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Ride report: Distance Training #5 (3/5/2011)

Go, riders!

Finally, some decent weather, if only for a few more hours. But the recent storms have taken their toll on training for many of us, and in today's group of 43 intrepid riders, the strains showed in a few places. Nonetheless, everyone finished well ahead of the closing time, and you definitely are to be commended for that ... especially if today was your longest ride ever and your previous longest ride was only 50 miles, as was the case for several of you. This gets you right back on track to ride the Altamont Pass Double Metric in just 10 weeks, and to be ready for the longest day of ALC10 (Day 2 at about 106 miles).

In my case, I completed 72 miles last weekend, but under the harsh conditions of a Death Valley windstorm. I'm not saying this to brag; instead, it had a profound influence on how I rode today, and not for the better.

I was so happy to be riding in favorable weather for a change that I kind of let myself go. I started riding harder and faster than I normally go on a training ride -- which, for me, meant an average pace of just under 15 mph by the time we got to lunch in south San Jose. That was an unwise decision on my part, because I certainly felt it for the second half of the ride, where my pace decreased considerably and my pain level increased.

The real giveaway was when I pulled into Rest Stop 3 in Saratoga and dismounted. I let out some sort of audible noise, and another of the ride leaders asked me if I was OK. I said sure, I was just fine, but he said that the look on my face told a different story. I wasn't bonking or anything; I had simply cycled too hard for my current training level, and I was paying the price in various pain points throughout my body. My lesson learned, I took it much easier the rest of the way back to Mountain View (well, except on a couple of the gentle descents).

I'm reminded of some sage advice from 18-time (!) AIDS rider Doreen Gonzales: "Find your happy gear." Those four little words can mean the difference between success and failure on your ride. Your happy gear is the one where you can spin without undue force. Your actual speed is irrelevant; they key is to find a cadence that you can sustain for a long period of time. On our shorter training rides, you could get away with doing the whole day at "race pace," but now that we're into the really serious distance, it's time to plan your days for the long haul ... and with an eye toward having to do the same thing over again the next day and the day after that.

We dealt with some roads today that aren't the best cycling routes, even if they're popular. In particular, McKean Road in south San Jose was obviously filled with cyclists in both directions today, but the shoulder was intermittent at best. Moreover, the traffic, while not heavy, was passing nearby at moderate speed of 45-50 mph. This was a very accurate simulation of what you'll find on much of Days 2 and 3 on the ride when we travel the rural roads of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties for hours at a time. While most car drivers are courteous, there always will be a few who are not -- particularly in June when they'll be navigating around hundreds or thousands of cyclists. Be aware of your surroundings, and if you see potential trouble with a car or truck, do your best to avoid it. Even if you're "right," whenever it's car vs. bicycle, the bicycle always loses.

Although today's hills generally weren't that bad, Mount Eden was a new experience for many of you. The advice I gave this morning is appropriate whenever dealing with an unfamiliar climb or descent: Take such hills much easier than a road you know well. In June, you'll encounter countless climbs and descents, and if this is your first year in ALC, chances are that most of them will be new to you. When you consider the pavement quality, the curves, the steepness, the lane width, and the unknown distance, that's a lot of factors that you need to be aware of. Even if you see someone else taking a descent much faster than you, don't feel the need to keep up with anyone else; go at the speed that's comfortable for you, and don't ride beyond your ability. In my five ALC rides, I've seen some truly nasty crashes on descents, and being near one can really put a damper on your day even if you're not involved. Remember that there's no reward for getting down the hill first; the only reward is for getting down the hill safe.

What's next? In two weeks, we'll ride "Calaveras Plus." We'll travel to the East Bay for our scenic but challenging climb up the "hard" side of Calaveras Road. This 80-mile ride will take you into a remote part of Alameda County (so remote that there's no cellphone service) with amazing panoramas as we travel high above the historic Calaveras Reservoir, which once was the largest earth-fill dam in the world. After that tough climb, we'll have a long stretch of downhill or flat riding as we pass through Sunol on our way to Fremont and across the Dumbarton Bridge. After that is where the "Plus" comes in. Instead of heading directly back to Mountain View, we'll go back uphill into Woodside and ride around the back part of the Stanford Loop before finishing our day. You'll definitely want to save some energy in reserve for the last part of this ride! Meet time is yet another half-hour earlier, at 8 a.m.; find out more and RSVP here.

And if you're in San Jose this Tuesday Wednesday (oops!) night, you might be interested in attending a meeting of the VTA Santa Clara County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Their subject this month is very relevant after our ride today: They want to "identify the rural and mountain roads popular with bicyclists" and "develop a list of potential improvements for these roads." You might have some strong opinions about this! This workshop will take place at Wednesday in the VTA Auditorium at 3331 North First Street in San Jose. More info is here.

Don't forget the ALC Cyclist Expo three weeks from today in San Francisco. The details are here, and you'll be able to ride with a larger group of ALCers plus attend workshops about various aspects of the ride. Also, the ALC store will be opening, selling previous-year ALC gear at steep discounts. Build your jersey collection for pennies on the dollar!

Thanks for riding, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.