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Ride report: Distance Training #7 (4/2/2011)

Go, riders!

If you were with us earlier in the season, you might recall our 50-mile training ride (it seems so long ago!) where the motto was "Pace yourself." Just in case anyone hadn't fully internalized that message yet, today's intrepid group of 36 riders was reminded in spectacular fashion that one of the most essential AIDS/LifeCycle skills is the ability to pace yourself on long rides that cover a variety of terrain and riding conditions.

Today's hills, headwinds, traffic, and weather were all challenging, but taken individually, they were all doable. Combine them into a riding day that lasted somewhere between seven and nine hours, however, and the level of challenge rises significantly. (That's why there are so few endurance cyclists!) And if you focus too much on the intermediate goals of the day -- rather than finishing the entire day -- your mind can start to play games with your body.

For example, take the climb up to the top of the Hayward hills. I certainly "sold" that as the prime attraction on today's ride, but it definitely wasn't the only thing that we contended with. And once you reached the top of that hill, you still had 52 more miles of cycling ahead of you! If you allowed your sense of accomplishment to turn into a sense of relief, then it's entirely possible that you weren't looking forward to the rest of the day with the same level of eager anticipation ... and the rest of the day might have been harder for you as a result. That's especially true if you put most or all of your energy into conquering that hill.

When you ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, that's the type of mind game that can happen ... and that you must resist.

Many days of the ride have a "star attraction," such as Quadbuster or the Evil Twins, but they're a tiny, tiny part of each day's total distance. (In fact, both Quadbuster and the Evil Twins come very early in their respective days.) Even if you think you can ride at a particular intensity to conquer a hill, keep in mind that there's almost always a lot more riding still to come, and you have to be physically and mentally ready to deal with it ... with the same positive attitude that carried you to the top of the hill.

Now, here's the good news: There are no hills on ALC as steep and long as Harder and Hayward. And some more good news: There are no more hills this steep and long in the remainder of the Distance Training rides this season! From here on out, we focus mainly on building distance into the "ultra-cycling" range for our double metric century on May 14. Sure, there will still be some hills, but the climbing will be much more evenly distributed throughout our riding days. And this will give you many opportunities to practice your pacing discipline.

Part of that discipline involves proper nutrition. The strategies that worked for you at 50 miles might not have worked so well at 70 miles, and your 70-mile plan might not have worked so well for 90 miles. In my case, I've had good luck so far this season by switching to a high-calorie endurance powder: It's kept my mood and attitude far more positive than it's been on difficult rides in the past. But today, I only brought enough powder to get me to Rest Stop 3, thinking my regular food consumption would suffice for the rest of the day. I was wrong, because by Rest Stop 4 just 10 miles later, my mood was starting to turn foul. At Rest Stop 4, I ended up resorting to one of my classic servings of feel-good ride food -- a particularly unhealthy variety of sub sandwich -- and that was enough to get me back to Mountain View without snapping at anyone. But as I continue to get experience with the endurance powder, I learned today that I shouldn't skimp on the really long rides.

Your personal nutrition preferences probably will be different, and this is prime time to be discovering what works and doesn't work for you on very long-distance days. In June, you'll be getting a full lunch every day on the ride (usually a big sandwich with chips and cookies and, sometimes, pasta salad or another side) -- and you can have as many as you want -- and you'll also have access to unlimited snacks at every rest stop. But don't take that as permission to stuff your stomach full of lots of different foods you don't normally eat in combination. Stomach distress is very common in ultracycling, and food clash is one of the easiest ways to make it happen. Stick with things you know.

(Incidentally, remember that Powerade is the energy drink that's served on the ride in June. If you can't tolerate it, this is the time to find out. It's served from giant coolers, so you can add water to reduce the intensity if needed ... but if your stomach can't stand it at all, then you'll probably want to consider bringing your own drink powder with you in June, probably poured into single-serving bags or prepackaged servings.)

Another important short-term goal, if you're not already doing it, is to focus on consecutive days of riding. The traditional ALC rule of thumb is that you should be able to ride two 100-kilometer (62-mile) days in a row and then feel like you could ride a third. You can combine the Distance Training rides with any of the Sunday rides around the Bay Area -- Sunnyvale, Orinda, or San Francisco -- and increase your multiple-day endurance. In the past, I've tried to make time available once per season to do a third consecutive long-distance day, typically on a Friday or Monday. If your schedule allows you to do this, you certainly can't go wrong by having this experience before June.

What's next? In two weeks, we'll cross an important psychological milestone: our first of three century (100-mile) rides. We'll do a big loop around the South Bay, with a few little surprises along the way to keep things interesting. But no giant hills, I promise! (Just a few not-so-giant ones.) Even though the ride is 11 miles longer than today, the total climbing is about the same, and it's much more spread out throughout the day. Find out more and sign up here.

And registration is now open for the Fourth Annual Altamont Pass Double Metric, our culminating event on Saturday, May 14. This 125-mile ride has become an epic part of the ALC folklore, and it's the perfect way to make that 108-mile Day 2 in June seem a whole lot shorter. And again, even though it's much longer, it's only got about as much total climbing as did today's ride. I've posted an extensive list of questions and answers about the ride here, and you can read the full ride description and sign up here.

Also, don't forget this year's Day on the Ride coming up Saturday, April 23. This is the last major event before the ride, and it's an ideal chance to ride with 600 other ALCers and experience what an actual day on the ride will be like -- rest stops, portapotties, sweep vehicles, bike tech, motorcycle support, and awesome roadies. Better yet, this year's route is all-new and starts up north in San Rafael ... so that means no riding in southern Marin -- no Sausalito, no Corte Madera, no Ross -- and no Golden Gate Bridge. It is, however, a challenging 65-mile route with a fair helping of hills, so it's also a great way to get experience riding with cyclists of all skill levels -- something that will be part of your life for the whole week in June.

Day on the Ride is an RSVP-only event open only to registered ALC10 cyclists, and I highly recommend it, especially for first-year ALCers. It will cost $20 per rider ... but that also includes a full lunch (just like in June) and a post-ride dinner in San Rafael. What a bargain! Ticket sales begin soon; find out more here.

Congratulations to everyone on a great day today over a challenging route. I hope you'll come back on April 16 for our South Bay Century. Thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.