What I Learnt From First 100km Cycling

2016 ADNOC Liwa Cycling Challenge

Month of January, mark a new beginning and for me it is a milestone for a new hobby. No longer getting on the wheel to commute from home to work I used to do in Sydney, nor to rush to get few necessity from grocery stores. First, owning a road bike and second, is the ride of my first 100km. This write up is not about buying a bike but on the latter.

I am a virgin. Just owned a road bike for a week and rode for about 25 km around my neighborhood which pretty low key in all honesty. Coincidence with my trip to United Arab Emirates (UAE) and being provoked by the free entrance fee, free bicycles and free helmet to hire, I did not only convinced myself to sign-up but deep inside me whispered – hey it is only 100km road cycling not 100km trail-running, an ultra-runner like you should do fine. Plus I’ve been to the area which is absolutely stunning and love to be surrounded among dunes again. With these thoughts planted firm in my head I signed up for the ADCO Liwa Cycle Challenge. Not knowing to me that it came with elevation of 1200m, how the route going to be or how that long distance feels on my quads on a set of unknown wheel.

Reaching closer to the meeting point, we drove passed some of the beautiful desert I’ve seen in the country. The oasis in Liwa is the place of birth of the ruling family Al Nahyan. The scenery alone completely served as a solace and peaceful point that I did not worry about the battle about to be faced. I wanted to ride at a good pace that bring me to finish line – not in competitive mode.

After collecting the race bip, the free bike and free helmet were picked up at Fun Ride Sports stand (100 bikes altogether). Then, seeing familiar faces and received big welcoming hugs from friends, not just sealed part of my missing elements about this country but strengthen me to soldier today’s challenge as tips given and shared. The atmosphere is calm even when the race is delayed an hour later due to fog. Cyclists seem to enjoy the free Arabic snack (manakeesh) provided for breakfast.

 Discovery and Lesson Learnt:

1.At The Start -There’s always a beginning to anything. I could not help to notice other cyclists and their own bikes, colourful jerseys and cleat shoes. There is growing number of female cyclists in UAE and the new formed Urban Ultra Cycle League  participated in this race as well. Every one squeezed in with their cool bikes at the start. What a different to a starting line in running event I accustomed to. The men started first and women followed about 5 minutes later. A note, the bib number to be worn at the back not at the front – my first obvious lesson. And I was the only ladies in running gears from top to bottom.

2. Gear Management – There are good deals repetitive of up and down. This is not the flat course like Al Qudra in Dubai. This is where Tel Moreeb, nation highest dune located. Perhap I did not check this fact. Perhap I simply adamant to give it a try as I have nothing to lose. Gear management is really crucial. Luckily, I rode a Cube bike with Shimano 105 which is a great smooth bike. The first set of hill sent a wave of shock attacked into my leg and I could not kept up with the last peloton, and my fingers had to figure out the gears in a hard way. After few up and down I got the hang of the gears – lower gears for climbing and higher gears for descending. Relief. Just like trail running, different muscle sets are worked on going up-hill and down-hill. The amount of speed to descend require the right amount of braking; that is too much may get me tumbled over and too little given an extra but nice momentum push and freedom to accelerate if my aerodynamic body shaped can take it. All about finding the right balance and gear position to optimise efficiency, and with it came joy of having adventure despite the challenge.

3. Up-hill Battle – This is by far the hardest of all. A very slow ride got me to the top of every hills but as the quads burnt and cramp crept in, this proved to be really tough task. I got to work harder cycling on hills. In ultra-running, going uphill I allow a few breathe and take the necessary break if needed but in cycling it is simply keep pedal on. Because once I stop pedal the bike could slide down-hill. Not a nice scene. The right cadence to go up-hill is something to work on too.

4. Pit Stop – I wonder how cyclists have a break from pedaling or simply don’t. One time I listened to a podcast by Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion that she simply did it on her bike when need to pee. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stop to find a hiding place, but I stopped for few minutes once to fuel and once to stretch my quads. I also learnt to have a small bite while riding as it is important to refuel every hour or so.

Stunning scenery awaits at Liwa
Stunning scenery awaits at Liwa

5. Enjoying View In Limited Way – I found a whole amount of concentration required while riding on road with the constant up-hill and down-hill. In ultra-running, I get a good chance to run on auto-pilot mode and be able to enjoy the view a bit more. But then again maybe because this is my first long ride, ‘some’ focus behind the wheel is definitely needed especially to ensure safety and correct upper body alignment.

6. No Spongy Short – At 60km mark, my bum started complaining and I felt some uncomfortable pain. Shifted body weight from one side of glutes to another, plus adjusted bum frequently to be a bit behind saddle- basically finding the most comfortable position possible. Thankfully, no stabbing pain that made me stop. Pedal on I was but deep inside me never again I ride without proper cycling pant or short. No chafing whatsoever just very sore glutes sitting on car seat on way back to Abu Dhabi that lasted for a day maximum.

7. Learning To Become A Complete Cyclist – When riding up the last few hills towards the end, somehow my bike chain dropped. I stucked for a second and screamed at the male cyclist in front of me. He was walking with his bike up the hill. He helped me to fix the chain that I thanked him greatly. This part of bike management I need to master. Learning to know and look after my bike (the chain, brakes, tyres) is crucial for a safe ride, to be independent to tackle whatever issues I might encounter and to prolong to the next ride without requiring roadside maintenance. Similarly, in trail -running and self-sufficient multi-stage races, it is about getting familar and equip with required gears and kits; including knowledge in dealing with own injury, blisters and weather related issues.

I finished the race but did not meet cut-off time of 4 hours. I can hold my head high up given it is one of the toughest ride on the UAE race scene. Proud to be part of the cycling crowd. Importantly, how I picked myself back up when all I simply wanted was to put the bike down and run the beautiful course instead. Yes I have nil cycling racing experience and pretty much limited time at the bar, however my head was guided with the voice from my Fitness First RPM class instructors ( which I attended regularly when lived in Dubai) and from the quality chat I had with the sales person when I bought my bike on how to ride on road. In this case, it is a sheer pure participation and finishing that counts.

Huge credit to UAE Cycling Federation for organizing and sponsoring a successful race. My appreciation to all the volunteers involved – at the 20 checkpoints (with bananas, juices and water) and the dedicated support cars.

I flew with Etihad Airways from Singapore – an 8 hours direct flight. From Abu Dhabi, we hired a car at the airport and drove for 2 hours and the half (about 250km) to Tel Moreeb in Liwa, Western Region. (22°58’34.5″N 53°47’06.7″E)

A camping area is set up at the start/finish line. Each tent helds 4-6 people and they were free to book. Otherwise, Tilal Liwa Hotel is just near by and stunning Qasar Al Sarab a bit of drive but rewarding stay for pampering.

More details about race can be found here and online registration done at Hopasport.

Do you have experience riding your first 100km? Have I tempt you to sign up for next year? Love to hear.

Live To Thrive.