competition · cycling · fitness · race report · racing · team sports · Zwift

This post is brought to you by technical difficulties, #Zwift

Brightly colored bars indicating technical difficulties

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.

Left: Avatar Sam in the pen before the race start. Right: Actual Sam on her bike looking worried.

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!

A plug held in place with electrical tape

Anyway, in the end we did okay technical glitches and all.

Wish me luck next time!

cycling · Fear · fitness · racing · Zwift

Sam goes WAY out of her comfort zone

If you know me as a cyclist at all, you know that climbing is so not my thing.

I could insert lots of pictures of me walking my bike up hills. But I won’t.

Tonight was the last race in a Zwift series in which I’d been participating. Race series like to mix it up so no one kind of cyclist is favoured. Some weeks are hilly, some weeks are flat, and some are mountainous. You probably guess where this is going.

I’ll ride flat. Whee! I’ll even ride hilly. But I tend to give a pass to routes described as mountainous. Tonight’s route was even called The Mountain Route. It’s 29.5 km but with 682 m of climbing. Ouch.

The Mountain Route

There was a lot of chatter in our team about who was and who wasn’t going to do the race. I tried the “I’m washing my hair that night” line but I was encouraged to give it a go. We’d cheer each other on on Discord. It would “fun” they said.

In the end, I tricked myself into it, telling myself I could quit if it took me more than an hour and a half.

And I was heartened by encouraging words from teammates during the ride. Sarah also cheered me on and brought me cookies as I got to the last climb up to the radio tower.

I did it and I finished and I think I came third in D category. Well, I think I came third. I can’t say for sure because Zwiftpower is down. Zwiftpower is the race results site for Zwift races.

It was, for me, a long steady effort. It was also proof that I can climb even if it’s not my favorite thing. Sometime over the next few days I’m going to check out some of my in real life climbs and see how they compare.

Oh, I got some new Zwift badges. I got the 100 km an hour Daredevil badge for descending the Epic KOM. And in the warm up before I got the badge for exceeding 700 watts in the sprint which I couldn’t resist.

I will sleep well tonight even with all of my now usual pandemic fretting and worrying.

Night all!

I’m glad I got way out of my comfort zone and did a challenging thing.

Here’s a few more race photos:

competition · cycling · racing · team sports · Zwift

Doing hard things in hard times

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.

Still, you know I love team time trials.

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.

Photo from Zwift Insider

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.

Cate asked this morning what we’re all doing for self care in these stressful times. Definitely Zwift racing is part of it for me.

See you all in the morning!

Update: We came 31 our of 63 teams in our category. Not bad.

fitness · racing · rest · training

Aging recreational athletes, rest days, and the US election

Why Rest Day Is The Hardest But Most Important – For Fitness Sake
Rest Day Dog

I’m not an American. I can’t vote in the election. I did live in Chicago though for my years of grad school and I have strong ties to lots of lovely people who do live in the United States. In the Before Times, I visited the US a lot. It’s a big part of my professional life. I especially love to ride my bike there in the winter months. But as much as I care, I can’t vote. All of this is just to say is that there is nothing I can do about the American election tomorrow and yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I found this advice helpful, by the way: A safe, sane way to navigate election night — and beyond.

What’s any of this got to do with rest and recovery? A longer and smarter version of this post would draw ties between political activism and the work of the nap ministry. That’s the stuff of future posts, I’m afraid. Instead, I want to talk about rest and recovery in the much more limited context of sports performance because that’s the post I found half written in the blog’s draft folder. Yes, this week, it’s come to that.

I’ve been thinking lots about rest and recovery because as the blog’s regular readers know I’ve been riding and racing with a bike team again, on Zwift. Our team has a very wide range of ages and abilities. We have riders across all categories and lots of us in the D category are 50+. One of the differences for me, riding and racing now. as opposed to twenty years ago, is my need for rest. I don’t just mean rest days, though that’s true too, I also mean the basics, like getting enough sleep at night.

This week I’ve got enough work work to do that I imagine staying up all night and GETTING ALL THE THINGS DONE. But truth be told I never really seriously contemplate it because it’s not even on the agenda. I just can’t do it. That’s another change between younger me and older me. Likewise, I can’t race if I’m tired. Some days I nap and that helps. I try to get eight hours of sleep a night but sometimes if I ‘m working hard and working out hard even that isn’t enough.

I was reminded recently of this piece about recovery and aging athletes, from the now defunct blog The Active Pursuit.

A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.

In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”

So, if it’s not obvious already the rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete and different again than someone in her 60s.

Why should you care? Why should I care? Here’s two reasons.

One reason to care is performance. Maybe that’s about speed and strength as measured by racing but it could also be about feeling good and strong at the end of an event rather than feeling beat up and suffering. And by performance I don’t just mean racing, I mean whatever it is that you’re training for. It might be a long ride or a hiking trip.

Another reason to care is injury. Training when you haven’t fully recovered leads to injury and injuries are bigger setbacks for older athletes. We take longer to heal just as we take longer to recover. Injuries aren’t fun at any age but I also want to avoid injuries especially during the pandemic when I am trying to stay away from indoor spaces with non-household members and other sources of help, such as massage therapy, aren’t easily available.

I still haven’t worked out a training and racing schedule for the fall (and here we are November already)! I’m experimenting a bit. I’ve committed to racing with the club Monday, Thursday and Friday nights. On Sunday there is our club social ride. And I’ve got bike training to fit in. Again, younger me could do training rides in the morning and sometimes race at night. But those days are long gone.

I’m working out with a personal trainer once a week outside. I’m also using the TRX, our kettlebell, and playing about with resistance bands. Oh, and trying to get in some Yoga With Adriene. Cheddar, the dog, also needs walks. That’s not all intense exercise but it is a lot of movement and there isn’t a lot of room for rest.

I’m not humble bragging here. Racing and riding are fun. They’re my reward at the end of a long workday. Other things might take effort to get me there but my bike is pleasure even when it’s on the trainer. Exercise is also a thing I do when stressed. Almost always I feel better after. But I need to work to pay attention to rest and recovery and I keep reading how much more that matters with age.

And by “rest” to be clear I don’t mean a day spent sitting at my computer not exercising. I mean being intentional about rest, planning and scheduling a day to focus on eating good food, getting some extra sleep, thinking all the peaceful thoughts, and making only gentle recovery-oriented movements.

Like this Yoga With Adriene practice:

This has been an issue of mine for a long time, pretty much since we started the blog. See, from nearly 8 years ago, Fitting it all in and scheduling recovery time. Different activities, younger me, but the same problem.

Here are some of the things that I’ve read on the subject, while browsing the internet for rest and recovery advice.

We’ve Proved It – Older Athletes DO Take Longer to Recover 

“Few studies have examined recovery in older athletes. In 2008 one of my former PhD students, now Dr Jim Fell from the University of Tasmania, compared actual performance and perceptions of soreness, fatigue and recovery in veteran versus young cyclists over three consecutive days of doing 30 minute cycling time trials per day. While we found no differences in cycling time trial performance over time in either age group, the veteran cyclists perceived they took longer to recover. They also felt they were more fatigued and sorer each day compared to the younger cyclists.

In 2010, a French research group compared recovery rates in 10 young (30.5 ± 7 years) and 13 master (45.9 ± 5.9 years) athletes who competed in a 55-km trail run race. The researchers measured thigh muscle strength and muscle electrical activity, blood markers of muscle damage, and cycling efficiency before, then 1, 24, 48 and 72 hours after the race. The older athletes took longer to recover in all measures.

Taken together, the above results suggest that older runners who damage their muscles in training or racing appear to take longer to recover. It also appears the older athletes perceive they take longer to recover.”

Here’s How to Get Stronger After 50 | Outside Online

“Invest in Your Recovery: As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says. Owen agrees that eight to ten hours of proper sleep is the most important part of recovery and training.”

Aging Athletes Need More Rest and Recovery – Dr. Newton’s …www.drnewtons.com › Dr. Newton’s Daily Apple Blog

“One of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of any exercise or training program is the recovery phase, or time spent resting. In fact, most coaches and trainers would argue it’s just as or more important than the exercise itself. During this phase, physiologically your body is seizing the opportunity to repair itself to become stronger in preparation for the next exercise stress placed upon it. It is during rest that the body becomes stronger. Not surprisingly, as you get older, the more your body relies on rest and recovery time.

