boats · competition · fitness · race report · racing · sailing

Sam and Sarah Race in Snipe Nationals

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.

fitness · racing

What a 24-hour adventure race is like

I’ve never done a really long race of any kind. I prefer short, punchy, all-out contests where you leave everything out on the field and then retire to the picnic tables for a well-deserved cold beverage, with plenty of carbs on the side. I’ve never gotten into multi-sport races, either. I did two triathlons and came to the conclusion that, all things considered, I’d prefer to just stay on the bike the whole time, thank you very much.

But loads of people of all ages and shapes and sports backgrounds are spending their weekends doing multi-sport adventure races, called adventure races. My friend Janet did one in Maine recently, with her friend Dan. I asked her some questions about it.

Me: You did a 24-hour  adventure race in Maine July 17—18. Tell me about it.

J: It was the Maine summer adventure race, run by Strong Machine Adventure Racing. It was 24 hours of mtbiking, paddling in a kayak and pack raft and trekking with route finding and navigation, in teams of 1—4. They had 3-hour and 8-hour races as well.

Me: What made you decide to do this race?

J: My friend Dan, who I mountain bike and sea kayak with, made it sound like fun. My friend Steph and I did a 6-hour race earlier in the season, and he joined us.

Me: What do you like about adventure racing?

J: There’s a variety of endurance sports and thinking. And it is a super-friendly community, as it turns out.

Me: Are you surprised about the friendliness?

J: In bike races, the fast people finish first, and then the rest of the people come in over time. By the end of the race, most everyone has left the finish area, so there’s not a lot of fraternizing between faster and slower folks.

But in the 24 hour races, the goal is to try to get as many points as you can. Only the best and fastest teams will get all the points, but everyone finishes at about the same time. I think this makes for more collegiality. Also, people were more friendly on the course, in ways I haven’t experienced in other kinds of races.

Me: How were they friendlier?

J: At a mountain bike race, it’s a big deal to be passed from behind. People yell “men’s leader coming through.”

Me: Oh yes, I remember this. The riders from the faster races, when lapping the slower groups, can swarm the beginners. I’ve personally experienced this.

 J: In this race, sometimes teams cooperated to find tricky checkpoints.

Me: Is that allowed?

J: It’s unclear. (Chuckles). I think so. 

Me: Walk me through the race: where and how did you start?

J: We started with mountain biking. Mostly people were together like in a bike race, but for the first 45 minutes, which felt unlike bike races. Then it spread out. We did a combo of single track, double track and road.

We got to a park, then did a mini adventure race—3 loops—biking ,paddling and trekking. In whatever order the team preferrred. The trekking had a swimming section. Then you bike to a mountain bike park, ride there for a while. We then rode to a downhill ski area where there was more trekking. We didn’t do that—we knew we wouldn’t get all the points, and trekking wasn’t our strong suit. We decided to spend more time on the bike and pack raft sections.

Me: Tell me about that.

J: We biked to a park near a river area with 4-wheeler ATV trails. A bunch of checkpoints on land, and at any point you could transition to your pack raft and get points on water.

Me: How do the pack rafts work?

J: They are little inflatable one/two person whitewater rafts. They’re small enough to carry in a backpack or on a bike. You inflate it, get in, start paddling (you carry a paddle also). And a PFD (life preserver).

Me: How long were the pack raft sections?

J: Around 10 miles total. 1am-6am to do those. Some of that time was spent finding checkpoints.

Me: Is it scary to paddle in a pack raft in the dark? 

J: My amazing teammate Dan was the navigator. It wasn’t scary, but it was disorienting. There was dark, but also fog and rain. And pack rafts spin when you’re not paddling them on flat water. So Dan had to use a map and compass in a spinning raft in the dark. And rain. Which he did!

Me: How did you choose which sections to do?

J: We did all of the bike sections—we like to bike. We did all of the paddles, as we’re strong paddlers. That leaves the trekking. We had to make a judgment on how many we could do in the time allotted. There is strategy involved in doing these races.

