I’m not going to argue in favour of Zwift racing, I’ll save that for another post. 🙂
But to be clear, even when I give the argument it’s not going to be the kind of argument that seeks to persuade those who know that they don’t like racing.
Short version though: It’s a great way of tracking your individual performance and improvement, and in the case of bike racing it’s as much about co-operation and teamwork as it is about competition. There’s also a pretty big element of strategy in some kinds of bike races.
“Let’s just take it as given that some of us do care about speed, that it’s an aesthetic thing that doesn’t need an explanation, like preferring chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream. You can say what you like about chocolate but that doesn’t give reasons for the vanilla ice cream lover to switch.
That said, lots of us do care about speed and keep caring about speed as we age. From that point of view, this is mostly good news. Training still works, you can keep your speed, and slowing down isn’t a physiological necessity. Yay! There are bad news bits. Getting in that much training and the right kind of training becomes a lot more complicated. You don’t just have to care, you have to REALLY CARE. And there’s the rub.
I’m going to blog later about what I like about racing and speed. My pitch for chocolate ice cream as it were. I want to be clear what it is I’m doing when I do that. I’m describing what I get out of it, and what you might like about it too, but there aren’t reasons or arguments. It’s totally okay not to care and like what you like.”
OK, back on track, to the main point of this post. If you want to race on Zwift, first, get yourself over to ZwiftPower and register.
What’s ZwiftPower? “Put simply, ZwiftPower is a community-driven website that complements the Zwift app. It lets Zwift racers and race organisers track results and check out all the details of the races they’ve participated in, as well as monitoring and analysing their data.”
It’s the official results site for all Zwift races. You need to be on ZwiftPower to be actually in the race. Otherwise, with some rare exceptions, you’re just along for the ride.
Based on your performance and FTP ZwiftPower will assign you a category for racing. It also tracks your power in a range of different timed categories which let you know if you’re a good all rounder, a sprinter, or best at long endurance efforts.
It’s not the most intuitive website around but there’s lots of information about teams, races, performance, and results.
Second, start by trying out some individual time trials. It’s just you and your bike against the clock. There’s no drafting and no interaction with other bikes.
“A time trial is a race between you and the clock. It’s the “Race of Truth.” No drafting, no teammates, no tactical games – just you and your bike, trying to cover a certain distance in the fastest time you can. They work a little differently than other races on Zwift. When you sign up for a TT event, you’ll get an individual start time (equal to or after the event’s start time). Make sure to log in and join the event before that time, and your avatar will line up on one of the conveyor belts in the starting pen. These belts will move riders up and release them in staggered starts. Start pedaling before the countdown hits zero. When it’s time for your row to leave the pen, your avatar will speed up to 20 miles per hour for a rolling start. Cross the line and it’s go time!”
Some races automatically put you on a time trial bike but if not go to your garage in Zwift and select the time trial bike.
Time trials are a great intro to racing and they’re a great way to mark progress over time.
My fave is La Bicicletta Toronto Supper TT, Wednesday at 630 pm ET. Often it’s on Fuego Flats, 15 km, which I also love.
Third, having done some ITTs check out out your FTP and go back and see what category ZwiftPower says you are and then go out and do some short, road races, where you can draft with other people and work together to reach the line.
My club, TFC, also has a beginners’ category in our Friday night series. It’s usually shorter and flatter than the main race but it’s unforgiving in terms of power and categories. You get DQed if you go over the watts per kilo for D. It’s not so useful if you’re a speedy beginner!
Fourth, okay you’re on ZwiftPower and you’re doing some ITTs and some beginner races, what’s next? I love team time trials. I also love racing with a club and the camraderie that comes with that. You can try out a bunch of Zwift bike clubs, check out their vibe, and their regular racing schedule and commitment. At TFC we run a Monday night and a Friday night race as well as taking part in the WTRL team time trial series. Sarah is a member of ZSUN and you can read about her team members here.
Do you race on Zwift? What’s your ‘getting started’ advice?
Sam (and now Cate too) have blogged lots about their Zwift experiences both before and since the start of the pandemic. With the bike trainer the most readily available fitness option, I’ve also been doing lots of virtual riding and racing, especially team time trials (TTTs) in a league organized by WTRL. When I first started racing in the team time trial format for the ZSUN team back in April, my first rides were with a team called ZSUNR Quasar (all ZSUN Racing TTT teams are named for celestial bodies or constellations), until I was able to join a team that races in an evening time slot.
