cycling · fitness · racing · Zwift

Riding with the women on Zwift

I posted this morning about racing with guys and missing the company of women on Zwift.

For what it’s worth, by profile, for racing purposes, I’m much more like the men my age in terms of weight and power which are the factors that matter in cycling.

But I also like riding with women.

So this week I did a bit of both.

First, I rode in a meet up with Australia’s Queen Bees. Their Friday afternoon lunch hour ride (in virtual France) was 8 pm my time Thursday and that worked out perfectly. It actually ended up being a nice mix of Canadians and Australians. I didn’t want to race the usual Thursday night TTT as we’re all in various stages of recovering from covid here at my house. There was lots of chatter on text and on discord in the meet up and I’ll definitely ride with them again.

They also have awesome, real life, kit.

Queen Bee bike jersey

Saturday I had planned to ride Wahoo Le Col’s team recon race since my TFC Team, Dynamite, will be racing in the ZRL series Tuesdays. “The Wahoo Le Col team has organized a Saturday racing series for men, and a separate (new!) series for women, where each week’s race uses the route that will be raced in ZRL 3 days later. Women’s event Saturdays at 3pm GMT/10am EST/7am PST.”

I started but I’d already ridden 25 km with Sarah’s ZSUN team for their Saturday morning base builder ride, quickly realized that I’d recovered enough to ride my bike but not enough to race, and decided to sit and have coffee instead. Excellent choice.

And then the ladies of the Herd, on their Sunday Sip ‘s Spin ride also decided to do a ride over of the Tuesday ZRL race course, Neokyo All Nighter. Yay! It was a great group and a nice easy-for-me pace.

Tuesday night it will be and TFC’s Team Dynamite racing on that course. I’m looking forward to it!

cycling · fitness · racing · Zwift

Sam is racing with the guys and wondering, where are the women her age?

For most of my cycling life, I’ve ridden with men. Aside from brief stints riding in Australia and New Zealand where there are enough women riders to form our own groups, I’ve ridden with the guys. But even there when I looked ahead to groups of older cyclists there weren’t as many women. I remember when I started racing occasionally with the Vets in Canberra, Australia, during my first sabbatical year there in 2007-08.

You don’t need to be that old to join. “Started in 1993, the ACT Veterans Cycling Club was formed to cater specifically for veteran racing cyclists in the Canberra area. Veteran category for cycling is 35 and over for men and 30 and over for women.”

I don’t remember how many racing categories there were–lots, I know. And lots of older men, though not very many older women. There were jokes about needing a doctor’s note to continue racing after 80.

During my first race I let an older Italian-Australian man draft me. I was impressed that he was still racing at his age and I thought he needed my help to finish. If you’re a cyclist you likely know how this story ends. At the very end, he sprinted past me and beat me in the race. His wife, who was getting the post race tea and biscuits ready, said, “Oh, he does that with all the new people. Never let him get away with drafting.” I laughed.

We joked that in my category it was women over 40 and men over 60. But even then I wondered, where are the older women cyclists?

Now I am one of the older women cyclists, I’m really wondering.

I’m racing on Zwift with Team TFC. I’m the organizer of a team, in the Zwift Racing League series, Team Dynamite. We’re an all genders team, in category D. But I am the only woman.

In lots of races on Zwift there are open categories A-D and which category you’re in depends on your power to weight ratio. But the women all get lumped together in E category. If I race with the women, I’m competing against women who would be in the open A, B, and C category. As a D rider I don’t stand a chance. Some races have Women’s A-D categories but not very many.

There are lots of younger, smaller, speedier women racing on Zwift but to race with people of my size and power, I need to race in the open or mixed categories which really means racing with men.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like my male teammates. They’re a great bunch and they manage to be encouraging without being condescending, they’re helpful without mansplaining, and they are kind and funny. But sometimes I wonder where the D women are and where the older women are.

I joke about being Smurfette!

