I'm A Zwifter Now


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

I’m A Zwifter Now

I don't know about you but I've always found winter turbo training a real turn off. Riding my bike is about getting out on the open road, enjoying the fresh air, the scenery.  Not sweating away, staring at a wall, counting down the minutes to the next interval.  But how else do you keep fitness through the dark winter weekdays, juggling work, family and daylight ?

Last winter whilst I was trying to see if rollers would alleviate the boredom of indoor training ( a little ), a core of my riding buddies were trying out Zwift. At first I thought it was just a nice gimmick, a game to distract you from the tedium of a turbo session.  However, as I watched on from the edge I saw their enjoyment increasing.  They were racing each other, doing TTTs, there was a social aspect to Zwift.   Here was a group of buddies enjoying a social riding experience in the confines of their own pain cave.  So, what the heck, I thought I'd give it a go as we come into the European winter.  There's a free 2 month subscription with Strava Premium so what was there to lose.

I can honestly say from the first Zwift ride I was hooked.  For my second ride, I joined in one of the many races along with a couple of my riding buddies and it was fantastic.  My first ride was the Zwift FTP Test to work out my W/kg.  The W/kg is used in races to see which race Cat you are.   There is long, structured warm up for around 40 mins and during this time the novelty of the virtual world distracted me from the fact that I was on a turbo.  My turbo isn't a smart turbo and so climbs aren't simulated but I could see my screen avatar slowing down on the ascents and so I had to pedal harder to maintain a decent pace. 

Then the 20 min FTP test came up.  On the screen your, speed, cadence, heart rate and power are all displayed.  (Zwift is estimating my power based on my weight and the power curve from my make and model of turbo).  I had a good idea of where my FTP was so knew where to pitch my effort, treating it as a TT - steady ramp up to the effort, hold the effort and then empty the tank in the last 5 mins.  The power & heart rate numbers on screen were my motivation, whizzing past other riders and looking at the scenery my distraction. And it worked. The 20 min test was brutal but I finished feeling exhausted and at the same time exhilarated with the effort. 

So, to my first race.  I was on the boundary of a Cat C & B rider so opted to go for Cat C and see how it went.   The race event opens 15 mins from the start and when you enter, you are put in the starting pen on a virtual turbo so you keep warming up until the start.   My buddies have me some great advice - about 30 secs before the starting whistle, ramp up your effort to just above your threshold power. 

There is no neutralised start and you are off from the gun. Ramping up the effort means you start with the pack and have a chance of staying with them.  So it was full gas from the gun and trying to keep with the main group.  I knew I wouldn't stay with the Cat A front group but wanted to make sure I could make a group made up of Cat B & C riders and we could work together.   After about 2 mins of full gas effort I settled into a group of about 8 riders and I could back off a little and keep in the draft of the group. Yes - Zwift simulates drafting and it's great!   So for the next 30 mins I rode with the group (which included one of my buddies), taking my turns on the front and recovering in the draft. 

 After 30 mins, the group was tiring and some of the stronger riders attacked.  I tried to go with them but they had attacked on a hill and gravity is not my friend, not even in the virtual world.  So for the next 15 mins I rode solo, chasing down riders in front who had been dropped from groups up the road and then gave it full beans in the sprint for the line.   I crossed the line in 5th in the Cat C race, 2 seconds down on my buddy and I was buzzing.  It had never felt like a turbo session at any time and I had basically just done a brutal 45 minute, over - unders session.

 So there it is - I'm hooked.   I'm a Zwifter.   I'm looking to upgrade my system to get an improved Zwift experience - smart trainer, better graphics card - and I have high hopes of finally having an enjoyable turbo training season.