This video gives an idea of how a TTT works – riders from the same team all ride together, taking turns riding as hard as they can on the front of the group, then moving back and using each others’ draft to recover.
I recently made a guest (re-)appearance with ZSUNR Quasar in the annual WTRL TTT World Championships. We had a great race and were the fastest in the world of all the teams in our category (Vienna, women’s teams up to 3.2 watts/kg). We were so fast we beat all the teams in the next category up (Vienna-Latte, women’s teams who have up to three riders at 3.7 watts/kg) and were faster than many teams in even higher categories.
ZSUNR Quasar is made up of many riders from around the world, not all of whom are available to race each week, but who support in other ways, from acting as DS (a “directeur sportif” is a person who directs a cycling team during a road bicycle racing event), to helping with strategy and tactics, to sending encouragement during the race.
E-sports championships at the world level require you to prove you aren’t “weight doping”, claiming you weigh less (or more) than you do in real life to gain an unfair advantage. While the members of the championship race roster were busy recording verification videos, I sent out a questionnaire to the team chat to showcase the diverse backgrounds and lives of world champion Zwift riders (including many Canadians – must be something in the cold snowy air).
Name: Alison LeBlanc
Nickname: Sugar (🤷🏼) – I think it was given to me on the Tuesday ZSun Ladies Social Ride over Discord by Alina & Iva [ZSUNR], they both felt I needed a nickname and it was discussed that I am very nice and sweet like sugar. I was in the group ride at the time listening to this and it happened really quickly so I knew there was nothing I could do about it.
Location: Aurora, Ontario, Canada
What do I do for work/fun: I stayed home from work to raise my kids (twins); my husband travelled a lot so it made sense. This gave me the opportunity to volunteer at their elementary school and it was something I did enjoy. I like to hike, travel, garden and just enjoy the outdoors (in the summer)
How did I get into Zwift: I always rode bikes, recreationally when the kids were younger. My husband, Craig, is the avid cyclist in the family. He started Zwifting in 2017. At the time, I had no interest in Zwift because I was actively involved in Karate and Kickboxing classes. At the end of 2018, I had received my second degree black belt and felt the desire for a change so I tried Zwifting. At first, I rode routes at my own pace a couple of days a week and did the occasional workout. Eventually, it all clicked and I found myself enjoying group rides 4 to 5 times a week. While my first ZSun group ride was a disaster, I had wanted to try the ZSun Ladies Social group ride and did a month later. The pace and company were great (as it still is today) and this has become my favourite group ride! I was eventually asked when I was going to join ZSun Racing so I jumped in with both feet into WTRL TTT (May 2020).
My experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: So far I have raced with 3 teams – Comets, Quasar and Pluto. Each team has felt completely different to me. Every week I look forward to racing with a great group of ladies from all over who want to have fun and kick ass. There is so much support across every level of cycling. These races have helped improve my cycling power and make me want to continue to improve. I also want to contribute everything I have to each race.
Name: Sylvie Holmes Nickname: Wingman. I joined the ZSUN Chain Gang ride fairly early on in 2016/17. It was a fast and long ride at the time and when the leader said stay with the lead, I took it to heart and I stuck! I’ve also always enjoyed joining Zwift friends in their challenges and therefore the nickname “Wingman” 🙂 Location: Dundas, Ontario, Canada Age: 56 years young 😊 What do you do (work/fun): I stopped working in the work world when our first child was born and became a stay at home mom to 3 boys and a daughter. So work/ fun was taking care of a busy family. I love cooking for family and friends and being active. We are lucky to live steps away from a Conservation Area where there are plenty of trails. We moved here with a young family where hiking, followed by biking in trails, orienteering just became something we did as a family. Our young adults still move in and out due to school and work but my husband and I still enjoy hitting the trails, on foot or on bikes. It is great to have something that keeps you moving, whatever your “thing” is. What is your experience racing with ZSUNR team Quasar: I have had the opportunity to race with some amazing and strong women as part of this team. The friendships and the mutual support is wonderful and makes all of us strive to put our best efforts forward. It has also been a fun learning experience as far as team trial races go. The friendships made here and within the broader team, go far beyond the zwift platform. I love seeing how far we can all push ourselves to be our best, while all being supportive of each other.