The Smurfette Principle - TV Tropes
Smurfette with the Smurfs

Of course, not everyone likes racing. There’s no need to feel defensive if it’s not your thing. But the proportion of men to women makes me think there are women who would like it, if they knew racing at all levels was available, if they understood the range of styles of bike racing there are, and they knew they wouldn’t be alone even if there aren’t that many of us out here.

I came across a fun Zwifter recently with her own YouTube channel, Zwifting with Granny.

Her description resonated because of osteoarthritis pain and cycling being a thing that helps make it better. Me too!

“I’m just a lifelong cyclist who, in my 60’s, developed severe osteoarthritis, and the only thing that would alleviate the pain was riding my bike. Riding in the winter didn’t help because the cold negated the effects of the riding. I had heard about Zwift for years but didn’t have room for the setup. In 2019…new house, more rooms, enter Zwift. This is my journey.”

Zwifting with Granny, YouTube Channel

Past posts about older cyclists:

Cycling into One’s Retirement Years

Sharon on Cycling After Sixty

Silver hair speedsters and good news on growing older

Want the health of a 20 year old at the age of 80? Ride a bike!

On Turning 56 and Thinking About Age and Speed

cycling · fitness · Zwift

You’ve joined Zwift, now what? 12 things to try

Let’s assume you’ve got the bike, a trainer, a towel, some water bottles, a fan, a heart rate monitor, and the rest of the Zwift set up. Tunes are blaring too, if that’s your thing.

You’ve got an account and you log in. What next? What’s a beginning Zwifter to do?

I’ve been Zwifting for awhile now and there’s still lots to learn and new tricks to try. It’s an incredibly rich virtual experience but it can be overwhelming for newcomers.

Here are some of my suggestions of ways to approach the increasingly complex world of virtual cycling. You do you, of course. Find your own way. But here are some things to try to get started.

Avatar: Of course the first thing is designing your avatar. You get to choose your avatar’s hair and skin colour. Other factors, such as size, match the numbers you’ve given Zwift. At first you won’t have a lot of choices about shoes, helmets, sun glasses, and kit. You get those by accumulating kms, leveling up, and doing events. My avatar wears the pink hat I got from completing Zwift Academy this year and a pair of Pride socks I got from doing one of the Pride rides this year. We’ve blogged about avatar selection before, since we have some issues, see here and here.

Friends: You can follow your friends who Zwift and allow others to follow you. Or not. Zwift’s privacy settings allow you to opt for ‘private’ in which case people need to request permission to follow you. I like it that Zwift notifies me when friends start Zwifting. My Garmin watch even allows me to give them a “ride on” from my watch. You can follow me if you like…

Challenge: The very first thing you might want to do is select the Everest Challenge so that you can work towards getting the Tron bike. Why? The Tron is the fastest all round bike on Zwift. I have the bright pink version but you can change the colour. You can’t buy it with drops. What are drops? See here. Short answer they are the virtual currency of Zwift, drops of sweat earned for effort that you can spend on new bikes, wheels etc. But the only way to get the Tron is to select the challenge and complete it by climbing 50,000 m.

Sam on her Tron

Ride with a pace partner: A good way to get a sense of your pace on Zwift is to try riding with the pace partners. I usually ride with Dan Diesel the slowest of the pace partners and Sarah rides with Coco Cadence who is just a bit faster. Dan weighs 82kg and rides at 125w (1.5 w/kg) and Coco weighs 65kg and rides at 165W (2.5 w/kg). That makes sense as Sarah races in the C category and I race in D.

It’s Zwift so everything is expressed in watts per kilo, or wpk. Cycling is a weight specific sport and it’s all about weight to power ratio.

“Your speed in Zwift is controlled by your power number, the level of effort you’re putting out at any given moment. Power is measured in watts and you can always see the watts you’re putting out by looking up in the top left corner of Zwift. If you remember back to physics class, it takes more effort (power) to move bigger, heavier masses around than lighter ones. And that’s why we look at power not just as an absolute number, but as one relative to a rider’s weight: watts per kilogram (power-to-weight ratio). To work out your power-to-weight ratio figure, simply divide your power output (in watts) by your weight in kilograms (kg). For example, a 125lb/56kg rider with a power output of 195 watts, is riding at 3.5 w/kg. Don’t feel like doing the math to find your number? Zwift automatically calculates this for you in game.” from Zwift

Why? The pace partners allow you to practice riding at a steady pace and you get extra drops riding with them. I enjoy practicing moving around in the pack, dropping off the back, catching back up, and then riding through the group.

