We watched the first episode of a fun documentary series at my house the other night, The Human Playground. It’s on Netflix, narrated by Idris Elba. There’s a book project of the same name released to coordinate with the Netflix series.
We watched the first episode, Breaking the Pain Barrier which included a marathon in the desert, bullfighting, a brutal bicycle race, and ice swimming.
What was striking was that three of the four athletes featured were women
The first was Amy Palmiero-Winters who raced in the Sahara Desert, in Southern Morocco in the most painful marathon in the world, Marathon des Sables, French for “marathon of the sands.” It’s a six-day, 156-mile-long ultramarathon, equal to six regular marathons. One marathon a day for six days over blazing hot sand and yet there are hundreds of participants each with their own personal reasons for taking on this very painful challenge.
Needless to say we weren’t tempted and I’m still shocked that there are that many participants. It’s not the back to back marathons that make it look impossible but the conditions including the bright sun, the heat, and the scorching hot sand.
Next up was cycling and the story of the famous very dangerous Paris-Roubaix race and its first women’s event.
The episode follows Ellen van Dijk, one of the first women to ever compete.
Why is this race so dangerous? It includes sections on ancient cobblestones, the bicycle’s worst enemy. This race is so bad it’s called the Hell of the North. There are numerous inevitable crashes and broken bones and damaged bikes. It looks terrifying to me.
The episode also includes the story of a woman who swims below the ice in bone chilling temperatures. And there was a dude who did some sport that involved risking his life dodging horned animals while unarmed. I confess I tuned out about during that bit. Not because the athlete was a man but I’m not a fan of sports that involve animals in combat.
And I’m someone who has enjoyed her fair share of punishing workouts and pushing myself. That said, this show did not really help me understand the athletes who seek out the extremes. The ice swimmer’s story involved recovery from sexual assault and she sought out very painful (and very risky) extreme cold swimming as a way of dealing with trauma. But I worried she was going to die beneath the ice from passing out from the cold the whole time I was watching her swim. I thought, “get a therapist!”
The scorching sand marathon? No way on earth. And even the bike racing–the least deathy of the activities and most in my wheelhouse–didn’t appeal even though the worst case outcome involved broken bones and not death and there is skill involved in not crashing. The bike race and the horned animal avoiding sport at least looked like there was more skill involved than just your body’s ability to endure the extreme conditions but still, no way on earth…
Watch it and let me know what you think.
I asked Sarah who watched with me if the show either helped her understand the athletes’ motivation or tempted her to undertake such painful and dangerous sports. She’s promised me her two cents in a separate blog post.
I’m riding the Tour of Watopia right now–having finished the Tour de Zwift last month, and in each event–in the chat waiting for the event to start, along with all of the cheers from various locations around the world–someone inevitably asks, “Is this a race?”
Answers appear fast and furious in the chat. On the one hand, it’s a tour, not a race. On the other hand, many people like to treat it as a race and think of themselves as racing. But thinking of yourself as racing doesn’t make an event a race and inevitably there’s conflict between those on the official line–it’s a tour, not a race–and those who like to treat the tours as races.
Some people think that any time there are two or more people riding bikes, it can be treated like a race. Now that’s obviously false because group rides are definitely not races. It’s rude to treat a co-operative group ride like a race. That’s bad form both in the real world and in Zwift. Group rides are not races. In Zwift, there are ride leads, with a yellow beacon, who ride at the front, and sweeps, with a red beacon, who ride at the back. In the real world, it’s also dangerous to treat a ride like a race.
Some events are clearly not races, see group rides above, and other events are clearly races. Events organized as races and as advertised as races–are definitely races. In Zwift, races use Zwiftpower for official results. There are rules that need to be followed, such as riding in the right category, sharing correct weight information, having a verifiable power source, or you risk disqualification. There are also rules for that particular race such as points for fastest through a segment, or first to the top of a KOM. For my guide to beginning racing on Zwift, see here.
Zwift’s Tours are not the usual group rides–no leads, sweeps, or advertised pace–and they also are not races.
Here’s the description, “The Tour of Watopia is a multi-stage journey on Zwift. All 5 stages will earn you double XP, shorthand for Experience Points. Collect enough XP and you’ll level up in the game. With new levels, come new in-game routes, products, and/or clothes.”
Q: Will there be races during the Tour?
A: No, but you are welcome to run/ride as fast as you like. These are group events and event results won’t be displayed at the end.