Me: But you didn’t get the course info until just before the race start, right? Was that confusing?

J: Yes, both confusing and stressful. Luckily my partner is very experienced.

Me: Did you like doing the race?

J: About 80% of the time I was having fun. The other 20% was type II fun— a fun feeling later on when done. That was mostly because for the last 7 hours there was record-breaking torrential rain.

Me: ugh.

Me: What was your favorite part?

J: The mountain bike trails—NEMBA Apatite trails. They were swoopy and well-built. And there was a very refreshing swim across a lake after some trekking. We almost didn’t do it, but were very happy that we did.

Me: Let me point out to the readers that you swam in college for Carnegie Mellon, so you’re quite speedy.

J: Well, this swim involved carrying both PFDS and sneakers, so it was definitely not speedy.

Me: What was your least favorite part?

J: Checkpoint 33.

Me: What happened there?

J: We got turned around in the woods in a soggy, raspberry-prickly mud pit around 11pm. We never found the checkpoint.  Also there was some call-of-nature distress, but enough said on that score.

Me: How did you feel when you finished? Other than wet?

J: The thing that was so great about this for me is that I’m a recreational athlete. I do a lot of things, but am superlative at none of them. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this, but it turned out that I could.

Me: Do you think you’ll do one of these 24-hour races again?

J: Yes. At 3am, Dan and I had a conversation about how we were both never going to do this again. By the time we crossed the finish line though, we changed our minds. I’m hoping to do another one.

Me: Shall I put out a general blog call to anyone out there who is good at middle-of-the-night-spinning-navigation in water?

J: Yes, thanks.

So there you have it, readers. If you want to travel to Maine, and can use a compass in the dark while spinning in a pack raft, also while reading a paper map in a ziplock bag, leave your info in the comments. I’ll hook y’all up.

For those of us for whom a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a bunch of pictures from the race.

Here are some photos of bike transition points.

Here are some of kayaks and packrafts:

Here is a weather radar shot during the race, and a participant with her nighttime gear.

Wanna know what the course looks like?

The course, spread out over 11 (?) sheets of paper.
The course, spread out over 11 (?) sheets of paper.

Another cool thing about the race is that they had real-time tracking of the teams. If you could interpret the web-based maps.

And of course, here are our finishers, Janet and Dan, looking soggy but satisfied as they ride to the finish.

Janet on left, Dan on right, riding to the finish with smiles.
Janet on left, Dan on right, riding to the finish with smiles.

Hey readers, have you ever done a 24-hour race? Did you like it? Did you ever do one again? We’d love to hear from you.

cycling · fitness · racing · running · training

Warming up!

Everyone knows that before you make a big effort, you ought to warm up. But do we?

See Warming up for better results: “We all know that we are ‘supposed to’ warm-up. In fact, we probably all learned the importance of a warm-up during PE Class in 3rd grade. Yet, when push comes to shove, warm-up is one of the first things we cut out or cut down when workout time is limited and we’re in a rush. On the contrary, warming up is one aspect of a workout that should never be removed. No matter what your workout is, from intervals to base training, from powerlifting to table tennis, you should always have a warm-up. Warm-ups help to increase body temperature, increase heart rate, increase circulation, and increase blood flow to muscles. All of these physiological adjustments help to prevent injury and help to optimize performance.”

I confess that when I ran, I didn’t really ever warm up. That’s because when I was running 10 km, I felt like 10 km was as far as I could run. I had no extra in the tank for warm-ups. When I ran 5 km, there should have been time to warm up, but I rarely did.

Here’s a little general warm up

Luckily, as far as performance goes, it actually doesn’t make much difference for endurance events. And running, for me, was only ever about endurance.

When cycling, my best warm ups were at the velodrome where you couldn’t warm up on the track. There was too much demand for track time. Instead we warmed up on rollers in the infield. And when I was doing fast group rides outside, I counted my time riding to the start as warm up. Indeed, generally, as both a bike commuter and casual racing cyclist, I was often better warmed up than competitors because I’d ridden to the location of the race.

