Peter Megdal sets new world record in cycling
by Scott Heald | The Dedham Times
The Guinness Book of World Records contains some zany entries indeed. One of those, achieved four-plus decades ago by a well-regarded Dedhamite, Mike Weir, who would go on to become the town’s police chief, involved throwing a grape the longest distance into the mouth of another person.
Other unusual competitions that have been recorded, with record-setters hailing from around the globe, include loudest cat purr (67.8 decibels, by Merlin), longest-running animated sitcom (716 episodes, by The Simpsons), and most hula hoops spun at one time (200, by Marawa Ibrahim).
But other world records are less quirky, drawing the interest of athletes who strive to get quicker, stronger, or otherwise better than the previous best on the planet.
In the demanding realm of cycling, one Dedhamite has eclipsed the world-record mark by building a foundation on principles and habits that yield success for athletes in a huge range of sporting endeavors: planning, passion, nutrition, sweat, speed, endurance, and a willingness to literally go the extra mile by whatever legitimate means necessary.
On Tuesday, September 12 at a velodrome in Mexico, Dedham resident Peter Megdal, PhD, went farther than anyone has ever gone before on a bike in the men’s age 60-64 category in one hour, traversing 47.43 kilometers.
The following is a summary of a conversation between Megdal and this reporter, addressing his rigorous training for, deeply-held motivation to attempt, and actual achievement of a cycling world-best mark.
The Dedham Times: First of all, congratulations!
Peter Megdal: Thank you. Last time we talked, it was a national record. I worked my tail end off, I didn’t get hurt this time, or sick, which happened the last two times (I tried to set a world record).
I did a lot of aerodynamic testing and training. This type of a race is extremely technical.
I had a coach who is a statistician. Most of the effort that you do is against the wind, when you’re pedaling that fast. So that’s one of the reasons why we go at altitude, because the air’s thinner. Of course you have trouble breathing, but you can do a little bit better at altitude because there’s not as much oxygen up there.
But it’s everything down to the tires, the wheels, the helmet, the skinsuit that you’re wearing, the handlebars. Every single thing matters.
I beat the record by 70 meters. We measure the effort that you do in wattage, the estimated amount of watts that you have to push, kind of like a light bulb, a measure of energy output. You could also measure the grams. Six paper clips weigh about ten grams, and ten grams is equal to one watt. So the pressure of the air pushing you backward as you’re trying to go forward, the difference that I had to achieve in order to break the record was less than the weight of six paper clips.
The margin of error over the hour was exceptionally small. As you can imagine, breaking a world record is not easy. When it comes down to established, inter-national world records for either professionals or age groups (in sports), only the best people even try that. I spent probably about 30 hours a week, on average, for the last six months, when you include training, stretching, weightlifting, massage, equipment testing. That doesn’t even include travel.
DT: Did you celebrate with a big meal afterward?
Megdal: I was actually in the moment not really happy. My wife and my coach were doing the timing, and we had officials there – a whole cadre of officials – because it’s regulated by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), the federation of competitive cyclists that governs world records. In that process my wife was holding up (signs) about how many minutes to go. My coach was yelling how many seconds each lap was. My wife got so excited at the end that she forgot to show me the times, how much time was left in the last two or three minutes. Here I am going as hard as I can for 57 minutes, then when it comes to a critical time, I was tied with the world record with three minutes to go.
We didn’t know if I was up or down. I had to sprint the last three minutes as hard as I could to try to make sure that I got it if I could. I started to cramp, so for the last three minutes it was pure hell because I had no indication. I didn’t have a clock in front of me. When you do a world record you’re not allowed to have a bike computer or speedometer or anything like that with you, so you’re relying on your support staff to give you the times. I just went as hard as I could.
I was not happy but my coach said, ‘Just shut up, you got the record.’ Did I have a big meal afterward? I don’t really starve myself when I’m in training. There’s so much effort that goes into it, it takes a long time to sink in.
DT: Was this the same facility where you had set the national (U.S.) record a couple years ago?
Megdal: Exactly. This was in Aguascalientes, Mexico, which is in central, southern Mexico. It’s a very poor city. They built this track because they wanted something for the kids and locals to use. It turned out to be the fastest track in the world.
People come from all over to do this type of event. This was the hour event, but we organized this. It’s not like the UCI sets up a world record attempt schedule for everybody. Usually, world records are set within competition. It’s interesting because there is no competition (as a group-style race) for the hour. Part of the reason for that is since it’s done on a velodrome.
If you think about it, the Tour de France has 190 riders. If you were trying to measure 190 people for an hour (on a track), you’d need about two hours for each rider for warm-up, cool-down, everything else. You could only do maybe five or six riders a day. It would be two weeks before you could get through everyone, so they don’t do it that way.
For shorter races – there are races that go 200 meters, there’s the kilometer race – you can go watch. The pros do 4,000 meters at the world championships. You can put dozens of people through those because they only take anywhere from ten seconds to four and a half minutes per competitor. For some of these races they do two competitors at a time, at either end of a track.
We organized this event. We had seven or eight athletes. Most of them were doing anywhere between ten second sprints to one-kilometer type stuff. We had two 2-km athletes, which at that speed lasts 2:10 to 2:30. So they’re really short. We had two hour-record (attempters).
The hour-record is never done as a mass start, or as a group event. The hour-race is you on a track alone, racing against the clock. No matter how fast you go, the event lasts an hour. It’s always an hour, which is kind of the pain about it.
If you’ve ever run a race before, if you run a marathon really fast, somebody just did it in 2 hours and 2 minutes. If you run a marathon really fast it’s over with quicker. The hour is an hour, so if you go really, really hard it’s still a frickin’ hour. It’s unique in that aspect.
Megdal: I do a lot of races that last anywhere from seven to 20 miles. And if you go really, really hard you can do a seven mile race in 17 minutes. If you go fast at least you know you’re going to get through it faster. If you go hard in the hour, it’s still an hour. The idea is that you want to go as fast as you can within that hour. The record is set by the distance. I did 47.43 kilometers, which is just under 29 and a half miles, for an hour.
DT: When was the previous record set?
Megdal: 2021, by a New Zealand guy. He is a multiple world champion in his age group. He’s done the road time-trial world championship, which is a different race held in different places in the world. This year it was held in Europe – I didn’t go. You use a specialized bike, where you sit in a position where the hands are in front of you so it’s more aerodynamic, kind of like a downhill skier. He has won that event two times. He also set a world record when he was younger.
It was a big milestone for me, because the previous world record (before him) was something like 45 kilometers. When I first started doing this, I was in my 50s. I thought, ‘When I get to be 60 it will be easy because it’s only 45 (km) or whatever it was. Then this guy came along.
I went to Mexico in 2021 (soon after the New Zealander broke the record). That’s when I broke the American record. Last year I was back, and I had a little bit of aerodynamic change and went a little bit harder. But the year before last, I broke my hip right before I went, so I lost a month of training. Then last year I got COVID three weeks before. The week before I had just recovered, so I was really impaired there.
[Editor’s note: Further coverage of Peter Megdal’s world record will appear in an upcoming issue of The Dedham Times.]