We don’t do road cycling really. I don’t own a road bike. Zwift is the closest I get to road cycling. Being a part of the ZSUN ladies teams has been a wonderful learning adventure and so many new friends made around the globe. The Quasar team trial races have been a wonderful, as well as a challenging, team event.
so, my name is Willemijn. it’s a typical Dutch name. but I am living is Switzerland now for over ten years. Between the big mountain passes. my nickname is Choo choo the chocolate train. during the social rides there is always a moment where talk of chocolate and cake kicks in. So I told them there is a chocolate train running in Switzerland. which of course was hard to believe. It’s not made of chocolate but it runs through the Gruyere region with final stop at the Caillier chocolate factory. That’s how I got my nickname.
located in Ilanz, Switzerland
trained as a psychiatric nurse. switched to public transport. and now working as bus driver. I have two boys 5 & 7 yo. When I am not working or Zwifting it’s family time. walking in the mountains, skiing during the winter season.
Zwift is part of my life since 2015. you know, when it still had ghost riders and it was a record when 600+ riders where there. and then only on watopia hilly route. I used it only during winter season and definitely not as much as last two years.
my zwifting experienced changed a lot. from mainly alone to seldom alone these days. Always a little anxious with new things and meeting new people, it was Alina AKA Goat with her warm and inviting personality that pulled me in ZSUN. At first only the social rides and last March with half the World in Lockdown with the racing. It really helped me to stay sane. have something to distract and looking forward to. friends for life around the globe. could not have imagine it two years ago. but never want to miss it again.
raced with Quasar at the beginning. without DS we just did it racing together get over the line together. then Paul started to DS us around. And slowly getting more serious.
Name: Carol Scott
Nickname: YoYo – I have cycled competitively on and off since I was 12, so many comebacks mean YoYo is pretty apt
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (for work / for fun):
Worked in IT after leaving UNI but had to give that up and I consider myself very lucky that I could make that choice. Moved to an old house, built 1860 ish so do a lot of fixing.
How did you get into riding on Zwift:
I stopped cycling due to pro-lapsed disc 2008, sold all my bike equipment as I thought I wouldn’t cycle again. A few years later bought a wattbike to try and keep fit as couldn’t ride outside and by coincidence Zwift had just started and I got addicted. I now have a Neo and a dedicated Zwift shed in the garden.
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar:
I’m a newbie to Quasar (only 3rd time racing in the team) as couldn’t join at the start as I had to have a hysterectomy in April. The FOMO kept me going in comeback #99 (YoYo reference 😉) . Now those guys have put in stellar work over the summer and have mega-zwift TTT skills so all that have ridden for the team should be real proud and it is an honour to join.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you:
Myself and three other ladies in my cycling club competed at the World Master Track competition in 2019, set a Scottish record for 3km Team Pursuit on the track. Track cycling, especially Points Races, have been my forte in later years but I started of time-trialling in Scotland when I was 12 and competed for Scotland in some road races in the 1980’s.
Name: Amy Barlow
My nickname was picked during the WTRL Team Time Trial series by my first team the Comets. I was determined to get my Tron bike before the next week’s race, so I spent a week climbing NONSTOP. In appreciation of my determination the team came up with the name Tronosaurus and it got shortened to Rex.
Location: St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (work/fun): I am an early retiree and need to keep busy so when I’m not cycling I enjoy my work as a grad student. I am currently working on my PhD and am teaching first year undergraduate students.
How did you get into riding on Zwift: I started on Zwift to keep/gain some fitness over the winter. I had always taken the entire winter off from cycling and needed to keep doing what I loved over the winter.
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: I have been racing with ZSUNR Quasar since September. After having participated on other teams; Comets and Pluto I got moved to Quasar and haven’t looked back. The team dynamics of Quasar are different than my previous teams but the ladies work very hard together and we all push each other to our absolute limits.
Winning the WTRL World Championships is an incredible accomplishment that was only possible through the dedication and teamwork of those that make up team Quasar whether they rode during the World Championship week or not. Our ladies support each other on and off the bike 24/7 (as we are an international team). This World Championship accomplishment belongs to all the ZSUNR ladies through the support they offer whoever is racing.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you: Cycling creates such a sense of camaraderie. I have made friends from all over the world on Zwift that I consider family.
Name: Meredith Davies
Nickname: “Bits” – The story of “Bits” begins with my kind and generous teammates, who have extensive cycling knowledge, and their attempts to guide me through my very first experience with saddle sores. This is something that, irrespective of anatomy, can plague any rider, but is rarely discussed due to its delicate nature. After learning about every potential accessible pharmacological (or otherwise – Google jellyfish nectar, Australian engine starters, etc.) product for treatment, I decided that, perhaps, creating a more pleasant environment for riding should be my goal. I begged and pleaded for my teammates to share their opinions on saddles and bib shorts, and said that I was willing to “break the bank for my bits”. Little did I know that my lovely teammates would never let me live that down.