But when I first started riding and racing on Zwift, I wasn’t much into warming up. I’d just hope on the bike, join the event and start riding. But I discovered through trial and error that I did much better if I’d warmed up. What kind of trial and error? Well, I quit some races after getting dropped and joined others. One night I quit a team time trial (I’d done a bit and it was clearly too fast, too far to stay with the group) and joined an ITT. I won the ITT (in my category) in part because it was short and I was thoroughly warmed up.

I’ve gotten better this year at warming up before big rides and races. I’ve mostly been doing the GPLAMA Ultimate Warm Up.

Ride Report

How about you? Are you a fan of warming up?

commute · cycling · fitness · racing

Competitive cycling and everyday commuting: Not as distinct as you might think

Normally we think of everyday bike riding as distinct from competitive cycling. I’ve been part of many community groups focussed on active transporation–hi GCAT!–and such groups spend a lot of time staking out room for people riding bikes as transportaion, as opposed to people who take on the identity of ‘cyclist.’ No lycra required!

Mostly I think that’s a sensible thing to do, even as someone who moves between these worlds. I bop around town on my Brompton, I trundle over the snow on the trails on my fat bike, I ride gravel paths for recreation, I Zwift indoors, and I ride my road bike some pretty long distances with friends. Clearly I’m a cyclist and I’m an everyday bike commuter.

And then I read this piece on the cumulative benefits of micro commutes. It’s about the training benefits of everyday riding.

“Most Dutch citizens can calmly and competently navigate cobbles, traffic, corners, bumps and berms in the rain. Commuting by bike or foot as a child is not only good for the development of skills and health but is also the best way to build long term athleticism.”

It’s the everyday cycling that makes so many of the Dutch excellent racing cyclists. Think about running and Kenyan young people, Michael Barry writes. Young people gain skills and confidence that translate into sports excellence.

Getting kids on bikes is good for the environment. It’s good for their health and everyday fitness.

It also turns out to be good for sports development and athletic skills and confidence. I started to think about that link and the connection between young girls and everyday movement. Girls move less than boys starting at a very young age. Part of the story no doubt has to do with the gendered nature of the protection paradox. We want what’s best for our children and so we protect them from risk. Not shockingly, it turns out parents worry more about girls than boys.

If boys are allowed and encouraged to ride to school more than girls, we see how the gap in skills and confidence develops. If we want to encourage equality in cycling as a performance sport we ought to care about boys and girls riding their bikes to school.

Riding bikes along a canal

charity · fitness · racing · Zwift

A challenge every Saturday in March for the women of Zwift

Celebrating women’s month with a challenge every Saturday in March

On the one hand, exciting.

But on the other hand, it might just be too much for me.

Here’s why:

First, there are five Saturdays in March so that’s more challenge than I might have bargained for.

Second, I had just settled on Saturday as rest day.

Third, there are hills in these races.

Fourth, I’m trying to make sure I don’t race all the time and that I get enough rest.

Fifth, my winter Zwift challenge which ends March 19 is getting my Tron bike.

Oh and sixth, we’ve already committed to Zwift charity gift in March. Find out more and join us here.

Still though it sounds very good. I love race series that have divided categories for women rather than divided categories for men and lumping all the women together. It’s no fun racing against super fast, younger women while your male cyclist friends in their 50s and 60s get to race against peers (in terms of watts, if not always age.)

I’m still thinking about juggling some things to make this fit.

“The Warrior Games, would like to celebrate Women’s month in March by presenting to you “The Iceni Women’s Series” fun challenging races, on every Saturday for all powerhouses from A+ to D. After the success in The Tour de Boudicca A+ women’s category, we will be adding PEN E for ladies with an average of 4.2 w/kg +.