Sam riding with Dan

FTP test: The pace partners are a good way to see what pace you normally ride at but if you want a more precise answer, and you might, you can do an FTP test. Why? “FTP – your “Functional Threshold Power” – is the wattage you can stay below and sustain for longer durations, while going above it causes fatigue to occur very quickly. The number is an indicator of your fitness, and also helps shape your training zones, racing, and group ride category in Zwift.” (from Zwift) Zwift will automatically adjust your FTP as you get more fit but it’s also good to do the actual tests for accuracy.

Group rides: You can ride alone on Zwift or you can join in on a group ride. Here’s a list of some of the tides I like. Read the descriptions on the Zwift companion app. Pick one that suits your pace. Why? You don’t want to be a flier, someone who rides off the front and pushes the pace above the one that’s advertised. Rides aren’t races. The big advantage of the group rides is going faster together. The ‘together’ bit is key. Rides have both a yellow beacon, the group leader who sets the pace, and a red beacon, who serves as sweep and helps the dropped riders get back to the main group. Some rides have a red fence as well that marks the front of the ride. Why ride in a group? I like the motivation of riding a certain distance at a certain time and I enjoy the social aspect of group rides. There’s some texting back and forth but also, there’s voice chat that happens on Discord.

Workouts: You can do workouts on your own in Zwift using your trainer’s ERG mode and the Zwift library has lots to choose from, including some for new and expectant parents. You can do workouts individually or as part of a series with specific training goals in mind. And you can also choose to workout as part of a group event. The nice thing about the group ones is that everyone stays together regardless of the watts you put out.

Route badges: One approach to Zwift that many people take is riding all the different routes and collecting all the badges. See Cate’s post on badge hunting. Different worlds are available to ride on different days and you can usually find a new route that matches what you want to do that day, at first at least. After a time you might find yourself with only the biggies left, like the PRL Full, which is 173 km and 2290 m of climbing or the Uber Pretzel which is 128 km and 2335 m of climbing. True confession: I haven’t done any of the biggies. The most I’ve ever ridden on Zwift is 60 km though I keep thinking I would like to join my teammates on their regular weekend metric centuries.

Do some races: Once you’ve got the hang of riding in Zwift you might want to try some Zwift racing. Here’s some of my fave races. Before you start out, def do an FTP test and join in the right category. You’ll also need to join Zwift Power which is the official results site for all Zwift racing. It also does a bunch of analysis of your riding and your strengths as a rider which you might find interesting. Why race? You might find it fun and motivational–I do!–or not, in which case, move on. For most of us it’s recreational gamified bike racing meant to be fun. Where else can you deploy the burrito power up, which makes you undraftable for 10 seconds! Here’s an explanation of the Zwift power ups.

Zwift power ups

Join a team: If you like racing and want to get more out of it, then the next step is to join a team. Sarah is a member of ZSUN and I’m a member of TFC. There are lots of them! Both teams participate in race series and host social rides. TFC also hosts two regular race series, the event the team was named after, The Friday Criterium, and Mad Monday. It’s a great way to meet riders from all over the world and find people who share your approach to training and racing. My favourite team event is the team time trial.

Meeting up: Another kind of ride you can do on Zwift is the meet up, which just as it sounds involves inviting other riders and meeting up with them. You can elect to just see your group in the world, and you can elect a banded meet up so you stay together regardless of putting out different amounts of power. Some people organize meet ups with people they know and ride with in real life. Others use them to ride with teammates to scout out race routes in advance.

Giving ride ons: When I first started riding in Zwift I had no idea what those things were that were filling up my jersey pockets! Turns out they were ride-ons given by other Zwifters. I wasn’t sure at first how to give ride ons, or if that was a weird thing to do. Now I am the Queen of Ride Ons and know how to give ride ons to lots of people at a time.