Location: Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting: I thoroughly enjoy peeling playdough off the floor and trying to keep toilets from being clogged with various household items. When I’m not pretending to be a successful mother, I am teaching Fitness and Health Promotions.
How did you get into riding on Zwift: My background is in exercise sciences, and part of my personal and professional fitness included group fitness instruction. When fitness facilities were closed, I wanted a different challenge. I have always enjoyed cycling, but never seriously considered it as a passion or focus for my fitness. The challenges that Zwift provided were numerous, and the ability to track data has helped me achieve greater fitness goals. The best part about Zwift was the opportunity to connect socially with like-minded people around the world, some of whom I would now consider friends.
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: After doing a few team time trial races with ZSUNR, I wished for a more competitive experience, and was placed with the women of Quasar. After my first race, I knew I was in way over my head and barely finished the first few races with them. The team was phenomenally encouraging, pushing me each week to improve. Much of my improvement from July-September was due to the intense nature of each weekly ride with Quasar.
When Zwift offered the Zwift Racing League, I stepped away from Quasar to ride with another team within ZSUNR called miZSUNderstood, to challenge myself in new ways with more individual races. However, when the world championships came along, Quasar welcomed me back with open arms, and I had the opportunity to ride alongside these strong women once more. I will always be grateful to these ladies and their drive and commitment. The ZSUNR ladies racing team is extremely supportive and are always the first to challenge each other and celebrate the successes of the team.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you? I’ve also competed and placed in the World Tuna Flat championships
Name: Sarah Pie
Location: Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, Canada
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (work/fun): I am a mechanical engineer who specializes in high rise residential and commercial buildings. Besides road cycling and fat biking, I love dinghy sailing and canoe camping.
How did you get into riding on Zwift: While I started riding occasionally during the winter months at the Bike Shed (https://thebikeshed.ca/), I got into Zwift in earnest as my primary means of exercise during the pandemic.
It wasn’t long before my competitive nature found that racing was way more motivating than workouts or group rides. One of ZSUN’s most dedicated volunteers and ride leaders, Alina “The Goat” kindly connected me with the ZSUN Racing community and I haven’t looked back
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: I raced with Quasar during the early months of the pandemic. I look forward to the Thursday TTT race all week, even though it was incredibly challenging every week. As one of the slowest members of the team I was riding at or above threshold for most of the race, sucking the wheels of the faster riders. While you’d think that competitiveness might have been what kept me hanging week after week, but it’s actually the incredible generosity and team spirit of the women of the ZSUN Racing Team that made some pretty impossible efforts seem possible. There is incredible joy and camaraderie in suffering together, knowing that every bit of effort you put out will make you faster and lighten the burden on your teammates.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you: The goofy looking photo is a still image from my height verification video. I think you can see my giddy excitement as well as my maple leaf shorts and lucky coffee socks.
Name: Tracy Wright
Nickname: Sweets (seemingly love of cakes/sweets/icecream but also that someone said I was super sweet)
Location: Stoke on Trent UK
Age: ooooh secret for nxt year will be out. 49
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (for work / for fun)?: I’m a health&safety/quality consultant in the automotive repair industry. Love going to live rock gigs and watching/playing footy
How did you get into riding on Zwift?: booked to cycle London2Paris IRL and was concerned about getting miles in so hubby introduced me to the world of zwift
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar?: shamazeballs- these ladies are so so encouraging, supportive, funny and fabulous. We work hard but don’t kinda take ourselves tooooo seriously, just fab. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?: I’m a music ‘metal head’ who has appeared in an AC/DC video
Tonight’s Zwift race, a team time trial which was three laps of Watopia’s Hilly Route, was for me an exercise in technical difficulties. Also, hills. And a smaller roster than usual of teammates. But mostly technical difficulties.
I began with my phone at 5 percent battery and the threat of losing discord loomed large. I plugged the phone in but it doesn’t charge that quickly. Discord matters because it’s how we communicate who is next up in the sequence of riders, how we’re feeling, how long a pull we want to take at the front and so on. There might also be some crying, swearing, and whining. We agreed I’d use the app to signal with my avatar’s arm if I lost Discord and wanted to skip my turn at the front. We had a set order of rotation of riders and in theory it ought to be okay with one of us out of communication.
