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Ride report: Distance Training #2 (1/29/2011)

Go, riders!

Thank you for being part of, yet again, the largest AIDS/LifeCycle training ride ever to be held in Mountain View. Our intrepid group of 43 riders and two SAG drivers encountered a little bit of everything today -- city streets, rural backroads, sun, clouds, and even a few showers. And in the process, we got some excellent previews of what life is like on the ride in June.

There's a reason that our safety speech concludes with an admonition to "practice patience": Having 2,500 riders on the road can make things a bit crowded at times. And we saw today that having even just 43 riders can make a bike lane sometimes feel like the Sunol Grade on a Monday morning commute. I spent much of the early parts of the ride in a group of about 20 riders as we made our way into Saratoga, and while we were moving along at a good pace, there were times when I wanted to go faster but couldn't. (There were also times where folks seemed to speed up when I wasn't ready to follow suit.)

A fact of ride life in June is that you often have to ride in a long line, particularly at the beginning of each day, and especially on Day 1. The ride isn't just about you getting to Los Angeles safely; it's about all of us, as a group, getting to Los Angeles safely. There's no prize or trophy for the first, second, third, or last rider to finish each day; sometimes, it's best just to go with the flow and hang with a group of riders who generally go about the same speed as you.

Don't be in a hurry to pass a long line of riders, especially when you'd have to enter a traffic lane for an extended time. And never, ever, ever pass another rider on the right. One of my trusty ride leaders told me he was passed on the right a few times today -- that's something that can get you pulled from the ride for a day or longer. Don't do it. (We might feel obligated to clear stuff from our noses just as you're passing on the right. Ew.)

Another experience today that doesn't often happen on South Bay rides was that our rest stops started to become a bit crowded. When 2,500 riders are passing through a rest stop in June, there can be lots of crowding ... and, if everyone tried to hang out at the same rest stop, there simply wouldn't be enough room for everyone.

A good skill to practice is getting in and out of rest stops as efficiently and quickly as possible. Get your food and liquid, take care of any restroom needs, stretch a bit, check the route sheet for the next segment, and move on out. This makes space for the next group of riders to arrive -- and it goes a long way toward giving you a time cushion. While you'll have about 12.5 hours to finish most days of the ride in June, your mind will be much more at ease if you have some time in reserve to handle any physical or mechanical issues that might arise.

In June, each rest stop has strictly enforced closing times, and if you miss a closing time, you're done for the day at that point. We've got closing times on our Distance Training rides as well, and while we aren't quite as draconian about them, they're calculated to match approximately the times that you'll encounter in June, so this is a good time to get used to them. (And, for the record, we've all been way ahead of our closing times this season, so nobody has anything to worry about there.)

And finally, the weather threw us a couple of wet surprises today. We weren't supposed to get any rain, but depending on where you were on the route, you might have gotten anything from a few sprinkles to a good-sized brief shower or two. Rain in June along the route is rare, but it certainly can happen, and you need to be prepared for it because we usually ride rain or shine (unless, as happened in 2009, the rain becomes so heavy as to make the route unsafe). Much more common in June is thick, dense fog in the morning that can make you every bit as wet and drippy as a shower.

Wet pavement, even just from fog or a few sprinkles, significantly increases the chances of flat tires, and we had more than a few of those today as well. And it seemed to me that many of the shoulders hadn't been swept in quite a while, leading to more debris than usual. I suspect that, in this era of budget cuts, that's something we'll be facing more of. If you're not already riding on flat-resistant tires, you might want to consider them. The technology has improved considerably just in the past few years, and there's now virtually no weight or firmness penalty in using flat-resistant tires. They do cost more than regular tires, but think of all the money you'll save on tubes! Ask your cyclist representative, any of the ride leaders, or your local bike shop.

What's next? We ride again next Saturday, without a week off this time. This is to get our schedule in sync with the upcoming major ALC events in San Francisco: the Expo (in March) and Day on the Ride (in April). Our next ride is a challenging 49-mile route with an unusual structure: The first half is almost totally flat, but the second half hammers you with a series of short but steep hills ... including Westridge, a hill in Portola Valley that's similar to the infamous Quadbuster of Day 3 in June. (It's a little bit shorter, but it's also a little bit steeper, complete with a false summit just to play with your head.)

Why? Because being able to pace yourself is an essential skill to make your June ride successful. When you see miles of flat road ahead of you, resist the temptation to ride all-out because there's almost always some climbing waiting for you further down the route. When I've offered this ride in the past, even some experienced ALC riders have run into difficulty in the later stages of this ride because it was just way too easy to cruise down Central Expressway at 20+ mph. Also, you'll get to see some parts of Portola Valley and Los Altos Hills that you might not have seen before, and which you can use on your own as part of your individual training.

Beginning with next weekend's ride, our official pace for the Distance Training rides advances from 10-12 mph to 12-15 mph. But don't let this concern you. Everybody on both of the Distance Training rides so far this season is already at Cat-3 pace or higher. You specifically do not need to be a 15 mph rider!

And if the prospect of all those hills scares you, here's an interesting statistic. When I did ride #3 on my own a couple of weeks ago, my average speed for the first half of the route was about 16 mph ... but my pace for the second half was only 9.5 mph. And that includes the descents! Nonetheless, I still finished within the Cat-3 pace, even though I still dislike hills with a passion. Don't worry about being slow on these hills!

Find out more about next week's ride, see the route, and RSVP here.

Thanks to all for a wonderful ride today, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.