On a 138km ride across Penang, Kedah and Perak, the greatest challenges are not just stamina, but also water and heat.

MY wife Maryati and I had been looking forward to a cycling event which was to take us over 138km across the three states of Penang, Kedah and Perak. Coupled with a side-trip to Penang island for some scrumptious food, this was too good to pass over.

It was to be our first century (over 100km) ride as a married couple. Another reason for joining this inaugural CFAL (Campaign For A Lane) TriState Ride was to show my deep appreciation for the amazing progress of cycling in Penang. Hopefully, other states will be encouraged by Penang’s success to implement similar policies to promote cycling too.

Prelude to riding

Leaving Kuala Lumpur on a Friday, Maryati and I drove up to Penang with our bicycles in the car. Early next morning, I ran to Gurney Drive to catch the spectacular sunrise, and in the process, I managed to burn-off some of the previous day’s binge-eating of Penang delights. My wife then insisted on lunch at her at favourite char kway teow near Chowrasta Market.

Riders crossing the finish line.


 

After that, we headed across Penang Bridge to the Autocity complex in Juru – the start and finish point for the ride – to collect our cycling goodie bags. Inside each, there was, among other stuff, a cycling jersey, a pair of arm sleeves and sunblock cream (since we’d be riding under the sun) and food vouchers.

Early night

Many months earlier, I’d managed to find a hotel in Juru which was just across the road from the event venue. For RM100 per night, the room was clean, comfortable and, most importantly, spacious enough to accommodate both our bicycles.

After an early dinner, we retired to our cozy room to set-up our bikes and gear. We also went through our pre-race checklist (see Century ride tips) to avoid rushing around anxiously in the wee hours of race morning. Then, as bedtime reading, we flipped through the event programme and planned-out our riding strategy.

The writer’s wife Maryati is well protected from the sun. Note the support truck in the background.


 

Flag off

Close to 2,000 riders assembled at the start line. At precisely 6.30am, after a few words of encouragement, we were flagged-off by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Here’s a tip: At the start of the race, there will be many riders grouped together, and you should not rush nor weave in and out between slower riders to avoid early collisions and pile-ups. Remember, there is still a long way to go yet, and it is more important how you finish rather than how you start.

First 50km

Due to the adrenaline rushing through my body, I flew-off the starting blocks. As my eyes adjusted to the surrounding lights from headlamps and street lights, I started to overtake some riders, making good speed. I remember riding effortlessly over the first overhead bridge.

Since I was riding my ElliptiGO bicycle, many riders were bemused when they realised that my novel bike had no seat. Some asked me, “Isn’t it tiring to ride standing-up?”.

I would reply: “Heck, yes!”.

Taking a short break from the sun’s heat.


 

Having the same kind of outriders as deployed in Le Tour De Langkawi gave us riders extra confidence and spurred us on to ride harder. It was still dark for most of the ride up to Kulim town, and the traffic police and marshals did a splendid job manning the road intersections and controlling traffic to give us a clear and safe passage.

From Kulim onwards, the morning light followed us as we meandered through the breezy country lanes. There was a short but steep climb which tested our grit. Then, right after crossing a bridge, I turned into the Shell station which marked the 50km water station.

Upon seeing my ElliptiGO bike, there was a huge cheer from the gathering riders. As I was finishing my cold mineral water, I noticed Maryati on a sweeper truck pulling into the gas station. To ensure safety, the sweeper trucks were busy picking-up riders (and their bicycles) who could not reach the 50km, 78km, 95km and 115km water and re-grouping stations within their respective cut-off times.

The good news was that the riders had a choice: they could call it a day and remain on the truck or they could be let-down at the next water station to continue their ride.

Second leg

During this stretch, the scenic views of soothing green palm plantations and azure blue skies were so breathtakingly beautiful that they gave me goose-bumps. The other priceless moment was when the smiling village children of Selama, Perak gave the passing riders “Hi-Fives”.

Event Chief Datuk Dr Lim Seh Guan (L) and the writer.


 

At the 81km mark, I was taken up by the sweeper truck and got off at the 95km water station at Kulim Hi-Tech Park to continue my ride. At this stage, the sun was getting piercingly hot, and I managed to squeeze out another 23km before hopping on to the sweeper truck again for the last time.

Fiesta finish

Three kilometres from the finish line, we all got off the truck and rode back to Autocity Juru by 1.30pm. In all, I was satisfied with completing my furthest distance of 107km on my ElliptiGo. All the finishers, regardless of the distance completed, were rewarded with a nice lunch and a gigantic medal to mark their achievements.