Here’s me at the start. On the left, my avatar is in yellow TFC kit, with a pink Zwift academy hat and socks. On the right, actual me looks nervous about the race. My team lost two riders at the last minute. One didn’t get in the start pen in time and the other got stuck at work. I had been telling myself that I only needed to do two laps and that we could send the four best climbers ahead on our third time up the KOM. This is now no longer true. Gulp.
In the end my phone stayed charged. But I had bigger problems. My internet was wonky and I kept losing everyone on the screen. For about half the race it looked like I was riding alone. I had to use the listing of riders on the right hand side of the screen to “see” where I was in the group. Pacing was a challenge. I kept going off the front because my big worry was being dropped. It wasn’t until the final lap that I could consistently see my teammates which is strange and challenging in a team time trial.
We also lost a teammate tonight who got dropped and isn’t coming back next week. I feel bad about that and wish I could have explained better what was going on. Teams are hard work that way.
All of this reminded me of my worst technical glitch ever, completely losing power in a race and getting dropped. I wasn’t sure what happened until Sarah and I looked at the trainer after. The extension cord plug which leads to the trainer had come unplugged.
Here’s our high tech fix!
Anyway, in the end we did okay technical glitches and all.
I raced my bike tonight. I wasn’t so sure I would. This week has been extra busy with work and extra stressful with the US election still in progress. Like many people, I haven’t had my best sleep this week.
But….this was on the UCI worlds course in virtual Richmond. Very hilly. Not one but two laps.
Zwift describes it this way, “The Richmond UCI Worlds route is a replica of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships course in Richmond, Virginia, USA. It was at this race where Peter Sagan famously attacked on 23rd Street to eventually win his first World Champs jersey. It’s a wonderful race course, with very flat first half and a nice mix of attackable climbs on the back half.” Read more here.
I did a ride-over of the course last night at a recovery ride pace to check it out. That was enough to make me reconsider my commitment to riding in the team time trial. The first 10 km of the loop are fine. Fast and flat. The final 6 km is a series of three hills. Once, okay. But twice? I wasn’t so sure.
My worry is always, in a team event, slowing the group down on hills and putting team members in the awkward spot of having to decide whether to wait for me. I know I contribute in some contexts. I can be powerful on the flats and I’m good at bringing other people back to the group. I’m helpful at closing gaps. I can also sprint. But hills? Hills are my nemesis and when I’m alone it’s my burden to bear but in a team context I worry about letting others down.
But there’s only so many times you can click refresh on your browser and hope for good election news. I decided I would definitely race with TFC Phantom. Phantom is a Mocha class team, within TFC, one of the older Zwift racing teams. We’re a team of 6-8 regulars. Tonight it was Jim, Jack, Keith, George, Tom and me. We all live in the US and Canada, across a few different time zones.
Surprisingly, given the course and general stress and lack of sleep, I had a great time. A few kilometres in, I stopped worrying about the election. We had worked out our pace line and we were taking 30 second turns on the front. You work at or above FTP on the front, and then drop to the back of the line and recover. What’s FTP? Stay tuned for next week’s post.
I felt I was able to contribute and was riding pretty strong. We were 6 riders but only four need to cross the finish line. On the issue of hills, we’ve gotten better as a team at making a plan and sticking to it. We decided to stay together until the start of the hills in lap two. At that point we’d see who still had the energy and send the four fastest riders ahead. Spoiler: I wasn’t one of the four. We stuck together until the final 5 km. I did finish two laps of the course and finished not too far behind my better hill climbing teammates.
It was a good race for us. There was lots of teamwork and supportive chat. We had a pretty organized pace line for most of it. Everyone took turns at the front and we didn’t have any technical problems.
Here we are!
I laughed out load when the ride uploaded to Strava. That was a harder effort than usual. Thanks Strava.
Tonight I also hit 4000 km in Zwift. I got to level 23. I unlocked some new socks. And I got to 29,000 m of climbing. I need 50,000 for my Tron bike. Also, I got a bunch of PRs on that course.
I was hoping for something more definitive in election news when I got off the bike. But no. Still I’m smiling. I did a hard thing that I thought was outside my doable range. I’m tired. And I’ll sleep tonight.
“As national federations around the globe continue to gear up for the inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on December 8-9, Cycling Canada is excited to announce an expanded multi-platform virtual cycling calendar for the 2020/2021 winter season.