The effects of aging on training and performance are fairly well known. As you age beyond 35-40, there are reductions in maximum heart rate, VO2 max and lean body mass that reduce training output and performance. Recovery seems to take longer. Experts agree that most people encounter a noticeable difference in training capacity and recovery about every decade.

While it may seem obvious that recovery time increases with age, the physiological causes are not yet fully understood. According to a 2008 article in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, one of the most plausible explanations is that aging muscles are more susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage and have slower adaptation and repair.

The process of training involves some type of muscle overload, then an adaption, which ultimately produces greater muscle fitness. In order to achieve fitness gains, one has to train, create muscle breakdown, recover, and then train again. While the physiological processes in younger and older muscles parallel each other with regard to training, subtle changes in the processes within the older muscles lead to increases in recovery time.”


Injury prevention gets harder as you age. These methods help

“Whether you’re a competitive athlete or a recreational one, either finding an intuitive understanding of your readiness to exercise or using some external measures can improve your overall fitness and help you avoid injury,” according to sports medicine specialist and physical therapist Kevin McGuinness, who practices at Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Exercising, particularly as you age, might also require a more scientific approach to how you are feeling and how you are doing, he said.AD

The good news is there is some promising research on exercise readiness, according to Carwyn Sharp, chief science officer at the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs. Although there are no specific guidelines yet for recreational athletes, what experts have learned so far can help us enhance our intuitive sense of readiness by throwing some objective measures into the mix.

One way is to monitor your resting heart rate, which can help you understand how well you are recovering from your previous exercise session. If you keep a log of your resting heart rate, you will get a sense of what is normal for you. If it is higher than usual, McGuinness said, that is often a sign your nervous system may be overstressed, indicating a lower level of recovery.”

How about you? What’s your approach to rest and recovery?

fitness · racing · running

Hit any milestones lately? Tracy’s 8th running anniversary

Some people find Facebook’s memories thing to be annoying (and sometimes I do too when it reminds me of things that make me sad). But I like it when it reminds me of things that made me feel good. Like yesterday, when an eight year-old memory came up of my very first running event ever: a 5K with Sam and Tara, with race bibs but no timing chips (I finished in roughly 36 minutes), in support of the Learning Disabilities Association of London Ontario. Here are Sam and I on race day:

Image description: Two waist up shots of Sam on left, Tracy on right, both smiling short-haired women in plan t-shirts, tent canopy in background; left photo they are front facing, right photo is of their backs, face turned towards camera, balloons in the background, race bibs visible.

It’s hard to believe that was eight years ago–two years before our 50th birthday. I can hardly recall when 5K intimidated me. But on that day I was nervous and excited to be doing an official event for the first time ever. I had no idea what to expect, and 5K was probably the furthest distance I ran in my regular training. Since then, I’ve done so many different running events I can’t even count them all, from 10Ks to half marathons and even the Around the Bay 30K a couple of times and one actual marathon (no more of that for me!). Less than two years after that first 5K, I had completed five or six triathlons, including two Olympic distance events, for Sam and my “fittest by 50” challenge.

Now, after a lengthy Achilles injury (now resolved) and the COVID pandemic (ongoing, as you already know), I’m not training for anything in particular. My last official event was the Around the Bay 30K in March 2019, when apparently I felt strong but just days later I experienced debilitating back pain and then when that resolved my Achilles forced me to back off of running for about a year. Truth be told, I’m not even sure I could do 5K in 36 minutes right now (maybe later today I’ll actually see if I can!). But it doesn’t matter.

During the eight years between then and now I also came to love running with people. But I haven’t done that in ages because of the injury and then the pandemic. I know lots of folks who run in packs still, including my old crew, but I’ve taken to running alone again. It lets me not have to be as scheduled (which right now I like) and I listen to audiobooks at least as often if not more than I listen to music.

