Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Audax 600 Malaysia. Part 2: Limits? What Limits?

team optimism L-R: Mike D, Mike T, me

Sometime in mid July, one of the more serious riders in my local network got in touch with me with the idea of putting a group together to do a 600km ride that was apparently in the plan for the Malaysian chapter of the Audax Randonneurs association. My schedule often excludes me from a lot of local races, sportives and grand fondos, but in this case I actually had that time free, so I

I mean: 600 kilometers! That's another level of madness. I've recently done almost 500km over 2 days - with about 5000m of elevation added in mind you - and I thought that was extreme! This would be much flatter, but still.....600km in one go! One single ride! Non stop!

Well that's not technically true. The cut-off time is 40 hours, and one should in theory be able to sleep - a bit, but it's hardly in the spirit of the Randonneur to be checking into a hotel half way. No, if this was to be done, it would be done properly.

The original plan looked interesting, the route left Kuala Lumpur, crossing to Kuantan on the east coast and back. However, sometime later I noticed the route had been changed to go directly north from Kuala Selangor up the western side of Malaysia to Butterworth and back. Later still, once they had actually recce'd the route, it was discovered that they would need to add around 40 kilometers due to a bridge closure. So now it's 642km!

At some point Mike D - the originator of the plan - let me know he had signed up, and shortly after I found myself following suit. I guess the opportunity to do something as out-of-the-box as this was too enticing to turn down. I think yet another stage of the Mid-Life-Crisis is when you realise that if you don't start taking the opportunities to challenge yourself while you still have the strength, the chance may never come again. The group however was still only a duo.

Neither of us had ever done anything like this before, so we left the actual plans pretty open. I think we both had the confidence we could finish it, but absolutely no idea how our bodies would react to being on our bikes continuously, or staying awake for that long.

all dressed up with somewhere to go...

As the day approached I had pretty much everything sorted in terms of gear: good strong, AA-battery-powered lights that would be up to the continuous usage; power bank to recharge GPS and phone; large, waterproof saddle- and top-tube-bags. All that remained to be decided was what I would actually put in the bags beyond spare tubes, pump, multi tool and lube. So much of the advice I could find on the internet was conflicting about what to carry, whether to sleep, how often to stop etc.

I booked myself a hotel near the start point. My reasoning was that I would maximise on sleep, since I could assume I'd be getting none for the next 30+ hours. Mike was planning to drive the 60-something km to the start on the morning.

2 days before the ride we became a trio. Mike T was the addition. He got roped in by Mike D over coffee, and since he had nothing planned at the weekend except doing a few long rides, he signed up.

registration and pre-ride breakfast

The Ride Begins

Meeting point was a coffee shop beside KFC at 6am. We picked up our Brevet cards (a card we would get stamped at each checkpoint) and were basically ready to go. Over coffee I started talking to Edward from Jakarta, and since he was alone he though he might join us if our paces matched.

The ride set off at 7am.  We set off somewhere in the middle of another 200+ riders who seemed in no particular hurry, and soon found ourselves off the front of the "peloton" with a gradually dwindling group in tow. The first stretch was 100km to checkpoint 1. Rough surface with a lot of sections of road works, but with fresh legs we were doing a good pace.

As we got closer to the checkpoint town of Teluk Intan a few guys started to push the pace, and the group fragmented at traffic lights, which meant a lot of sprinting to get back on, and closing gaps. I started to worry that we were getting a little above our endurance zone.


Checkpoint 1: Teluk Intan 100km

Teluk Intan is quite a busy seaside town, but it being a public holiday, a lot of the restaurants were closed. The checkpoint was still not open when we arrived (something that would become a recurring theme for us), so I went off in search of some food. The Mikes being content with portable food they had with them. I found a couple of roti telur (egg bread) with a tea, and headed back to the checkpoint, which had opened in the interim. The Mikes were impatient to leave.

We set off on the next section and before long I was wondering whether I should drop back and settle into a more all-day pace, or try and temper the enthusiasm of my companions so that we wouldn't all burn ourselves out too early. Hard to call really. The Mikes insisted that we should stay together so we did mostly, though I managed to lose them on a couple of stretches when stopping for water or a pee. I was reluctant to burn any unnecessary matches on gap-closing efforts which I might regret later.

lunch in Parit

Lunch #1: Parit 175km

We stopped in a town called Parit, and set about getting some pretty good lunch at a Chinese coffee shop on the main road. At this point we seemed to be off the front of the main group by quite a bit, as we were finishing our meal when the next group came in.

