks for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

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