Women’s Categories shown in Zwift companion :
(Pen E) A+: 4.2 w/kg +
(Pen A) A: 3.7 w/kg – 4.19 w/kg
(Pen B) B: 3.2 w/kg – 3.69 w/kg
(Pen C) C: 2.5 w/kg – 3.19 w/kg
(Pen D) D: <2.49 w/kg

The Iceni tribe was ‘peacefully annexed’ by the Roman Empire at some point before 47 AD, though it was allowed some autonomy. When the king died and Boudicca I became High Queen of Iceni, the Roman Empire saw her unfit to rule and invaded the region. Iceni led a revolt against the Roman Empire in c.60 AD and regained its independence, along with the independence of several other tribes. This led to the subsequent formation of the Comhairle, an alliance of the British tribes. Iceni had a major say in Comhairle affairs and became an important center of trade, military, and leadership.

Celebrate Women’s month in the best way possible! Drop mad watts and show them all what you are made of!”

covid19 · fitness · racing · running

Virtual Races: Yes and No

Since COVID sidelined so many runners from taking part in organized events where we feed off the energy of running alongside (hundreds and sometimes thousands of) others, race organizers have had time to come up with alternative approaches. A few friends have talked about “virtual races,” where you sign up and do your own route on the appointed day. This year, the Around the Bay 30K organizers are offering a virtual race, recognizing that it’s likely a done deal that we won’t all be vaccinated by the end of March.

The virtual event will have a 5K, 10K, and 15K options as well as the full 30K. Runners who register (or who transfer their registration from last year’s cancelled event) will pick a day between March 25 and April 25 to do their chosen distance, and will be able to submit their result to be recorded on Sportstat. Information about this event and about the Around the Bay Fun Challenge (a new challenge a day for each day in January, like January 1st: “do 5 jumping jacks everytime you say or type ‘happy new year'”) can be found on the ATB website.

Different people have different feelings about virtual events. Today, we will present two perspectives. Nicole likes the idea. Tracy, not so much.

Nicole: Yes, please!

When I first heard about the Virtual Run Around the Bay, I thought “that could be a good way of increasing my mileage throughout the winter”. I also thought “that’s a definite maybe”. I already have a lot planned for the coming months, with my regular HIIT workouts, spinning at home, yoga, walking and weekly run. Plus, non-exercise things, such as a new university course I’m starting in January and the usual things such as work, books on my list to read and downtime. I love my downtime.

I am going to sign up and these are the reasons why:

  1. While I have continued running throughout the pandemic, my last long race was the half marathon I participated in, in October 2019. I did get up to 10k in the summer and part of what helped me stay on track was signing up for the virtual Run for the Cure and setting a personal commitment of 10K, even though the Run for the Cure is 5k. That’s because I already run 5k on a regular basis and if I am going to sign up for a cause, I feel it should be more of a challenge than the every day routines.
  1. I signed up for the Run Around the Bay 10 years ago. I signed up just before I met someone and started a romantic relationship that lasted about 4 months. I let my training slide, partly because it was a very messy, cold, winter, and partly, because I was preoccupied with the new relationship. That new relationship ended really badly and I would have been better off focussing on training for the Race! Needless to say, I didn’t run it that year and that’s the only Race I’ve everysigned up for that I haven’t completed.
  2. I don’t drive anymore and I don’t have a car. Sure, I can ask my husband, who I affectionately call Uber Gavin, to drive me to Hamilton, when the Race is back to real life, but I like that idea that I can run the distance of the Run Around the Bay, without having to go to Hamilton (from Toronto). Might seem silly, but that’s a factor 🙂
  3. I like the flexibility that will be allowed by a virtual Race. It can get really messy in January and February, which can impede longer runs. Also, it’s a bit late already to start training for 30k for March 25th. So, I’m going to pick April 25th and commit to completing the 30k race by April 25th.
  4. Unlike Tracy, I don’t love the crowd aspect of a race. I enjoy the in-between part, when runners are more spread apart. There is definitely incentive, adrenaline and camaraderie that is gained from running with a group. But I don’t enjoy the before or after part when there are large crowds. I’m a bit crowd-adverse. I don’t enjoy the chatter at the beginning from others talking about how well they think they are going to do. I liken it to chatter before an exam. Happy to do without it. I will sign up for an in-person race when I can, because I enjoy the in-between part and the finish, but I will also appreciate the solitary race. I run mostly by myself and I enjoy running by myself for the active meditation it provides me.
Nicole finishing her first marathon at the Toronto Marathon “awhile back”.