“Virtual cycling represents an exciting discipline of the sport which allows our community to stay connected in a virtual world year-round” said Josh Peacock, Events & Partnerships Manager at Cycling Canada. “We are thrilled to play a part in helping to grow this discipline in Canada, while at the same time keeping our growing cycling community connected.”
Cycling Canada’s virtual cycling events will kick off on November 2 on the Zwift platform with the introduction of the Cycling Canada “Weekly Tune-up” group ride series and “Wednesday Night Race Series”. Both initiatives will be listed on the public Zwift event calendar, open to all Zwift subscribers.”
Things start tonight with a tune-up ride at 8:05 pm EST.
“Every Monday and Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host 45 minute group rides open to all skill levels and abilities on rotating courses. Monday rides will be co-ed, while Tuesday rides will be exclusive to women. Course offerings will vary from week to week in an effort to provide a well-rounded mix of training opportunities for Zwifters of all backgrounds. The weekly tune-up will be a medium-paced social ride (2.0 – 2.5 w/kg), led by some of Canada’s top coaches and athletes. Zwifters can expect a fun, interactive community atmosphere with regular efforts to build fitness. The weekly tune-up series will also serve as a social pre-ride for Cycling Canada’s Wednesday Night Race Series, offered on the same course as each week’s ride.
Every Wednesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host a public race open to all skill levels on rotating courses in line with our weekly tune-up rides. This series will offer something for everyone while exploring every corner of Zwift’s virtual world. Zwifters will have the opportunity to register in one of five power-based categories, including a women’s specific category. This series will not include a ranking or series points, but is rather intended as a means of offering a fun weekly challenge for Zwifters of all abilities.
There are many different kinds of bike races and one of my favourites is the Team Time Trial.
What’s a team time trial, or TTT?
A team time trial (TTT) is a road-based bicycle race in which teams of cyclists race against the clock. In both team and individual time trials, the cyclists start the race at different times so that each start is fair and equal.
I’ve raced TTTs in real life and loved them. Now I am racing them on Zwift and loving it there too. I am competing in the World Tactical Racing League.
Here’s their introduction: “Welcome to the most addictive, fun yet brutal form of racing on Zwift! Not only do you get to race with your teammates for the fastest possible time, but you have to work and suffer together to achieve this. There are many stategies and tactics to a team time trial, all of which can be seen on all 3 UCI Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana) and other events throughout the year.
Can you win the weekly race? Can you beat the course records for the Coffee Class?
WTRL Team Time Trials take place on Zwift at 9 different race times every Thursday and we usually see 3000+ riders competing in 600+ teams. Each event from the same day feeds one overall league with our unique Coffee Classification: Espresso, Frappe, Latte, Mocha and a dedicated ladies-teams-only league Vienna . The objective is to get the fastest 4 (for teams of 5 to 8 racers) or the fastest 3 (for teams of 3 or 4 racers) across the line. There are many strategies for doing this, and some are covered in the Strategy and Tactics videos and links on this page.”
I’m racing with Team TFC in the Mocha Class. Usually we’re racing in Zone 8, 930 pm EST but we’re going to move to Zone 7, 730 pm. Team members are from the United States and Canada.
Why not Vienna?
It’s complicated but basically the women’s only group includes riders of all abilities. Most of them are younger and faster than me. More than that though they’re lighter and my power/weight profile is much the same as the men I’m riding with. That means we have an easier time sticking together up and downhills and working together on the flats.
So far it’s been the same core crew every week with some new additions and people who come and go. The flexibility about numbers means we can add up to 8 riders. It’s the time of the 4th rider across the line that counts so we sometimes split up for the last bit of the race. Someone can choose to do a sacrificial hard turn on the front and then drop off the back. The larger group makes for a better draft.
So what do I like about it so much?
Well, I like riding close to other people (both IRL and in Zwift) but I prefer to do it cooperatively rather than competitively. That’s what a team time trial is all about, working together.
2. I like that there are skills to learn. As in racing in the real world, there’s an art to moving around the peleton. You can read a bit about that here. We take turns riding at the front and drafting and taking the lead and coming off the front are both things you need to practice.
3. We communicate with one another on discord during the race. For example, we rotate on the front in a certain order and count down to lead changes. People are super encouraging and good at communicating. We struggle a bit with headsets and mics and bluetooth connections and fan noises but that’s true of workday life in these strange times too.
4. Riding as a team and working together, we get better over time. That’s always encouraging and motivational. It’s also been, in these strange physical distancing times, a very nice social connection. I have new friends all over the world!
