Every year, my longest distance ride will come from the NTU Bike Rally. It is the longest road cycling sportive in Singapore, organised by students with little or no apparent support from key sporting agencies. The longest distance option comes in at around 178km, with the route taking participants around the edge of tiny Singapore.
Experiences in 2016, 2017 & 2018
I took part in 2016, 2017, skipping 2018 due to adverse weather, before resuming yesterday. My very first edition in 2016 was close to a disaster. I opted to take things slow and steady, and quickly wilted under the punishing afternoon sun. I also got my nutrition and hydration completely wrong which led to a bonk at the 90% mark. The final 10% was a terrible mix of trying to balance pedaling and coasting to the end point.
With that, I decided to try to maintain contact with the first pack in 2017. It was a strategy which paid off well as it basically cut the total duration of the ride by 40%. Nutrition and hydration was also on point. I was even able to cycle home from the event clocking in 214km in total. (I always cycle to the start point from home. I had to cab home in 2016 because I was completely drained.)
Yesterday, I attempted to do the same knowing that my fitness levels were lower than that in 2017. I started mid pack before easing myself into the second pack. The second pack came apart when half the pack took the wrong exit from a roundabout after Jalan Buroh. Left with no choice, I had to bridge to the first pack, burning some matches in the process. The first pack was later split due to a traffic light and I had to go into the red again to catch up. The first pack was controlled by a leading car at between 38-42km/h which was great for drafting. Unfortunately, the later half of the pack split at Neo Tiew and that commenced a solo sojourn to Woodlands. I regrouped with the second pack at that point and that eased the rest of ride to Changi. East Coast Park and the final few kilometres was a solo affair, part of which I had to (somewhat hilariously) take urgent phone calls while riding. But the job was done by then. I had finished within my target and proceeded to cycle home clocking a distance of 218km.
- Faster is easier. Being too conservative will do more harm than good. Go as fast as possible but avoid going into the red for too long. The slower you go, the fewer packs there will be to share the workload with and the hotter temperatures will be. I went into the red too much yesterday as compared to 2017. Coupled with lower fitness levels, I suffered cramps to my quads thrice and my calves once but quick determined spins dealt with the issue relatively quickly.
- Optimise eating, drinking and toilet runs. Yesterday’s ride totaled three Clif bars, two SIS caffeine gels and six bidons of water. I did not have to rely on food from the checkpoints and only needed to stop for refills of water. One toilet run yesterday similar to 2017, timed to ensure that I could leave the checkpoint together with the pack.
- Acclimatise to heat. I reached the finishing point after 4pm in 2016, slightly before 12pm in 2017 and slightly after 12pm in 2019. Overexposure to the searing sun was punishing in 2016. But even in the quicker end times for 2017 and 2019, I spent at least a good four hours cooking in the sun before a sub one hour ride home. Train in the sun to ensure that your body is used to performing in the heat. Bonking in the heat is a one way ticket to a DNF and a cab ride home.
- Get sufficient rest before the event. Flag off is at 6am and a slow ride to the starting point from home means I have to wake at 4am. Sleeping by 10pm or even better 9pm the night before is absolutely necessary to get that 6-7 hours rest before a long punishing distance the next day.
Kudos to the organising team
All three editions I participated in have been very positive experiences especially when dealing with the organisers. It is amazing how a dedicated and relatively small team of students can pull off an event of this scale. Small touches like providing mini tubes of sunscreen and helping participants remove their race tags from the back of their jerseys at the end of the race really top off the experience.
Looking forward to next year’s edition!