Tracy: No thanks

Image description: Batman on left, Tracy on right, both smiling under a blue sky, at the Around the Bay 30K in 2015.

First, let me be clear that this isn’t actually a hard “no.” But the idea of a virtual event just doesn’t move me. What I love most about actual events like Around the Bay is the race day energy. I mean, I guess we can run 30K whenever and wherever we like if we’ve trained for it. But doing it with 9000 other people is so much fun and impossible to replicate. I did the ATB 30K in 2015 and 2019, and the two-person relay in 2018. (Reports here, here, and here).

When you’re struggling up a hill, someone else is struggling up the same hill just ahead of you. You get to fall into pace with similarly paced runners, and it’s a comfort to see them just up ahead, taking turns overtaking each other and then dropping back, or even pacing alongside for periods of time. You develop a bit of camaraderie with those people who were strangers at the beginning of the race.

Also, when you do the event with someone with whom you’ve trained, like Julie (2015) and Anita (2018), you’re in for a nice long chat if you decide to run together for most of the race. And then of course there is the post-event feeling of individual and collective satisfaction, of having all endured the same thing — those knowing looks exchanged as you try to stretch seized up legs or eat that green banana (I often don’t get to the food before the only remaining bananas are green lol).

A virtual race won’t do that. And though I do like to challenge myself to exceed my previous time, I don’t think I’d be able to stay motivated for 30K without the energy of others, even the bystanders offering encouraging words or holding up inspirational signs.

At the same time, I do recognize that race day is just one day, and that it is motivating to have an event to train for. My Around the Bay experiences were themselves really satisfying, and it’s unlikely that I would have trained as consistently with that level of dedication if I hadn’t had the spectre of a 30K event pushing me to do so. Knowing myself, I can’t see a virtual event inspiring the same sort of commitment for me. It might be different for someone who has a training partner or small running group. But through COVID I have taken to running on my own again, so that’s not my situation at present.

While for me a virtual event has little allure, I am looking forward to signing up for an in person something — probably 10K — as soon as we are able to do that again. I love race day. I miss race day. I hold out hope that there will be a race day for me in 2021.

Question for you: does a virtual race appeal to you or not? Let us know in the comments, including your “why.” 🙂

competition · cycling · fitness · racing · Zwift

Looking for a good beginners race on Zwift? Here’s some places to start

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.

My argument in favour of racing is a bit like my discussion of caring about speed.

Hand holding an ice cream cone with clouds as the ice cream

“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.”

Read more about it here.

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.

Zwift Power

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.

Here’s Zwift’s explanation:

“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.

The HERD wants you

The nicest group on Zwift, the HERD, has a dedicated beginners series.

There’s also the Fearless Beginners Race – Women’s Only.

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!

Bike race

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.

Racing is better with teammates

Do you race on Zwift? What’s your ‘getting started’ advice?

competition · cycling · Guest Post · race report · racing · team sports · Zwift

We won! (Sarah’s world championship winning team in profile) #Zwift

by Sarah Pie

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.

Team results

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). 

Alison LeBlanc on her real world bike

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

Age: 47

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.

Sylvie Holmes


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.

Willemijn

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

age 42

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.

Carol Scott racing her track bike

Name: Carol Scott

Nickname:  YoYo – I have cycled competitively on and off since I was 12, so many comebacks mean YoYo is pretty apt

Location:  Scotland

Age:  56

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.

Amy Barlow

Name: Amy Barlow

Nickname: Rex

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

Age: 41

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.

Meredith Davies


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

Age: 37

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

Sarah measuring in!

Name: Sarah Pie

Nickname: Pie

Location: Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Age: 46

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.

No description available.
Tracy Wright

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

Be sure to eat after you ride.

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: