Lawrence Loh, 37, is an avid ultra-marathon cyclist who has been cycling for more than 15 years.
He recently set the record in Singapore Book of Records for completing the "Longest Solo Unsupported Bicycle Ride Across Europe".
According to Singapore Book of Records, he is the only Asian among 20 cyclists to complete the 7,400-km NorthCape-Tarifa Self-Supported Bicycle Adventure. This is the longest bicycle race in the world, from the most northern point to the most southern point across Europe.
Loh took over 100 days to cycle across 15 countries, from Jun. 20 to Sep. 29, 2022.
However, before having the chance to break this record, he had to contend with a career switch when the pandemic hit.
Was a swabber during Covid-19
Speaking to Mothership, he shared how being a Covid-19 swabber was tough as it was completely different from what he was used to.
Loh was a retail merchandiser and the industry was hit badly by the pandemic which led him to change jobs.
One of the toughest things to get used to was donning the full personal protection equipment (PPE), along with the face shield and N95 mask, which could get stuffy and hard to breathe after some time.
His experience as a swabber made him really respect the hospital staff members who have to wear PPE all day, and he is grateful for the work that they do.
When the borders to Malaysia reopened in Apr., 2022, Loh decided to leave his healthcare job and return to cycling.
Preparation for the trip
Loh said that he specialises in ultra-endurance cycling events which require him to cycle at least 400 to 500km a day.
He said that for this particular race, the timely reopening of Singapore-Malaysia borders allowed him two months of training before the race, which he did it by cycling from Singapore to Malacca and back.
He also cycled around Singapore to condition his body for the race.
He tried to train four times a week, 60km per session on weekdays, and one long ride around the island on weekends, clocking around 120km per session.
"I learned that in spite of all my preparation work, it was not enough for the race," Loh added.
When asked why he decided to participate in the race, he said it was hard to come by a race with such a long distance and high elevation.
He also wanted to take a break to travel around Europe to clear his mind after an emotionally- and mentally-draining period with Covid.
Loh touched on a few difficulties he faced while riding in Europe, mainly the weather and food.
As the whole race took him over 100 days to complete, he had to endure extreme weather conditions, from as cold as one degree Celsius to as warm as 45 degrees Celsius.
When Loh could not find any food during his ride, he sustained himself with junk food, chocolate bars and energy drinks.
There were times when Loh found himself craving hot soups and rice, which were not as readily available in Europe.
As it was a self-supported race, Loh carried his belongings with him throughout his race.
His luggage included his sleeping gear, which consists of a Bivvy tent, an inflatable mattress and pillow, a blanket and an eye mask, two sets of clothes, toiletries, bike tools, energy bars and snacks.
"The weight of our personal items matter, as every gram could slow us down as we ride up the mountains." Loh added.
His initial plan was to clock 200km a day, but upon reaching Northcape, he was only able to cover 60km to 150km each day due to the cold weather and difficulties in finding food.
The shorter distances were more manageable and his body gradually adjusted to the weather.
In the mountains and rural areas, Loh would set up his tent and rest in his sleeping bag to sleep.
A test of mental endurance
When asked if he is looking to break his own record, Loh said, "Yes, of course. But it will be a race of my own design with a longer distance and higher elevation, if possible!"
"What made the Northcape-Tarifa race challenging was the 80,000m elevation that requires climbing mountains and rougher paths. It was fulfilling but tough," he added.
He advised those who wish to complete similar race to not rely on just strength and speed to complete the race, one also needs to have the mental fortitude to do so.
Loh shared that riding alone requires great mental resilience, and that he hardly saw anyone during his race.
Whenever there was reception, he would WhatsApp call his loved ones and friends.
Words of encouragement from social media also helped him cope with loneliness, and he quipped that he sometimes ended up talking to himself.
That said, Loh was lucky enough to meet strangers who opened up their houses for him to shower and rest, giving him food and coming out to ride with him during the race.
"It was moments like these that gave me the motivation to ride to the finish line," he said.
Top photo via Lawrence Loh