Ride on fit feminist friends! See you out there on the virtual road!

Also, what would you add to this list of things to try? What’s your approach to the world of Zwifting?

Zwift logo
challenge · cycling · holidays · Zwift

I did it!

I successfully met my challenge of riding 5500 km in a year. I did the final 20 km this evening to make it to 5500 km for the year. I wish I could say I finished up doing a race or some significant challenge but instead season 2 of Witcher was involved.

I originally thought that 5000 km was a reasonable goal and I’ve been trying to get there for years. Usually, most years, I top out at 4000 or so even in years when I’m doing the Friends for Life Bike Rally and riding in the southern US for a week or two in the winter.

It’s also arbitrary in a bunch of ways. For example, I’ve not been counting casual errand running or bike commutes. There’s no good reason why not except that I don’t use my Garmin for casual rides and so those rides aren’t tracked automatically.

Then along came Zwift and the pandemic. That made a huge difference to how far I ride in a given year. Last year I made it to 5000 km for the first time ever since I’ve been tracking these things. This year same thing. At some point in the middle of November I hit 4600 km and knew I’d easily make the 5000 goal. Instead, I decided to increase my goal to 5500 to make it a goal I’d actually have to work for rather than one I would just casually and easily float past.

What was the upside of the stretch goal? Well, it kept me riding regularly through the holidays. I rode my bike on the trainer Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yes, I might have preferred walking outside with Cheddar but we had rain over the holidays and my knee wasn’t quite up for for very much walking.

Thanks for everyone who rode with me at the end. Hi Jenny! Hi Sarah! Thanks TFC teammates!

Sam’s Strava year in review stats page
cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

I did it! I finished Zwift Academy 2021!

I did it!

I mean, I had a plan for finishing but also, hey, I actually followed the plan. It’s tricky fitting Zwift Academy in between other social rides and also team racing events. This year I cut out our Monday and Friday night races and stuck with the Tuesday and Thursday team events. That helped but still, coming up to the deadline, I struggled. The workouts are hard and most definitely Not Fun. In general I do better doing hard things like that in a team environment.

The chat running alongside today’s virtual ride in Zwift said, “Hello fellow procrastinators!”

Zwift Academy 2021 ends tomorrow. And today I completed the Finish Line ride after all the workouts and recovery rides.

What’s the Finish Line ride? From the FAQ: “A Zwift Academy Finish Line ride is specifically designed to capture your gains over the duration of the Academy. It is set up identically to the Baseline Ride and will measure the exact same segments you started the Academy with. Riders are challenged to get PR’s on the segments and ride easy between the segments.”

And, not surprisingly, I got faster! On all three test segments.

The biggest improvement was on the Volcano KOM. Since long hills are my nemesis, I was very happy with this.

Thanks Sarah for cheering me on!

Zwift Academy Road 2021
challenge · cycling · fitness · Zwift

8 days to finish Zwift Academy 2021! Here’s my plan

I have eight days left to finish Zwift Academy 2021. It’s been both easier and harder than in past years. Past years were a mad dash to the finish. It’s been easier to complete and schedule the workouts but I’ve also been finding the workouts themselves tougher. I feel more than a bit out of bike shape after a summer of more low key outdoor pursuits.

I did the last workout, #6, this afternoon. It was supposed to be the afternoon of the Guelph Fall Colours Ride organized by the Guelph Coalition for Active Transit but that was rained out. Instead I hopped on the trainer and slogged through the last of the formal structured workouts.

Zwift Me. Sam’s Avatar doing the workout on her pink Tron bike

Here is Zwift’s description of the workout: “When you attack in a race or surge over a short hill, an intense burn always follows. This workout ensures you’ll hit these types of efforts stronger, pushing through the burn and helping maintain a high pace without fading after each effort. The anaerobic capacity (AC) effort at the start of this workout helps build up high lactate concentrations, essential for building FTP. The 1min rest that follows is enough to help recover adequately so you can complete the workout strong, but it doesn’t leave so much time that lactate concentrations will decrease. The workout is key when it comes to boosting your FTP and tackling longer segments with a higher level of fitness.”