The next section was gently rolling along the side of a river, and the day was heating up. Our next target was the town of Kuala Kangsar at the 210km point. Still within normal parameters at this point, and feeling pretty good, though my heart rate response seemed a little high and was worrying me a tad. Looking back I think it was probably some erroneous numbers provided by my gadget, and it just shows how negative the use if these things can be. I'd say the only value in using something like that on a super-long ride is to make sure you don't push yourself too hard at any point, but if the numbers are not even reliable.....

Kuala Kangsar

Checkpoint/lunch #2: Kuala Kangsar 210km

Kuala Kangsar is a fairly typical Malaysian town set in a rolling landscape. Our checkpoint was a Chinese coffee shop where they would stamp our Brevet cards, and we of course took the opportunity to grab some pretty good Chicken Rice and tea. Not a long stop this one, and we were soon on our way with the searing mid-afternoon sun bearing down on us. Very thankful of our GPS route on our gadgets here, as we would not have found the restaurant without it, and leaving town would have been quite confusing too.

The next point we aimed for was the actual turnaround checkpoint 100km further on, though we would need water before that considering the heat. A petrol station around the 280km mark provided the water and some welcome shade, and I actually succumbed to the temptation for a cold isotonic drink along with some milk. By now I'm willing to consume whatever it is that my body is asking for, even though I don't normally touch sugar.

The next section was peppered by vague feelings of cramp in my hamstrings which got worse coming into the built-up area on the outskirts of Butterworth. I was just about evading any full cramp spasms - though this was getting tricky when clipping back in at the now-frequent traffic lights. I did have to come to a complete stop at one set of lights as a full spasm gripped my left hamstring.

It was getting towards evening by now, and the cooler air helped allay the feelings of cramp so that by the time I rolled up to the turnaround checkpoint around 8pm, the cramps had gone.

2 down, 2 to go...

Checkpoint #3: Simpang Empat 310km

The turnaround checkpoint was in a 24-hour Pizza Hut. By this time a pizza was a very welcome sight and smell, and we managed to polish-off 4 good ones. This was not a short stop. We really took our time, applying more chamois cream, washing faces and eyewear. The Mikes both brushed their teeth, and Mike D changed his socks. I didn't want to give my body any misleading cues about the possibility of sleep. I put on a gilet I had with me in the hopes that it was a bit more reflective. We'd be riding in the dark for the next 10 hours so we needed to make sure we were as visible as possible.

The route took us around 70km back down the same road, though now, in the coolness of evening, it was much more enjoyable. By the time we left, there was still no sign of any other riders, but we would soon see isolated riders and groups making their way towards the turn around, and we yelled encouragement as we sped southward.

At around the 380km mark we turned off the main road towards the coast. After stopping at a grocery store - which we literally caught just before it closed - to top up water, we were off into the pitch black of night in the jungle. The complete lack of moonlight made it particularly black, and with only very occasional little hamlets on this stretch, virtually no street lights for a long time.

round midnight
Our lights were good though. Collectively, the three of us generated quite a bit of light, so we could see enough of the road in front of us to be able to keep up a good pace, while also being visible enough to not worry about the infrequent passing truck or car.

This was by far my favourite point in the whole ride. In the cool night air, with nothing but a relatively short patch of road to focus on, we traded pulls on the front seamlessly for the next few hours, and the time seemed to pass very quickly.

At around 3am we pulled into a roadside restaurant that was, unbelievably, still open. I mean this is a village in the middle of nowhere, and these people are still running the place! We got fruit juices and I had a great, but extremely spicy, hot oxtail soup (not such a great idea as I would discover on the subsequent stretch). The young guys running the place had definitely never seen anything quite like us before, and were buzzing around us as we left. It was starting to get harder to get moving again.

it's finger-lickin' good

Checkpoint #4: Sitiawan 465km

This was a 24-hour KFC in the heart of Sitiawan, which is quite a large town, so there was actually some (night-) life in the place. When the checkpoint people rolled up we got our cards stamped. This stop was a particularly long-winded one. We got through a good amount of food and a couple of rounds of coffee. Mike D washed and changed his kit. Group photos were taken, and we started to feel a bit like we were achieving something. We finally rolled off onto the last night stretch. I was pretty well-rested but eager to get on with it.

