cycling · fitness · Zwift

OMG. Sam did it. Sam completed Zwift Academy 2020.

This morning at 6 am, this was me. It took several alarms and a coffee but I made it to my bike on the trainer. My soundtrack was Happy morning songs.


In theory, it was an easy ride. In practice, not so much because it was less than twelve hours after finishing the last of the Zwift Academy workouts, #7.

The ride was full of people like me, racing to complete Zwift Academy 2020 before tonight’s deadline. I teach Wednesday evenings so that wasn’t possible for me.

What do you need to do to finish? “To graduate the Academy, complete the program’s 8 structured workouts and 4 additional Zwift Academy events, which can be any combination of Zwift Academy group rides, Zwift Academy segment group rides, or Zwift Academy races between October 1st and November 25th.” From the FAQ.

One person was doing this ride right after completing workouts 7 and 8. Ouch. Also, not possible for me. Eight was tough. See Anaerobic depletion is about as much fun as it sounds. But 7 was tougher. I think it was the hardest of the lot.

I have fond memories now of the earlier workouts and might go back and do Sprint! again even. All the workouts stay in my workout folder so I can repeat them again without a deadline this time.

I did it. It wasn’t easy but I’m glad I finished.

Next up, a new FTP test to see if I’ve improved any. I’ll report back.

cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Anaerobic depletion is about as much fun as it sounds, Zwift Academy Workout #8

As you know, I’m racing to finish Zwift Academy before the November 25th cutoff. It’s still touch and go whether I’ll make it. I’m trying to fit it all in.

Thursday night was a tough team time trial effort with TFC Phantom with missing team members and technical difficulties. Friday night was the usual TFC race with the usual suspects. We race as a team Thursday night and then Friday we race against one another, with a nice mix of cooperation and competition.

TFC Phantom Thursday night line up, Sam and the guys!

Saturday, my đź’“ heart was all about sleeping in but that wasn’t to be. I only had five days left to finish Zwift Academy. Workout #8 was scheduled for 9 am.

I did manage to sleep until 8, make instant coffee and toast, and hop into bike clothes and onto the bike.

My playlist was the Awesome Mix, Songs to Sing in the Shower and then some jazz/soul by Joni NehRita.

Joni NehRita

NehRita gave a talk on Friday as part of the Improv Institute’s Thinking Spaces series. Her presentation was called “Love + Protest.”

Here’s a brief bio from her website: “Jamaican-Canadian artist Joni NehRita writes songs about unity, hope and social justice. Her jazz-tinged brand of soul is infused with rhythms & sounds from her Afro-Caribbean background. A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, she has a gift for writing infectious, well-crafted songs that are deeply personal.

This year NehRita releases her 4th full length album, “Love & Protest” which is a marked step further toward global roots/world music. She has played festivals & concerts (both as a solo artist & backing other artists) in North America, Australia, England, France, Germany & Oman. She has also sung with the KW Symphony & Hamilton Philharmonic.”

Love it when my work introduces me to new music and a new artist.

Digression over now back to Zwift Academy!

From Zwift here’s the description of workout 8: “This Zwift Academy workout helps build your attacking power level for a solid punch. Short efforts all under 1min will make you feel the burn.”

I loved seeing all the different country flags over the riders heads. And as usual I enjoyed the banter and chit chat during the warm up, cool down, and the chunks of recovery riding.

The first half was all out sprint efforts and then having exhausted our anaerobic abilities, we recovered and turned our attention to three one minute efforts will above FTP. Not fun. But I did it. We survived. Yay!

Just one more workout and two more group rides or races to go. Wish me luck!

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:

cycling · fitness · motivation · Zwift

What are you listening to while working out these days?

I blogged recently about combatting pandemic sadness by working out to the happiest songs of all time. And my other post about great group rides included links to Zwift playlists curated by the HERD, the Pride Ride, and others.

So I’m not short on playlists, and yet, I’m wanting to branch out.

I’ve been amused by the range of things people listen to while riding bikes. When we’re using Discord on my bike team, occasionally sound breaks through. The Beach Boys? Really? Really. I get teased about disco. Other teammates get teased for Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s clear there’s a lot of variety in our tastes in workout music.

I recall years ago at the velodrome that we had some serious arguments about music. I was on record for not liking music with swearing and language that insulted women. I think I was parenting young children at the time! The young men, teenagers, who rode there used to swap to easy listening when I arrived and tease me about it.