GCAT Fall Colours Ride postponed to the 23rd due to rain

Here’s my riding plan for the next week:

Monday: Casse Pattes course ride over with TFC Dynamite team mates

Tuesday: Race Casse Pattes with TFC Dynamite in the Zwift Racing League

Wednesday: Zwift Academy Recovery Ride

” A Zwift Academy Recovery Ride is a social ride and an essential part of any training plan. Recovering from hard work allows you to adapt and develop. To do this you need to learn how to go easy and that is exactly how you should pace yourself on this ride. You will need to complete at least two recovery rides in order to graduate from Zwift Academy. These rides will be available exclusively in the event calendar so make sure you plan accordingly for these events. One recovery ride will need to be completed during the 1st block and one will need to be completed during the 2nd block to graduate. Recovery rides for block 2 are available from October 3 – October 25 . If you missed completing a recovery ride, recovery rides will also be available during makeups from October 11 – October 25.  Recovery Rides must be done with the group, and cannot be completed alone.”

Thursday race: Team Time Trial with TFC Phantom

Friday rest day

Saturday: Rescheduled Fall Colours Ride

Sunday: Finish Ride

“A Zwift Academy Finish Line ride is specifically designed to capture your gains over the duration of the Academy. It is set up identically to the Baseline Ride and will measure the exact same segments you started the Academy with. Riders are challenged to get PR’s on the segments and ride easy between the segments. There is no drafting and no leader. “

I’ll report back and let you know if I improved!

cycling · fitness · Zwift

Sam’s fall Zwift plan: Start with Zwift Academy on a new Tacx Neo 2T trainer

It’s the beginning of September and back to school for students and academics of all ages. It’s also the season for Zwift Academy Road.

I struggled last year but I made it–see here and here. And I’ve signed up again to get in racing shape for Zwift. I started out with the Baseline Ride and I’ll start the workouts this week.

I didn’t Zwift much during the summer. The biggest issue was the hot steamy weather and our lack of air conditioning. But I also started to have issues with our Wahoo Kickr trainer and calibration. In the end, I just put Zwifting aside and enjoyed a lot of outdoor riding, mostly gravel trails but some road riding too.

Truth be told though I missed it. I’ve bought a new trainer to start the Zwifting season–a Tacx Neo 2T. I’m hoping the wheel off trainer is more accurate and less fussy. It’s also supposed to be quieter. I’ll report back on both the new trainer and on Zwift Academy.

Wish me luck!

Zwift Academy 2021
fitness · meditation · rest · sleep · yoga · Zwift

Sleep, stress, and exercise: Sam’s vicious cycle

I’m the Nap Queen. Sleep is my super power. I prioritize rest. These are some of the songs I sing on the blog.

La La La.

La la la la

But lately it feels more like…

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I have a very stressful job and lately I haven’t been sleeping that well. I’m worrying a lot.

So I have been tired and also some days, not feeling much like hard exercise. I mean, I’m still working out. I still bike commute. I still throw a little yoga in here and there. I walk Cheddar and I do some rowing on the erg. But my passion for big. heavy lifting or long efforts on the bike? Nope. Nada.

That’s very not me. So I’ve been listening to the voice that says ‘more rest.’ I’m going to bed early.

But it hasn’t really been helping. I’m sleeping but I am not sleeping that well. Stress and heat are both factors but also without the serious exercise, I’m just not that tired.

One thing that’s occurred to me that is that I use exercise to burn off stress and it makes me tired. The combo makes for an excellent night’s sleep. I slept my best during the pandemic when I was zwifting 5 or 6 nights a week. If I’m too tired to work out, I don’t exercise in the evening and then I have a crappy night’s sleep.

Listening to your body doesn’t always mean more rest. Sometimes the message is more complicated than that.

I’m going to try exercising even when I don’t feel like it, knowing I’ll feel better after. I’m usually the sort of person who uses exercises as a reward. It’s a fun thing that I do. I might have to change my thinking a bit.