5. I know a lot of people say they don’t like competition. But the competition in team sports has always felt different to me. In team time trials there’s nothing you can do to make the other team do worse. Your only focus is on improving your performance as a team. It’s more cooperative than competitive.
6. I’m much more likely to give something my all and try harder when a team is relying on me. Insofar as I use racing as a way of getting myself to work out hard, it works best in the context of teams.
I was scheduled to do the Monday night race that my team organizes. Fine. I did a short 5 km warm up. All good but then the race began and the speed was not something I had any hope of maintaining. Wowsa.
Zwift starts are brutal at the best of times. Unlike real road races there’s no gentle rolling away from the start. You’re in danger of losing the group right off the bat. But usually things settle down.
Reader, this race did not settle down. I hung in there and stuck with the front group of women for first 10 km of the Monday night race and then decided it was too long, too fast for me. We were averaging 40 km/hr and I was dying with 30 km to go so for the first time in a Zwift race I pulled the plug without completing the distance.
DID NOT FINISH.
I was already warmed up though and I still wanted to ride so I browsed my activity options on the Companion app. I might have opted for a fast social ride if one was happening but there wasn’t one. Instead, I saw that a 7 km sprint race was about to begin. I love sprinting. It’s kind of my thing I quickly hopped over to the sprint race and sprinted away. In that race I stayed with the front group with energy to sprint all out at the end.
I came third! Woohoo! The joys of a really good warmup. And knowing your strengths. And knowing when to bail.
My total for the night was 22 km. One DNF, one trophy for my virtual trophy case.
(An aside: Part of the problem and the explanation for what happened in the first race is with the women’s category. I’ve worried about this before. For all riders there’s A, B, C, and D groups based on power and performance. The idea is that you race with people with whom you’re competitively matched. It makes amateur racing fair and fun. There’s also a women’s category and the women’s category contains all women regardless of their power. Lots of the women race in the B category. I’m currently a D but “almost C.” I should race with the D group. That’s the category I won in the Sprint race after bailing on the Monday Night Madness race. Why did I race with the women? That’s the topic for another post. But the short answer is I’m trying to support women’s racing and help out my team and we benefit from having riders in the all the categories.)
It hasn’t happened. The pandemic happened. I’m riding outside again but I’m been keeping speed for indoors and Zwift. I still think I don’t want to risk anything bad happening during a pandemic. I would feel like an idiot hurting myself on my bike in these circumstances. Okay, I always feel like an idiot hurting myself on my bike but the extra COVID-19 oomph puts it over the edge.
The latest “uh oh” email–Dethroned!–tells me I lost the a London segment I’ve held as the fastest woman since 2014. I love how Strava suggests you message the rider and congratulate them. Um, no?
(Update: The person took it down. Her average speed on the segment according to Strava was 67 km/hr. LIkely she left her Garmin on in the car. It happens.)
There are now just 4 London QOMs in my Strava trophy case. Mostly they’re flat and of a certain distance. This one is 800 metres. I like that distance. It’s also flat. I like that too. Though I did have one uphill, see I got an uphill QOM! But it didn’t stick for too long. I think the blog’s Kim Solga has it now!
What’s Strava? Strava is a ride/run tracking app. You can either use it on its own or share your Garmin bike computer data with it.
What’s a Strava segment? Segments are one of Strava’s coolest features. Segments are user-created, user-edited, and designate a portion of route where users can compete for time.
What’s a QOM?
“KOM or QOM Crown: If you achieve the fastest time on a segment, you’ll receive a special crown, meaning that you are the KOM or QOM of that segment (acronyms stand for King of the Mountain and Queen of the Mountain). This crown is awarded at the time of upload if you are at that time the leader on the segment. Since Achievement Awards do not refresh in real time, even if someone later beats your time, you will still be able to see the gold crown on that activity page.
Your KOM/QOM crowns are stored in a special list on Strava for your reference. “My KOMs” or “My QOMs” is a page stored under “KOMs/CRs” or “QOMs/CRs” accessed from your Profile page. It will keep a current list of all the KOMs or QOMs you currently hold.
Note: if you tie for a KOM/QOM, you will not be awarded the KOM/QOM crown, and the crown will not be recorded in the “My KOMs/QOMs” list”
Why do I care?
I’m not offering this discussion up as reasons for you to care. You can totally not care about speed or relative-to-others speed when you’re riding your bike. You can enjoy riding without a bike computer or with a bike computer and not uploading rides to Strava. Or you can have a bike computer, upload rides to Strava and still not care about QOMs. You might not have a competitive bone in your body or you might have one but think you’re happier not indulging it. There are lots of different ways to be in the world and I’m good with most of them.