Why do we listen to music at all when we’re exercising?

Obviously enjoyment is a motive. But so too is performance. Many people listen to music that they think will make them go faster, whether on foot or on the bike.

Exercise psychologists have been studying this for a while.

See What songs make you workout harder? in which it’s noted that when listening to music people tend to underestimate their exertion by 10%.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece: “Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University London has pioneered much of the research in this field. In his book Applying Music in Exercise and Sport, he identified many ways in which music can improve physical performance.

The most immediately obvious benefit is the intense emotional connection with certain songs. Listening to the Rocky movie soundtracks, for example, “can conjure positive imagery, a feeling that one can overcome adversity”. He compares it to Ivan Pavlov’s famous conditioning experiments – in which the mere sound of a bell, usually accompanying a meal, would have dogs salivating. Gonna fly now? The opening bars of Rocky’s theme song might just prime you to push yourself harder.

Then there’s “dissociation” – music helps to direct your attention outwards rather than inwards, and drowns out the feelings of fatigue in our bodies. This can have a particularly powerful effect with more moderate workouts. When listening to music, people tend to underestimate their exertion by about 10%, meaning the whole workout ends up feeling much less arduous than it would have without the music. This should increase your overall endurance, helping you to run faster for longer.

For the most intense workouts, music-induced dissociation may not be possible – the feelings of exertion are just too strong to ignore, no matter how great the music. But during those periods, the body may still benefit from “entrainment”, a process in which the body’s natural rhythms begin to mimic those of the music.”

The article goes on to discuss studies which take participants and have some workout with music, others in silence, and others listening to podcasts. No surprise those who listen to music do better.

So I’ll go faster, and I’ll be happier. I just need more tunes.

What are your recommendations for workout music?

Photo by Norbert Buduczki on Unsplash

climbing · cycling · fitness · Zwift

Sam’s list of six things she wished she knew when she first joined Zwift

  1. The Everest Challenge as a route to the Tron bike. Yes, I’m making good progress. I’m more than halfway there. But at the start I rode for a few months without signing up for the challenge. Today in my group ride we talked about someone who had completed the climbing mileage and wondered why he hadn’t gotten the Tron. Turned out he’d never signed up.
Tron bikes all in a row

2. Other people seemed to be better about giving Ride-Ons than me. But it was only later I discovered you can give more than one ride-on at a time. “Use the Zwift Companion App to quickly give Ride-Ons to 5 random people within your near vicinity. Just tap your location arrow in the app! If you’re in a group ride, those Ride Ons will go to others participating in the same group. Ride on.” From Zwift Tips. I also learned that if you want to give everyone you rode with kudos on Strava, you just view the list of people and shake your phone. Who knew? I didn’t. I do now.

Zwift Ride On
Ride on!

3. When I first started doing workouts, I did them in any old place. It was only later that I realized (thanks Sarah!) that by doing my workouts on serious climbs, I could accumulate climbing metres faster. See THE EASIEST (LEGAL) WAY TO GET THE TRON BIKE IN ZWIFT for route advice.

4. It also didn’t occur to me–you’ll get the sense that the ‘game’ aspect of Zwift was new to me–that if I was attempting a climb to accumulate metres climbed I could turn around at the top and come back down to accumulate kilometres ridden. You can also just coast down and answer your email! Shhh.

5. You can return to the pairing screen and do things–like swap virtual bikes–without exiting your ride. It also took me awhile to figure out when to use which bike.

6. In real life, I don’t super tuck. I’m not a particularly nervous descender but I don’t adopt the aggressive aero position of pro-cyclists. I saw some avatars doing it in Zwift and I didn’t get it. I should have googled. At a certain point in real world cycling you go faster by aero tucking than pedaling. That’s true in Zwift too. See “How to” here.

From Zwift News: “In cycling, “aero is everything.” So pros like Chris Froome get into an aero-tuck (aka “super-tuck”) when descending, reducing air resistance and allowing them to travel faster with less work.

Looking for some rest while descending one of Zwift’s many mountains? You can use the super-tuck. It is literally the easiest way to go faster on Zwift, since it requires you to stop pedaling!

Here’s how it works: if you are on a 3% or steeper downhill moving at least 35mph (57km/h), stop pedaling. Your avatar will enter the super-tuck as soon as your power drops to 10 watts or less.

