“Crushing covid” on a virtual bike ride

Last weekend, our Fit Feminist team participated in a 24 hour relay in Zwift to raise funds for mental health programs at a community hospital in the end end of Toronto. You can still sponsor us here,


I saw the event last year on Zwift and thought it was a terrific idea for a great cause but I didn’t feel up to the organizational challenge of putting a team together. This year I feel bit more on top of virtual events and fundraising after a year of being a university dean during a pandemic. I’ve also done some rides with the Toronto Hustle on Zwift and feel a bit of a connection to the club. I asked a few other bloggers who Zwift–Cate, Sarah, and Jennifer–we added a crew of team members from Sarah’s Zwift racing team and away we went. The event was organized in 2 hour chunks, each one a separate “event” on Zwift. I did Stage 2 in the #crushcovid event, 8-10 pm. That’s my favourite time of day for riding. It was a fun ride, hundreds of people, on one of Zwift’s flattest courses. Sarah was riding right after me so I had to exit the event a few minutes early and swap bikes on the trainer.

That’s Cheddar on the left. He is watching me ride on the trainer and thinking he would rather I just went to bed!


I started off the relay for our team, and I’ll admit: there is no way that I would have been able to urge myself onto that bike for two hours at 6 pm on Friday after the week I’d had. Fifteen minutes before we started, I was still in my work clothes, lying on the couch cuddling the cats. But I had committed to the team, and to the donors I’d generated — and one of my clients works with the exact community the fundraiser was supporting. I know how slim the resources and how big the need is for mental health support in the east part of Toronto — so I got on the bike.

Although I’ve ridden more than 2000 km in zwift since October, I almost never ride with other people. And I was unsure what it would feel like. But at the start, I felt some real excitement. Within about 10 minutes, I found a group to ride with (a “blob” in zwift parlance), and I fell into a fast rhythm. It wasn’t a very chatty group, but we moved along with the grace of the simulated peloton, where you can draft and bob and weave without worrying about crashing into each other.

Because I’d been so lackadaisical about even starting the ride, I hadn’t Planned. I only had one bottle of water and I left my box of gingersnaps on the kitchen counter. I think I’d imagined taking a break or two, but I was enjoying my blob so much I didn’t want to stop and lose them.

As we rode, the organizers from the Michael Garron Foundation popped in to encourage all of the riders, especially those planning to break records for riding. When they told us that we’d raised more than $200,000 already, I had profound sense of gratitude, of appreciation for this global riding community, and for the generosity of everyone who’d reached into their e-pockets. I see the impact of mental health issues every day – this really matters.

With half an hour left to ride, the house dark around me because I’d forgotten to turn on the lights at 6 pm, I ordered a steak frites from my local pub. When I finally crawled off the bike, feet cramping from dehydration, after 83 km and handed the torch over to Sam, my dinner was waiting for me. I sent messages to my team and ate dinner, grateful for the chance to make a difference from the space of my own home.


The Crush COVID ride had many teams who chose to work in a relay format where someone from the team would be riding at every point during the 24 hours. When I saw that the FitFeminists had managed (thanks to my ZSUN Racing teammates from around the world who rode during the wee hours) to cover nearly all of the 2 hour slots, I was tempted to keep riding after midnight so that we’d hit (nearly) all of them.

While riding, I tuned in to the concurrent Zoom event, where riders and a cast of guests spoke with Brad Bradford, a Toronto city councillor who hosted the stream while simultaneously riding for 24 hours. He said that it helped the time to pass more quickly. It did!

One of the interviewees was the amazing Lucy Hempstead, who set a Guinness record for the women’s 24h longest simulated distance on a static bicycle during the event. She had an informal cluster of riders around her to provide (virtual) draft to optimize her effort, and I joined the bunch for a couple of 2 hour slots, Friday night and Saturday afternoon, to help sweep riders back up to the group. It’s definitely much easier to ride hours at a time when you’ve got a job to focus on. 

I also rode a chunk of the after-midnight hours by watching the America’s Cup sailboat races live from New Zealand. That reminded me much more of earlier years, spending hours on the magnetic resistance trainer watching TV series, which couldn’t be too riveting or I would get distracted from my training effort. I kept falling off the pack I was with during key moments in the race and then having to sprint back in a series of ever-increasing intervals. This was much more tiring and I didn’t make it through the full 2 hours of my second slot, but it was definitely fun.

I really enjoyed this event. It will be interesting to see how it will continue in the years to come post-pandemic.


My mental health has not been great in the pandemic, and Zwift has been a big part of how I have been coping. I have 2 young kids, and last Spring and Summer in particular, I had very limited capacity to leave my house without an entourage and a backpack full of mummy supplies. Riding on Zwift while the kids are safely occupied has helped me to feel like I was escaping into an alternate reality, and in the process to deal with pandemic induced insomnia and pandemic despair. And scrolling through Zwift Insider and Zwift ride lists at least *feels* healthier and more productive than the doom scrolling trap that I tend to fall into otherwise.

I also know that I am not alone in using Zwift – and physical exertion in general – in this way. Focusing on something I can do, something in my control, rather than the many many things that are out of control. So, when the opportunity arose to fundraise for mental health by throwing myself even further into the Zwift world, I was all in.

This particular fundraiser and this particular way of fundraising hit close to home for me. Fundraising for mental health, using my mental health coping mechanism, for a hospital foundation in my city. I live in Toronto, and I know this community well. I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed that the group rides for the #CrushCovid rides were all on Tempus Fugit, the fastest but most boring Zwift route IMHO. But this was a fundraiser for a cause I care about, in a mode that I also care about, with a group (FIFI) that I care about, so this was a good combination for me.

The ride itself was fun, with a lot of camaraderie in the event. I tuned in to the zoom chat hosted by Brad Bradford, and watched some interesting interviews while I rode. Plenty of ride ons and cheers in game, as well. And, at one point, my kids came and stood next to me for about half an hour cheering with variations of “Go! Mummy, Go!” I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday. In the end, I rode for 2.5 hours on Saturday – my leg plus an extra bit.

I also managed to keep my ride going through Lucy Hempstead’s world record smash, and to watch her keep going. It was neat to ride ‘with her’ in a sense, although my speeds and pace were not strong enough to keep up with her, let alone help lead her out or ease her ride. 

Wrap up

In the end the event both raised more than $400,000 and Lucy Hempstead broke a world record for distance on Zwift in 24 hours.

Toronto Hustle’s second Crush COVID event raises $400,000 over 24-hour ride: “At 6:00 p.m. on Mar. 12 Hempstead clipped in to ride for 24 hours straight on Zwift as part of her team’s Crush COVID 24-hour Zwift marathon fundraiser. The 20-year-old broke the current women’s distance record of 680 km before 3 p.m., riding 681 km.”

Lucy Hempstead celebrates passing the official marker for a new 24-Hour world record. Photo: Toronto Hustle
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