But, true confession here, I do care. It’s fun and motivational for me to try to go faster than others have gone. I’m happy to restrict the others to “other women.” Kim has an interesting post about QOMs and KOMs here.
I like getting it out of my system on Zwift or chasings QOMs. Aside from sprinting with Coach Chris and friends and playfully racing friends up hills, I mostly don’t try to go faster than the people with whom I’m riding. I view riding with others as a cooperative thing.
It’s good for me to be reminded of my strengths–sprinting, for example–as I’m not the typical age or weight of a speedy road cyclist. I feel motivated by segments in a way that I don’t feel motivated by doing sprint intervals on my own. They make me work harder. I also like comparing my speeds on segments over time. See I’m getting faster: Using Strava segments to tack progress over time.
May 31st 2020. It is race day. Perfect conditions in Middleton Connecticut where the 70.3 Half Iron Man is scheduled. The sky is a clear blue; the temperature is 16 degrees in the early morning with no call for rain.
This day has been years in the making with hard physical and mental preparation, not to mention the hill repeats. This was the race to celebrate retirement from thirty-five years of teaching.
However, this race is not happening.
Covid- 19 a closed border, and I’m recovering from a broken wrist. This day is turning in a different direction.
This is a non-race race day.
What does someone do with a non-race race day?
Option number one: stay in bed. Duly considered. It is an unseasonable 9 degrees in London, Ontario.
Option two: drink tea and eat pancakes loaded with fresh maple syrup, topped with coconut whipped cream and fresh fruit followed by a Netflix binge. (Now we are talking. But as it turns out, this comes later.)
Option three: race!
What! Race? Is that even possible?
How does one define a race anyway?
Who decided it has to look a certain way?
What would be fun?
What else is possible here that I have not considered?
What is it I really love about race day?
What part of that can be duplicated, and how?
And so, as I stare longingly at my triathlon gear, the non race, race day plan is created.
No alarm set, no travel required. Not so bad really.
Race day breakfast is prepared. Steel cut oats with fresh fruit, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, dried cherries and almond milk. Delicious.
Support crew John Case has absconded for the day. It begins with him walking the dog and preparing a few more nutrition pieces for my day. I am warming up with some running drills and a short walk.
And the non-race race begins.
I chose to start with the bike.
Rule number one of the non-race race day: break the rules to create what works for you.
So, the order of events is changed.
I hop on my bike trainer. Still somewhat limited with gear changing due to the weakness in my wrist, it seems the next best option when not able to ride outside. I choose a 1:45 minute program found in Trainer Road, one I had completed already in early February. I set a challenging Functional Threshold number.
Knowing that this was a race and not “just” a training ride, there was no taking a break. No stopping on the last set when it got challenging. This was a race, and when the going got tough the mental game was ramped up. I found this ride a great challenge and pushed through the last ten minutes as if ascending one of the challenging hills of Connecticut in anticipation of the final downhill into the town. My heart rate was elevated, my legs were burning, and I felt great.
Phase two: run. Unfortunately, my wrist is not so happy with the jarring motion of running, and so we get a new phase two: walk.
No problem, no rules here. I call my friend Chris for some social distance phase two support and we head out on a favourite University Hill route at a brisk pace. I am grateful for the company.
One hour and fifty minutes later, a 10k walk is complete. It was a gorgeous day. Perfect temperature. I notice things that perhaps would go unnoticed when wrapped up in the focused intensity of running. The flowers, the river flowing, the birds singing. This non-race race thing is not all that bad.
Now, home for phase three. I am delighted that I have an outdoor swimming pool as all public pools have been closed since Covid-19. I change into my Canadian Triathlon Suit for full effect and head to the water.
The non-swim swim in the non-race race consists of short lengths, some water running and drills for 30 minutes. Not quite the open water swim that I love so much, but I was grateful for this option.
In the end, the non-race race was half the time and distance of the Half Ironman. There were no cheering crowds, finish lines, expos and aid stations. I did not receive a medal or a fancy hat. I still do not have that 70.3 bumper sticker to display on my car and… I am so grateful for this non-race race day.
Amidst these crazy times, this was a day just for me. It was simple, challenging and rewarding, and it reminded me, as cliché as it sounds, that sometimes it is not about the destination, but about the journey.
It is about resiliency, about choice, about flexibility and adaptation in this game called life.
Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.