Once in the super-tuck your rider will travel faster, mimicking the reduced air resistance you would encounter when aero-tucking outdoors.

There is one exception: riders on TT frames cannot super-tuck.”

Zwift How-to: Super-Tuck When Descending | Zwift

How about you? If you Zwift is there anything you know now that you wished you knew at the get go?

cycling · fitness · Zwift

Happiest songs of all time, virtual lavender fields, and a great #ZwiftAcademy group ride wrestle Sam out of a pandemic funk

This morning I did the Zwift Academy women’s group ride. I did it as a recovery ride after last night’s TFC race and as part of my effort up complete Zwift Academy before the time runs out.

I’m getting closer!

Sam’s Zwift academy progress

While riding I listened to the happiest songs of all time according to neuroscience. I’ve been in a bit of a pandemic funk lately as covid-19 case numbers grow here in Ontario. I’m from the East coast of Canada where things are going great. I’ve lived in Australia and New Zealand, also where things are going great. Here? Not so much. I’ve been missing my kids and worrying about everyone. This hasn’t been an easy week.

It might also just be time change related sadness. It is that time of year.

And then I read this Neuroscience Says These Are the 10 Happiest Songs Ever: Now might be a good time for all of us to remind ourselves of this useful bit of classic research. 

Frankly I’m not sure if the music helped or if it was the group ride. Probably the combo. But I was smiling while I was on the bike this morning.

The route was in virtual France, Casse Pattes.

I love the France routes, weirdly in part for the beautiful virtual countryside vistas. Check out the lavender fields below.

Here’s Zwift’s description of the route, “French cyclists use the term “casse-pattes” (literally “leg-breaking”) to refer to particularly difficult parts of a ride, or roads that awkwardly change gradient and break a cyclist’s rhythm.

Released with Zwift’s France map for the first-ever Virtual Tour de France, the Casse-Pattes route covers the large outer loop of the map in a clockwise direction. The first 12km is pan-flat with two timed sprint segments, but then that rhythm is broken up in the back half by two timed KOM climbs.’

As you might expect I loved the first flat 12 km and suffered a bit on the climbs. Still, the ride leader stuck to the advertised pace and it was fine really.

How was the ride? Pleasant. Nice pacing. People stayed together. There were lots of riders from the UK and Europe, because it’s later Saturday there. The chat was mostly about completing Zwift Academy, who was close and who was not. There was also a lengthy discussion of how to make brownies.

Recently I posted about some great group rides on Zwift. If this was a regular Saturday morning thing I’d certainly do it again.

Sam in the pink hat on the Zwift academy group ride. I slowed to take a photo of the lavender field.

When I shared my last post about Zwift groups rides Jennifer S also had some more recommendations: “CMA – Cycling Mums Australia sometimes matches up with afternoon times in North America.”

And more, “ZHCC “We Ride as One” have some nice rides. 6:30 GMT/1:30 pm EST most days. Some are ladies only rides, some recovery rides, some higher paced group rides. “

Tomorrow is my club ride, Team TFC. And if you ever decide to join us, drop me a line and I’ll ride with you. Promise!

I ride in the D group, under 2 watts per kilo. And it’s at 315 pm, Eastern time.

cycling · Sat with Nat · Zwift

So you want to zwift? Let’s talk money

Recommended soundtrack: You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive

This post is co-written with my beloved. These facts may help you either: win the argument to invest in zwifting or defend your budget against lifestyle creep.

What is zwift?

It’s an online virtual cycling game with different worlds, group rides and races. Sam has written a lot about her adventures. If you click on Zwift at the top of the post you can see all the great posts.

Why would I want to do this?

Its a great way to train on your bicycle, regardless of weather, daylight, traffic or other safety concerns. With additional concerns around COVID 19 calling a friend to be your sag wagon or riding alone may not be appealing options.

So how much is this going to cost me?

Well. That depends. One fixed cost, regardless of setup, is the monthly subscription fee of $15 USD. You’ll need a smart phone, TV, tablet or laptop to run the software. You will need clip-less pedals & shoes and I highly recommend a fan. So let’s look at the options to make a set up.

The Ultimate Zwift Setup

If money is no object, a top of the range direct drive trainer or dedicated smart indoor training bike is the ultimate Zwift set up. Easy to set up, provides accurate power, speed and cadence metrics with simulated climbing, descent and terrain.