I’ve considered getting back to training (with speed work even), this time with the 10K distance in mind. I’m not sure when though. I have started to think about whether I have any pre-60 year birthday fitness goals. I’ve got just under four years to reach them. If I start working with a coach again maybe, just maybe, I can realistically aspire to a 60-minute 10K (that’s high ambition for me!). But do I want that? Not sure.

When I look back at that photo of Sam and me I feel as if I am looking at a different version of myself. Tentative and a bit embarrassed about calling myself a runner at all, too insecure about how slow I was to feel I had a right to establish actual goals. But the more kilometres I racked up, the more comfortable I became in my shoes, at my pace, keeping my stride and not needing to prove myself to anyone. That’s what makes me hesitant about training for something instead of just sticking to the rhythm and routine of running for enjoyment that’s evolved over the past 18 months or so. At the same time, I’ve learned too, through our fittest by 50 challenge and just generally by making activity a part of my daily life, that having a goal can motivate me, and training to meet it increases my fitness and makes me feel energized and confident.

Whatever I decide to do with my running, I love that this memory prompted me to think back on eight years of pavement under my feet.

I’d love to hear about your latest fitness milestone. Congrats to you and please tell us about it in the comments.

aging · athletes · fitness · racing

On turning 56 and thinking about age and speed

I’ve been 56 for almost a month now! And as is the case when each year ticks over, I seem to spend some time thinking about aging and what it all means. Today’s musings are about speed.

There’s a thing that people say about older athletes. They say you lose your peak performance, your top end speeds, your ability to sprint.

You keep your endurance. The older athlete can go forever. We just can’t go as fast.

That’s the received wisdom and you hear it from masters athletes themselves.

But the problem is that this isn’t quite true. Studies show that older athletes who lose top end speeds do so because because they stop training for performance at those speeds. They keep the long rides and long runs but drop the speed training. Almost nobody keeps training at 60 as much as they did when they were younger. When they conduct studies and test older athletes responsivity to training, older athlete do make the same kinds of gains they did when they were younger. They just don’t feel like doing it.

What’s missing, it turns out, isn’t the phsyiological ability to respond to training. What’s missing is the desire to train hard.

As I’ve noted elsewhere that doesn’t necessarily make it an easier problem to solve or understand.

In one of my very first blog posts–Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice? (written 8 years ago!)–I reviewed Gretchen Reynolds’ book The First Twenty Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.

In discussing her chapters on aging, I wrote: “What exactly is the connection between exercise and aging? The old view was that muscle loss and a decline in aerobic  capacity were inevitable with old age. We slow down with age and become more frail, starting in our 40s, it seemed. But new research suggests the connections may run the other way. We become slower and more frail because we stop moving. Older athletes get slower and less strong, not because they’re older, but rather because they train less than younger athletes.

We age because we stop moving, on this way of thinking about the connection. It’s as if aging is something we choose to do. That’s a very intriguing idea. What’s positive about this is we could choose differently. We could choose to keep moving and avoid some of the physical decline we associate with old age. But what’s less clear is why older people slow down and take to their rockers. It may be that the psychological urge to rest is stronger than Reynolds and the researchers think. If aging brains are the problem, then slowing with age still might be inevitable.”

But lately I’ve been wondering more about aging athletes and what gets in our way. I don’t think the psychological barriers aren’t real. I just think they’re not the whole story.

Our older bodies are just more demanding, higher maintenance, fussy! Cate described some of this in her post on generative aging. Reading about her aches and pains, I felt recognition. Oh, me too! I’m not alone in this.

I need the right amount of sleep, the right kind of sleep. I have to eat a certain way before I ride my bike. I need to stretch. And most annoyingly, I need to rest after riding hard before I can do it again. It’s a scheduling nightmare. I’m only sort of joking.

In addition to the onging saga of my knees, I am always nursing small aches and pains. Goddamit, I even have arthritic toes and toe physio. In the before times, I had physio appointments and massage therapy appointments. I still have daily knee stretches I need to do to feel okay just walking the dog.

I can’t just do what I want when I feel like doing it. I laugh when people say, listen to your body, as if it spoke with one voice. There’s an order, a schedule, and lots of moving pieces. My toe wants no pressure on it. My knee needs movement. My stomach wants food an hour before I ride, not twenty minutes before, and two hours before won’t do either. Part of me wants yoga but it has to be the exact right kind of yoga to match my aches and pains!