There’s actually a philosophical point here about the meaning of terms, and ‘race’ is ambiguous between meaning something that individuals do and an ‘event.’ Some people want to say that you can’t individually race unless the other person, or persons, you’re racing against agree to race. One way for sure to know they’ve all agreed is that you are taking part in a racing event.
You might know the frustration of not racing when others think you are. I used to be amused by guys passing me on the bike path and occasionally making comments about my go-fast bike going slowly, when I thought what I was doing was obeying the bike path speed limit of 20 km/hr. They thought we were racing and I thought I was riding inside the rules of the road.
On my former bike club’s weekend social rides we didn’t race–except for town sign sprints–and people who treated our club ride like a race, pushing the pace past our advertised speed were invited to come out for weeknight races. If you want to race, we have races, but this isn’t it.
Back to the Zwift tours, I think they are a bit like Grand Fondos–mass participation cycling events with the motto, let the racers race and let the riders ride. I blogged about the MEC one here, the Niagara Falls one here, and the County one here.
Zwift has a fair bit of activity that falls in the middle, things that aren’t official races and aren’t group rides either. For example, the leaderboards for KOMs and sprints when you’re just riding in the world, compare your time to everybody else’s. You might be trying to get the fastest sprint time while others are riding through the segment as part of their recovery ride. You’re racing in the sense that we might say we ‘race for the bus’ if we’re late in the morning. You’re racing but the bus isn’t.
Like Gran Fondos they provide for competitive opportunities for people with a competitive streak who don’t want, for whatever reason, to take part in organized races.
I like racing and I like being part of sports communities where racing is part of what goes on, even if I’m not actively racing myself. I like watching races and marshalling. I like being part of a racing community. Part of the reason is that I’m a bit of snob, not about speed, but about skills, and the two things are connected.
In this post though I’m going to talk about one thing I like about racing. But to be clear I’m not arguing for it in the sense of giving reasons that others need to accept. If you don’t like it, that’s just fine too.
My suspicion is that lots of women might like it but don’t think it’s for them. See my post Where are the women?
When some people talk about the benefits of racing, they focus on the value of testing yourself and developing your potential as an athlete, but the benefit I want to talk about is about is community and skill development.
I’ve been part of recreational racing teams as a road cyclist, a track cyclist, a dinghy sailor, and briefly as a rower.
I like it best when teams race regularly, recreationally, against one another. You get to know people and learn a lot from one another. We don’t think about that as part of competition but it’s very much the case for recreational racing.
In communities where everyone who has a road bike starts out racing, you find that people are pretty skilled riders. Racing teaches you to ride around corners and to ride closely with others, to descend at speed and to climb efficiently. It’s true you can learn these things without racing but racing communities tend to focus on skill development. You get an awful lot of practice even if you only race for a little while.
An aside: I also like it when club social rides and races are clearly separate things. You can tell the guy (why is it always a guy?) who keeps pushing the pace and riding off the front, to cool his jets and come back on race night if he wants to race. You can say, decisively, this is the team social ride. There is a time and place for racing and this isn’t it.
Back to skill development. This is even more true when it comes to dinghy sailing. You learn to sail by learning to race. Once people can do the basics then you go out to club races once a week and follow along, watching what other people do, accepting friendly suggestions from other racers, and competing against other novice crews at the back of the fleet. Racing means you get good at maneuvering near other boats and good at getting the boat in and out of the water in all sorts of conditions. If you’re not racing there is no reason to tack cleanly and quickly. These skills are useful for all kinds of sailing but it’s racing that encourages their development.
This also all true for rowing. There may be recreational sailors and rowers who’ve only ever recreationally raced or sailed but I suspect there aren’t very many.
You might only want to ride a bike, row, or sail for fun but for most people, you learn the foundational skills to do these things well, through racing.
I am a curler, and I’ve been curling since I was 12 years old. Some of you may know my sport. Others may be wondering about what it is or have a vague idea that it is an Olympic sport played on ice. In our household, when we ask Alexa what its favourite sport is, the reply is this; “Curling is my kind of game, it’s like chess on ice, if chess was played with tiny brooms”. As scary as it is that Alexa responds to us this way, we have often referred to the strategy involved in curling as, ‘chess on ice’. Good curlers think three to four moves in advance as they plan their play. Curling brooms aren’t that tiny though. They are about four feet-long, they are made of a light durable material with a fabric bottom that is used to brush the ice surface. Curling is a difficult game to explain, and I can’t do it justice here. If you want to learn more, check out the World Curling Federation’s 2-minute guide to curling.