Looking around, I saw the many proud faces of cyclists exchanging stories and taking photos with one another. They came from all over the country to share their common love for cycling. No matter who we were and where we came from, in our cycling jerseys, we were equal among men and women.

Gus Ghani is a freelance personal trainer and sports writer. His passion is to inspire his family and friends to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. In his free time, he likes to compete in marathons, triathlons, century rides and adventure sports. You can follow Gus cycling adventures at https://m.facebook.com/groups/238547932907878?ref=bookmark.

Century ride tips

1. Train smart: Give yourself two to three months before the race to train. Choose a training route similar to the official event route. Gradually build your weekly cycling mileage up from 50km, and aim to peak at 150km two weeks before the race date. Then, you can taper down back to 50km, and give yourself total rest three days before race-day.

2. Eat right: Eating more fruits and vegetables, and less oily and fatty food, will give you energy when you need it most. The night before the race, eat more carbohydrates such as pasta to give yourself fuel to burn. Two hours before the flag-off, I suggest you eat some bread, rolled-oats, or a slice a fruit. A protein shake or a glass of fruit juice is also recommended. After the event, it is also important to keep eating natural and wholesome food to speed up your recovery process.

The finisher medal and event guidebook.


 

3. Drink water: Whether you are resting, training or racing, make sure you drink two to five litres of water per day. The more you work out, the more water your body needs. Furthermore, remember that it takes two hours for water to be fully absorbed into your system. So, my tip is to sip water continuously throughout the day, and never let yourself go thirsty.

4. Stretch and flex: Include a gym workout and stretching routine into your weekly training programme. Stretching will help make your muscles more flexible and supple. A medium-to-low intensity workout using weights will strengthen your overall body which, in turn, will help to avoid injury due to weak muscles and joints. Swimming is also a great way to cross-train.

5. Health check: If you are suffering from a medical condition or are on medication, please seek your doctor’s advice before participating in a gruelling century ride.

6. Service bicycle: Send your two-wheeler to a bicycle shop for a full servicing before a century ride because it would be a shame to DNF (“did not finish”) due to mechanical failure.

7. Night before: Put aside your race bib number, cycling outfit, shoes and everything else which you will carry along. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water. Avoid eating oily, spicy or junk food. Read the event programme guidebook and familiarise yourself with the the race instructions, schedule and route. Most importantly, sleep early. Give yourself a minimum of six hours sleep. Relax your mind and keep calm. Being well prepared will help you reduce any pre-race jitters.

8. Arrive safely: Riders are expected to be considerate to other road users. Please warn other riders if you see an obstruction or pothole on the road, and do not overtake on the left unless it is to avoid a fallen rider.

10. Feeling bad: If you are feeling dizzy, weak or ill while riding, please stop by the roadside immediately and wait for medical assistance.

Checklists

Ride essentials

ALWAYS carry a spare tube, hand pump and tyre levers with you in case of a puncture. You should also carry the following items:

1) Two water bottles or a 1.5 litre hydration pack.

2) A few sachets of hydration salts or electrolysis tablets/drinks (to be consumed at the 50km and 100km marks) to avoid cramps.

3) One banana and some dates, or some energy bars/gels to eat when hungry.

4) A fully charged handphone in case of emergencies.

5) Carry RM50 cash in case of emergencies, for example, when the water station runs dry and you need to buy your own drinks.

6) Wear sports sunglasses to avoid eye-strain from too much squinting.

7) Wear Mega UV certified quality arm sleeves to prevent sunburn and keep arms cool. A pair only costs RM49. My wife and I used to apply sunblock lotion but that proved impractical because we had to keep on re-applying the lotion whenever the lotion was dissolved by our excessive sweat.

8) Wear a Naroo UV certified face mask (RM89) which is made of fast-drying Microfibre material to protect against the sun, dust and wind.

Stay cool

IN any long distance ride, the failure to properly prepare for and to manage our tropical heat makes all the difference. The hot sun and high humidity causes our bodies to sweat more than usual, which will lead to loss of bodily fluids and electrolytes. If the loss is not replenished in time, then we will eventually suffer from dehydration, and muscle cramps. To avoid such catastrophes:

1) Drink plenty of water before, during and after the race.

2) Drink an isotonic sports drink and/or eat some energy gel – every hour if possible.

3) Include one long ride (maximum 100km) into your weekly training programme, so that your body will become accustomed to the resulting physical demands.