So while it’s true that age shouldn’t be the only factor determining what exercise you do, it definitely plays a role. Age complicates things. Sports training won’t be tucked into the corners of your life. If you take it seriously as you get older it takes a lot of time and mental energy in addition to the physical exertion. It’s why I think middle age is extra tough. We can envy the resilience of the young who barely need to sleep or eat and the older folks who are retired and who have time to train. Guest blogger Mary Case makes it look tempting.

A good guide to speed after 50, by the way, is Joel Friel’s Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life. It says “racing” and the cover features a bike but that’s bad marketing. It’s really about peak performance across endurance sports and it’s not just for those who keep racing.

Why care about speed? That’s a different question, of course.

There’s the health argument that interval training and intense efforts are good for us, at all ages. But you can aim for intensity without caring about speed.

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.

Boy riding on bike near shore
competition · cycling · racing

What Sam loves about team time trialing. You might like it too!

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.

ZWIFT LIVE - WTRL TEAM TIME TRIAL - TRI CENTRAL - YouTube

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: EspressoFrappeLatteMocha 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.

Here’s me in the lead position of Team Phantom, with three riders behind me. You can only see one in the image but the other two are listed on the running list of names on the right. We’re racing in Watopia. You can see red spikes for a hard effort? That’s when I’m at the front, working hard, not drafting behind.

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?

  1. 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.

competition · cycling · fitness · racing

From DNF to podium, oh, Zwift

I had a odd night on Zwift recently.

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.

DNF time.

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.)

A gold trophy, from Unsplash
aging · athletes · fitness · racing · running

Older women runners are the fastest growing running demographic

While I’m not able to run, it’s exciting to read about the changing demographic of the running community. In cycling I’m often the oldest woman rider and I spend a lot of time riding with men my age and older. That’s been true for be since I started riding. It’s true even in Zwift.

It’s okay. I like riding with men. But still I wonder, where are the women my age? Clearly, they’re running

Running, or at least the race community, is doing something right. Or women runners are doing something right. They’re keeping at it as they age which is lovely to see

40+ demographic takes lead in largest study of runners

“Among other things, the research revealed that the United States has the highest proportion of female runners; that the 40-49 year-old age group is fastest and most popular; that Slovenia, Iceland and Ukraine are fastest countries; and that the Boston Marathon boasts the fastest average run time of “popular races.”

“But perhaps the most encouraging finding for older adults is that those in the 90 to 99 year-old age group are the fastest growing population of runners today, increasing 39% from 2014 to 2017. Researchers called that particular finding “staggering.””

How demographics are affecting the running scene

For decades — a century, almost — road racing was a world of competitive men. Since emerging from the first running boom, however, the sport has quickly evolved. The competitive core is still there, leading the pack. But now that core is being chased through the streets by thousands upon thousands of new runners, many of them motivated by very different factors.

The numbers really began to change in the early 1990s when aging running boomers filled out the masters ranks. By 2000, 44 percent of marathon finishers were 40-plus. Growth of the women’s division was even more dramatic. Just 10 percent of marathon finishers in 1980 were female. That figure is now 40 percent, while women now make up more than half the finishers at many shorter distances.”

Running demographics

More women than men (53-47%) and the average of women runners now 38.6

cycling · dogs · fitness · racing

Sam’s biggest fans

Sam’s biggest fans

I’ve shared lots of Cheddar participating in yoga photos. But the thing is, he’s my constant companion, especially when I’m the only one home. All of my work colleagues now know him from videoconference meetings.

When I’m riding my bike on the trainer, he’s my number one fan. He sits on the sofa behind me watching the screen, only occasionally nodding off.

I’ve been riding indoors, in a heat wave, in a house with imperfectly operational air conditioning.

Enter the new fan, fan number two.

So last night I was doing the La Bicicletta Toronto Supper Time Trial, a very hard 17.6 km solo effort. Both fans accounted for and I got my second best time on the route. Thanks Cheddar and thanks Heavyweight Honeywell.