One member of the team directs the play, a second throws the curling stone, and the remaining two members of the team sweep.Photo credit: Robert Davies
Since 1988, when curling was a demonstration sport at the Calgary Olympics, it has been the brunt of jokes. Late-night television hosts and comedians seem to get a big kick out of it (see Ellen Degeneres, James Corden, Stephen Colbert, and Rick Mercer to name a few). It has made appearances on The Simpsons, The Little Mosque on the Prairie, and in several movies (e.g., Help) and songs (e.g., The Weakerthans’ Tournament of Hearts). In the best-case scenario, my sport is depicted as a novelty, but in most cases, it’s seen as a bit of a joke. Just last week, Saturday Night Live made fun of curling after NBC pulled their broadcasting of the International Olympic Qualifying tournament because it had a sex toy company as one of its leading sponsors. This is a story so interesting that it deserves its own post!
Am I offended by these jokes? Not really. Whenever curling gets mentioned or when I see images related to curling, I get excited because it means that my sport is no longer ignored. But it is odd to be an athlete who plays a sport that most folks either don’t know about or don’t take very seriously. Yet, the fitness, agility, strength, precision, and mental resilience required to curl should not be discounted. My family and I have taught a lot of athletes from other sports how to curl, and without exception they say “this is harder than it looks”. A few former NFL players decided to get a team together so that they could represent the United States at the Olympics in curling. That didn’t go so well.
Images of curling rocks used to identify physical distancing in Vancouver.
My Nova Scotian curling team recently competed at the Canadian Senior (aged 50 and over) Women’s Curling Championships. As an aside, the title sponsor for this event is a funeral concierge service, which makes most of us laugh. We played 12 games (each game lasts about 2 hours) over 6 days and finished with a bronze medal. Bronze medal games are tough but I’m proud that my team hung in there. On our way home, we arrived at the Toronto Airport and of all days, the escalator to get to our gate was broken. Ouch!, is all I have to say about that.
Team Nova Scotia after winning bronze at the Canadian Senior Women’s curling championship. Four very happy women!Photo Credit: Curling Canada
I am an old (er), competitive curler, and I love my sport. My relationship with curling has changed over the years but my identity as a curler has not. I’m becoming very interested in how athletes age within a sport and how this relates to their identity. But more on that another time.
Last weekend I did something brand new. And I had fun. And I will definitely do it again.
Sarah and I raced our Snipe, a 15 1/2 foot dinghy, in the Canadian National Snipe Championships. It was two days of racing over Saturday and Sunday based at our home club, the Guelph Community Boating Club, on Guelph Lake.
We had one goal, and one goal only, and that goal was to not slow down the racing. The next race doesn’t start until the last boat finishes and sometimes, earlier in the season, we were far enough behind that people had to wait. But not this time. We weren’t even last every race and often we were right in the mix with the other boats, having to worry about right of way rules and the like. Starboard! (That’s a thing you can yell when you’re on starboard tack and have right of way. Other boats need to move.)
We also had the perfect amount of wind. Yes, gusty. We have enough weight to be able to deal with that by getting up on high side and hiking. But also not dead calm which can be a bit of an issue this time of year.
What else to love? The community. One of the things I like best about Snipe racing is the range of ages of people racing the boats. Best guess? 12 to 70, but with a fair number of teenagers. There’s a perfect mix, for me, of community and fun and competition.
Our strengths? We got better over time and I think we’ve got lots of endurance and stamina. Thanks bike riding! We’re also good at paying attention and concentrating.
Our weaknesses? We need more time in the boat. We have to go out and deliberately practice mark roundings.
For me, I’ve been getting better moving around in the boat. With my severely arthritic knee, it’s taken a bit work but I am getting there.
After two days in the boat we both felt incredibly beat up, after a fair bit of crashing around. Both days we came home, grabbed food, and fell hard and fast asleep. That was a lot of work and concentration. Zzzzz!
So next year, and we will race again in the Nationals next year, we’ll practice and we’ll also break out our race sails. It was fun to be close enough to the fast boats to think that with work we can actually be competitive.
Here’s hoping that next year pandemic restrictions remain eased and we can actually get out and sail earlier in the season. Fun times!
And here’s some photos! Thanks to the lovely volunteers for taking them.
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.