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Ride report: ALC12 Distance Training #1 (1/5/2013)

Go riders!

Thank you for being part of our group of 35 intrepid cyclists who kicked off the ALC12 training season with today's "attention-getting" climb to CaƱada College. Regardless of whether you found it to be just another "spin in the park" or a quad-busting, profanity-laced wake-up call, we got a good preview of what we'll be doing over the next 10 rides on our way to the Altamont Pass Double Metric in mid-May. And today's ride was very similar in distance and difficulty to Day 5, the shortest day (but not the easiest) of the event in June.

First, thanks to everyone for being mostly on time, which allowed us to ride out promptly at 10:00 ... which also allowed us to beat the rain. Please don't forget to sign the waiver when you arrive, and don't forget to sign the sign-out sheet when you return at the end of your ride.

We operate on a tight schedule because, as our rides get longer, we'll need to maximize the amount of daylight available for riding ... and because it's good practice for the event in June. In fact, being ready to ride out at opening time every day during the event is often one of the best ways to have a better ride -- you don't feel as much time pressure, and the roads usually aren't as crowded. (On Day 2 in particular, it's vital to get on the road as early as possible to beat the Monday morning commuter traffic in the Santa Cruz area.)

Another way to make your training rides more enjoyable is to avoid riding "bonus miles," the extra distance that you cover when you miss a turn or make a wrong turn. Navigation is one of the few skills you need on training rides that you usually don't need in June (because the event route is very well-marked and staffed), but it's an important skill on any training ride that you attend anywhere.

Ride leaders do their best to help with detailed route sheets (some more detailed than others), but you always should know what your next turn will be and about how far away it is. Many of our training rides don't always stay on the most popular or most logical routes, so you can't always count on "going with the flow" to get you to the right place. And other cyclists are often on our routes, but they're probably not going to the same destination, so following them is a recipe for error. (This can become especially confusing when two or more different ALC training rides are in the same area at the same time. As our rides become longer, this is almost certain to happen.)

Study the route ahead of the ride, and at least scan the route sheet before you ride out. But if you do find yourself off-route and don't know how to get back on course, the best thing to do is usually stop and call one of the ride leaders or SAG vehicles for directions. In the dense street grid of the Bay Area, there's usually a quick way to recover, but this might not be the case when we venture into more remote territory, and you really don't want to climb a big, unnecessary hill because you missed a turn.

And speaking of big hills ... how about that Farm Hill? Those who ride in Marin County more often than I said that my comparison of Farm Hill to the Sausalito Lateral might have been a bit understated. And, you know what, they were right. Here are some numbers for you:
  • Farm Hill plus The Loop to the top: 2.0 miles, 844 feet climbing.
  • Sausalito Lateral: 1.3 miles, 272 feet climbing.
  • Marshall Wall (main part): 1.4 miles, 487 feet climbing.
So, when you see the big Marshall Wall ride posted on the calendar later this season, feel free to sit back and laugh, "Oh, I did that on my kickoff ride!"

Here's the good news: That's about as tough a hill as you'll encounter during the event in June. But we'll be tackling some tougher hills during our training season so you'll be super-ready for June. That's important because the single toughest hill of the event, Quadbuster, comes at the beginning of Day 3, right when you might begin to feel a little worn out. The little hills of the event often can feel much worse, but strong hill training can be a big help.

And when you reach a tough hill on the event, it's almost always good advice to not go all-out as if it's the last hill of the ride. Being happy and successful at ALC is all about long-term endurance and finding, as longtime rider Doreen Gonzales calls it, your "happy gear" -- a cadence and pace that you can essentially maintain forever.

But I'm also aware that many of us track our rides on Strava or other GPS tools. I'm quite guilty of that myself, always looking to see how I do on specific segments and climbs. (For instance, I was a bit bummed out when I saw that I didn't set a personal record on Farm Hill today.) Such tools can be very helpful in measuring one's own performance, but there's also a big, big risk of misusing the tools in ways that hurt your training for events such as ALC. I'm not saying don't use Strava, but I do urge you to use such tools wisely and with an eye toward, again, long-distance endurance, not necessarily having the fastest half-mile between any two points.

Our next ride is next Saturday, with no week off. We'll be doing 45 miles to Los Gatos and back, and while there's about as much total climbing as there was today, it's not nearly as steep. We'll climb both Shannon and Kennedy roads, but in the opposite (easier!) direction from what we've done in years past. It's a fun ride that takes us through some very exclusive real estate, and it's very doable for everyone who was on today's ride. Find out more and RSVP here.

After that, we ride every other Saturday through mid-May. The idea is that, on our off weeks, you'll visit some of the other training groups around the Bay Area (and, I hope, come back to us). Variety in your training rides is very important; as the season progresses, riding the same routes over and over again quickly becomes boring and makes your training not-fun. Training season burnout is a very real risk, and it can affect your fitness and mental state going into the event in June. A great way to beat the burnout is to see different territory during your season, so please try to step outside your comfort zone and visit our friends in Sunnyvale, Orinda, San Francisco, the North Bay, Sacramento, and beyond. (Last year, I even went to Portland one weekend to join their ALC training group for an 80-mile training ride in the Columbia Gorge. It was one of my favorite rides of the season.)

See you again next Saturday, and thank you for being part of AIDS/LifeCycle.

Photo by David Gaus