As we made our way back towards Teluk Intan we remarked on how lucky we were to be doing this stretch in the dark. The openness of the landscape would make daytime riding particularly exposed to the sun's full effect. As we approached the town, dawn was breaking, Mike D needed to find a loo, and we needed some water, so we pulled into a Malay stall by the side of the road. They had some traditional Kuay, which was super-welcome, and as we sat there enjoying this with tea, the owner offered us some fresh jackfruit. Great stuff.

Breakfast: Teluk Intan 560km

But we still needed breakfast, and we decided to plough on through Teluk Intan and stop on the final stretch of road back to Kuala Selangor when we would have less than 100km to go. As it happened, our hunger got the better of us, and we were only just under the 100-to-go point when we stopped at a Chinese noodle place with a roti stall right beside it. Perfect. Everyone got what they wanted.

The day was heating up by now, and there was that pesky matter of 90-something kilometers still to cover on terrible road surface with lots of traffic and road works.

This was tough. I think the last 40 kilometers I counted every single kilometer, always hoping that the end would come sooner than expected. The heat of the day felt particularly abusive without having slept for more than 24 hours, and the dust and traffic and rough road were killing me. As we came into the recognisable bits of Kuala Selangor I wanted so much to back off the pace and spin my legs in to the finish, but the Mikes wouldn't let me drop back, insisting that we had to finish this together.

glad that's over!

Finish: Kuala Selangor 649.3km

The finish point was a large stand-alone McDonalds to the left of the main road. I have honestly never been so happy to see a McDonalds in my life. We had completed the whole thing in around 22 hours of moving time in an overall elapsed time of under 30 hours. I ate the biggest burger meal I could find on the menu, and then went to find my car. Our arrival time was 12.30pm and the checkpoint wasn't due to be open until at least 2 hours later.

Of course we all congratulated each other on our amazing collective achievement. Really a team effort. We wouldn't even have attempted to ride through the night without the moral support and security of each other, and we managed to keep a fairly respectable pace with shared duties on the front, especially through the night. Also, without ever having done anything like this before, the likelihood of one - or more - of us cracking was high, but there was never even a hint of doubt in our quest. We were also the first group on the road for most of the event, and finished well before anyone else, despite the presence of some fairly experienced Randonneurs.

the proof

I think we all got a little emotional at the end. I lucked-out with these guys - honestly two of the strongest cyclists I know, and great people to boot. Despite any internal low moments they remained upbeat and positive with nothing but encouragement to offer. Mike T later admitted to having had a period of nausea and some disorientation in the wee hours, but we just rolled along like a well-oiled machine.

Chapeau guys!

Mike D had to rush off, so the other 2 of us reconvened at McD to wait for the Audax staff to arrive to chop our Brevet cards and get our medals. I managed a second massive burger meal in the meantime. I had wanted to get a hotel room for a couple of hours nap before the drive back to KL, but there were no rooms available in the few places I asked, so I just washed the grime off arms and legs in the McD toilet, and changed my clothes. After wearing the same racing kit for the previous 30 hours, just wearing dry, loose-fitting cotton felt like a supreme luxury.

My ass was definitely the main casualty of the ride, and I think I will have to sort myself out a slightly more padded version of my saddle in the near future. I will also review my eating policy if I attempt anything like this again. While eating whatever you can get your hands on might work for a single long-day ride of 8-10 hours, when you're going for this long continuously, the lack of quality of the nutrition starts to impact your physical state. My stomach was also becoming increasingly unsettled by all the processed crap and carbohydrate.

As for this new team of 3, I think we may be looking for some more mad things to do. Mike T emailed us a day or 2 later with a link to a video about the Paris-Brest-Paris annual 1200km event - the pinnacle of the Audax Randonnee experience. My response was: why not!

My Strava file for the ride.


  1. sub 30 hours? i thought your time was 31 hours 40 minutes?

    1. Thanks for your excellent diligence in policing my claim Wee, but we left 7am Friday and arrived 12.30 Saturday. That's 29.5 hours. What my gadget records is the time it is running. Strava numbers shouldn't be taken too seriously. The elevation is completely wrong. Distance and moving time are more or less accurate.

    2. Bro Cafe Rider, you were right. I took it back. I was referring to the Audax official arriving times. But I failed to realize they didn't open the checkpoint about 2 hours later. My apology for making such a silly statement.

  2. Again, congratulation to your outstanding achievement.

  3. Well done on finishing strong in such a mad looong race! As always, an inspiring & fun write-up. - Helmy

  4. Nice write up! Thanks! and congrats on the achievement!