Project MAMIL is all about seeing how much improvement a high quality, healthy and delicious diet, suitable for the whole family, can have on the performance of a middle aged cyclist. To measure this, we need to look at performance. This feeding plan is not about weight loss, although that might happen, nor is it about toning or strength. It’s about how well I can ride over competitive distances. So, the best place to begin measuring this would be a nice long ride. Longer than I expected, as it happened.
And that’s where this comes in…
The CIMB Bank’s “Cycle 2019” was an unusually tough edition of this annual race: 325 out of the 950 people who started the 160 km Endurance category ride failed to finish or were disqualified. A further 80 people finished outside the cut-off, which was a seemingly generous seven hours for the long, looping course which ran South of Putrajaya (the administrative capital of Malaysia) on highways to a small town and then back on hilly, rural roads.
What made it so tough? Well, the 21st of April saw average daytime temperatures of around 33 C (91 F), although my own device registered over 38 C (100 F) for much of the ride. Humidity was also a factor as it hadn’t rained recently and the air was heavy with moisture, making it difficult to cool off by sweating. The course was rolling, which sounds pleasant, but in Malaysia, “rolling” often means ascending and descending short, sharp ridges that have gradients of around 7%. After a while, the constant up-down really takes a toll on your legs. Riding through jungle might also sound exotic and exciting, but most of it is palm oil plantations with the occasional stray dog.
There were two KOM (King of Mountain) gates in this race as well, one after the other. The vertical ascent was fairly puny – we only went up to around 224 m – but the road that took us there had an average gradient of 10% and peak sections at what felt like 15%. Then the next KOM started after a short descent. People were vomiting by the side of the road and on the following descent one guy misjudged a turn on the two-lane country road (which was only partially closed to traffic) and went into a metal barrier at around 50 kph.
I had my own troubles as well, of course.
Shortly after the control car released us at the start of the race, a fairly large group split off the front and then, over the next ten kilometers or so, divided itself into leaders and chasers. There was maybe a minute or so between the two groups after 20 km of riding. I was hanging on to the back of the lead group before being shed and finding myself caught by the pursuers. Which was fine, I settled into a pace line and promised myself that I would take my turn at the back as well as the front rather than hammering on and blowing up like I used to do.
At the 44 km mark I felt my arse start to rumble – which is the feeling you get when your back tyre is going flat. I pulled aside and stopped on a decent grass verge (we were on a road through two palm oil plantations) before getting my kit out. A motorcyclist turned up, but he wasn’t a neutral mechanical service guy and so just sat there watching me as I tried in vain to find out why my tyre had punctured. The inner tube was bleeding air but I couldn’t find either the hole or any sharp edges coming through the inside of my tyre. I wasted a good five minutes trying to find something, because you never want to put a tube in to a tyre without finding whatever caused it to pop in the first place. However, my patience failing me, I replaced the tube, remounted the tyre and used a CO2 canister to re-inflate it. Back on the road after what Strava would later confirm to be 14 minutes.
Having now lost the lead group and with no hope of regaining it I resigned myself to passing a bunch of people before finding some who could hold my usual pace. Once you lose a group in cycling it is almost impossible to regain it – riding in a slipstream is about the effort of riding by yourself and the bigger the group, the shorter your turn at the front is. Riding as a pair was hard, and fairly slow, work. But, we pushed ourselves along until we reached the climbs, on which several people dismounted and walked up, before reaching the second water station at around 120 km.
For whatever reason, God only knows why, I had it in my head that the whole race was only 120 km long. I had realized my error about 20 km in when there was a big sign that said “Endurance 160”. I was not pleased with myself at this point, having packed only five gels and two bidons of water, so I took the highly unusual step of stopping, refilling my water and eating a banana. I also called my wife to tell her that I was an idiot and would be out there for another two or three hours. Screaming child in the background, she dutifully encouraged me to continue – probably well aware that I was actually punishing myself for my own stupidity.
Sans puncture, I had made good time over this hilly first 120 km but that came at a price – the remaining 40 km were torturous. The sun was high in the sky and the heat became unbearable. I had long ago sweated off all my sunscreen and could feel myself turning a shade of embarrassed lobster. The rolling hills continued, as did the relentless heat. Cloud cover began to creep in and out after another 90 minutes, which was good because my skin was beginning to tell me it was cold – a sure sign that heatstroke isn’t far away is the sensation of goose-bumps despite being in a furnace. I stopped to help someone who was doubled over under a motorway bridge before rolling into Putrajaya, too tired to even consider sprinting for the line.
I managed 153 out of the 292 people who registered for the Men’s Open and 428 out of the 955 people who took part overall – so right in the middle of the field. Overall, just over 1/3 of the people who started in the Endurance category didn’t finish, so despite having an unremarkable placing I am still fairly happy with my performance. Especially considering my puncture and finding out that the race was half again as long as I thought it would be after I had already started rolling. Even though this was the slowest time I have ever logged over this distance, I certainly think it was faster than a year ago when I first started racing. My first 40 km, after the controlled section but before my puncture, saw me put down an average speed of around 39 kph, without really feeling it. Hopefully, combined with the feeding plan and a bit of good luck, I can manage to keep that of performance up throughout my next race. Which is definitely only 120 km. I checked.
After this epic road quest, and before we started the diet (yay for recovery week!), my wife made me a rather marvelous feast with no fewer than two kinds of carbs and proteins and lots and lots of beer (for rehydration purposes).