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Ride report: Distance Training #6B (4/1/2012)

Well, we finally did it. On our third attempt to run this ride, we mustered a group of 11 intrepid riders -- and two awesome SAG volunteers -- to tackle the chilly, windswept, but oh-so-scenic route from Mountain View to Pacifica and back. As luck had it, none of our riders had done the long ALC Expo ride the previous Sunday, so the amazing descent into Pacifica was a pleasant (but chilly and windy) surprise for many of us.

And windswept it was. On the heels of Saturday's storm, a chilly breeze blew from the northwest most of the day, making our ride up the Peninsula significantly more difficult than usual. My choice of the Sawyer Camp Trail turned out to be somewhat fortuitous because the trees and curvy path kept things from becoming too difficult through there. But once we reached the crest of the coastal hills along Skyline Blvd., we all definitely got extra practice in riding into moderate headwinds. Fortunately, the ALC route is structured so that sustained headwinds usually don't occur. (Day 5 had a nasty section of headwinds for a couple of years, but that part of the event was rerouted beginning last year and is far less windy now.) But anything can happen with our increasingly wacky weather, and the strong northerly winds that usually propel us down the coast could turn around and make our ride more challenging.

Then there were all the hills! Actually, there were only a couple of truly significant climbs, including Sharp Park, but the small rollers were incessant almost all day long, yielding a total of between 4,500 and 5,100 feet of climbing, depending on your measurement tool. And our route included 15 miles of the Day 1 route, which was no accident -- this ride was very similar in difficulty to Day 1 of the event. It's by far the most challenging day from a technical standpoint, but you're usually pumped up enough on adrenaline that you won't even notice.

Two of the key things to watch as our rides become very long are pacing and nutrition. Sunday, I often found myself riding one gear lower than I would on a shorter ride. This brought me closer to the proverbial "happy gear" that makes all the difference in endurance cycling.

And your calorie requirements are starting to soar to the point where you can't realistically replenish all of them while riding without facing the risk of an unhappy stomach (or worse). But you need to make sure that you're consistently taking in a moderate amount of calories -- perhaps 200 to 400 per hour, depending on your build and pace -- and heavily weighted toward carbohydrates. There are many ways to get this -- from store food to sports blocks, gels, drinks, and powders -- and everyone will have their own "best" way. If you haven't already figured out what works best for you, do so in the next few weeks.

Remember that Powerade and various mass-produced snacks are used on the event; if you require specific brands or items, you might want to look at how you can carry enough of those with you on each day of the event. (There are many days where you can't just pop into a convenient Subway or Starbucks for your favorite piece of comfort food ... although I usually make a point of doing just that when we pass through Morro Bay on Day 4.)

Avoid the dreaded bonk at all costs. When you lose the ability to make rational decisions, you're already beyond that point. Stop immediately, eat something, drink something, get in the shade if it's hot, and either wait for your body to recover or get on the sweep vehicle to the next rest stop. This isn't just for your safety; it's also for the safety of the riders around you and the motorists with whom we are sharing the road.

And don't be afraid to take "renegade" rest stops if you need them. With 23 miles between yesterday's last rest stop and the end of the ride, some of us were a bit worn out from all the wind and all the climbing. I felt no shame whatsoever in making a short extra stop at the Starbucks in Menlo Park. In June, there are many opportunities to stop by the side of the road and just watch the ride pass by. These are good opportunities for you to pause and reflect ... and to take a quick bite and drink as well. Just because the route sheet says it's 18 miles to the next official stop doesn't mean that you can't take a break before then.

What's next? Despite our recent run of bad luck, there's no letup in our training for the Altamont Pass Double Metric on May 19. Our next ride is this Saturday already, back on schedule, and we're doing 90 miles into the East Bay Hills. There's not as much climbing as there was this week, but the hills are generally longer. There are some unofficial ways that you can chop some distance off the ride, including a light-rail bailout for the final 15 miles. So even if you're a little behind on your training, feel free to join us. Details and RSVP here.

Thanks for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.