A fully kitted out smart indoor training bike blurs the line between indoor and outdoor experiences. You can even get variable fans that give you wind and the sights and sounds of an awesome trip.

These set ups cost anywhere from $3,000-5,000 USD. At first glance this is shockingly high. However, if you don’t have a road bike and you miss your regular spin classes, this may be a frugal option. All the other set-ups assume you have an existing ride. Both mine and my partner’s bikes were in the $2,000 USD range. So it’s more like spread out cost than truly being cheaper. One benefit is these high price point options are readily available since not many folks new to indoor cycling will go with this option first.

The full bike:

Smart trainers:

Middle of the Road

Instead of a direct drive trainer you are looking for a wheel on smart trainer for $500-750 USD. This uses your existing bike and a trainer tire. The tire can run you $60-120 USD. You will need a front wheel riser block for better stability. Those are fairly cheap, around $20 USD.

The challenge for this option is finding one. With COVID 19 supply chain interruptions it can be difficult to get your hands on this range of equipment.

Bargain Basement Set-up

The most basic setup can be cobbled together from kit many cyclists already own. A bike, a wheel on dumb trainer/rollers ($80-120 USD), trainer tire ($60-120), cadence/speed sensor $100 USD, and an ANT+ Bluetooth measurement tool $20 USD. These supplies are mostly available when you need them.

Speed & Cadence Sensors

If you aren’t sure indoor spinning is for you skip the trainer tire. It’s optional if you, like me, spin for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week.


Depending on your existing resources it is not cheap to get into Zwift. It could offer variety, interest and social connection if you are missing those this year.

I decided I can happily spin without Zwift on my dumb trainer. I’m not performance driven for my spinning. It’s simply my high intensity cardio in my fitness plan . My beloved has a more structured approach and targets he wants to hit next spring. We were able to get him set up with sensors, trainer tire and our existing dumb trainer.

Our two bicycles clipped into trainers are in our dining room with a fan. We are using a music stand for the laptop and handlebar mounts for our phones.

If you are using Zwift what set-up are you using? Was cost a consideration? Please share your gear in the comments below and any winning arguments to either invest or be frugal. Have I captured the range? Is there a must have folks should know about?

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.

competition · cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Canadian cycling on Zwift


“As national federations around the globe continue to gear up for the inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on December 8-9, Cycling Canada is excited to announce an expanded multi-platform virtual cycling calendar for the 2020/2021 winter season.

“Virtual cycling represents an exciting discipline of the sport which allows our community to stay connected in a virtual world year-round” said Josh Peacock, Events & Partnerships Manager at Cycling Canada. “We are thrilled to play a part in helping to grow this discipline in Canada, while at the same time keeping our growing cycling community connected.”

Cycling Canada’s virtual cycling events will kick off on November 2 on the Zwift platform with the introduction of the Cycling Canada “Weekly Tune-up” group ride series and “Wednesday Night Race Series”. Both initiatives will be listed on the public Zwift event calendar, open to all Zwift subscribers.”

See here for more details.

Things start tonight with a tune-up ride at 8:05 pm EST.

“Every Monday and Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host 45 minute group rides open to all skill levels and abilities on rotating courses. Monday rides will be co-ed, while Tuesday rides will be exclusive to women. Course offerings will vary from week to week in an effort to provide a well-rounded mix of training opportunities for Zwifters of all backgrounds. The weekly tune-up will be a medium-paced social ride (2.0 – 2.5 w/kg), led by some of Canada’s top coaches and athletes. Zwifters can expect a fun, interactive community atmosphere with regular efforts to build fitness. The weekly tune-up series will also serve as a social pre-ride for Cycling Canada’s Wednesday Night Race Series, offered on the same course as each week’s ride.

Every Wednesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host a public race open to all skill levels on rotating courses in line with our weekly tune-up rides. This series will offer something for everyone while exploring every corner of Zwift’s virtual world. Zwifters will have the opportunity to register in one of five power-based categories, including a women’s specific category. This series will not include a ranking or series points, but is rather intended as a means of offering a fun weekly challenge for Zwifters of all abilities.

For a complete list of Cycling Canada Zwift events, including course maps, click here. Sign up to participate via the Zwift Companion App, or click here for the complete Zwift event listing.”

I’m not sure that I can take part regularly. See this morning’s post about racing and scheduling rest and recovery :). But I am hoping I can make it to some of the events.

Enjoy! If you go write and let us know what it was like.