I’m going to also look for some non exercise stress relief. I’ve got Adriene’s Find What Feels Good app on my phone and I might see what night time yoga and meditation do for my sleep.

What helps you get a good night’s sleep?

fitness · inclusiveness · Zwift

In favour of April Fools’ Day Trikes and Inclusive Representation

First, the joke.

On April Fools Day Zwift swapped out their regular virtual bikes for virtual trikes. I laughed and laughed. My twenty something son said that I had a low bar for amusement. That might be true. Maybe it’s even part of the joy of aging. But I did enjoy zooming around on big wheel bike, especially in the peleton (see below). They disappeared for our team time trial that day. When we entered the event we were on our regular bikes. Frankly I was just relieved that Zwift didn’t swap our planned route Watopia Waistband for the Alpe on the occasion of April 1.

Top: A group of riders on trikes. Bottom: Sam on her Zwift trike.

Second, the trikes got people thinking.

Rebecca Dobiesz posted this comment in a Zwift women’s group I’m in, “So yes, the April Fool’s joke is funny, entertaining, and a nice surprise. But I wish they spent that graphic design time (or any other time) developing more skin tones, more body types, non-binary avatars, more body feature colors and sizes, non-able bodied avatars, prosthetics, women with more muscle tone, etc. Has this crossed anyone else’s mind today? I hope with all the other initiatives they have started, these avatar designs are already in the works and have been for some time.
(I shouldn’t have to say this but please don’t bash this with negativity. If anything I hope this allows us all to reflect on diversity and the importance of representation.) Ride on!”

Other people suggested that if Zwift could manage virtual rain in London (why, Zwift, why?) that they could also give people the choice to have their avatar bike match the bike they were actually riding. For example, some Zwifters ride handcycles but in the virtual world they’re on road bikes/mtbs like everyone else. It would be great to have other more adaptive cycling options represented in the game. See here for a discussion of this point.

There are lots of discussions of avatar hair options too. Me, I just want an avatar closer to my actual size. In Zwift women only come in small and medium, while men come in small, medium, and large. It’s part of my push for better representation of large and strong women’s bodies.

So to be clear, I loved the joke. Like Rebecca, I just want more options–more inclusion of all types of riders–in my virtual world.

How about you? What would you add if you could to better represent the kind of riding you do and the kind of rider you are?

Left: Sam riding solo on her Zwift trike. Right: Sam riding in a Zwift peloton of trikes.
cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Sam is recovery ridin’

Lately I’ve been trying to do some recovery rides on Zwift on the days after I race. The goal is to strike a balance between training, racing, and recovering.

What’s a recovery ride? “The purpose of a recovery ride is to flush out any toxins lingering in the muscles after a hard workout, and to keep the muscles supple prior to that all-important next training session.” From The Art of the Recovery Ride

The idea is to keep it short, no sprinting, no big climbs, and a nice relaxed pace (slower than feels comfortable even) and no big gears. Maximum 60 minutes, less than half of your FTP, 1-2 perceived exertion out of 10.

See 7 ways to nail your recovery rides: “If you’re training and/or racing, true recovery rides are an essential component of your plan. When you train hard you do damage—that’s part of the plan. Your workout breaks down your muscle, empties out your fuel stores, and generally taxes your metabolism above and beyond its status quo. When you recover, your body repairs the damage so you can come back stronger and ready for more. If you skip the recovery part, you’re cheating yourself out of the maximum return on your hard work.”

What about your ego geting in the way? If you’re worried about friends seeing the ride on Strava and thinking “wow, I had no idea she was that slow” then mark the ride as a recovery ride.

Don’t ride with friends with whom you’re competitive at all. Instead either ride or solo or ride with a much slower friend, possibly a small child.

A friend was talking the other day about how Zwift makes recovery rides hard. She wished there was a recovery ride option on Zwift that disabled all the sprint segments, QOMs, and leaderboards. Another friend says she rides on Zwift but watches something else while riding. It’s a good time for catching up on favourite shows and listening to audio books.

Coach Chris Carmichael writes, “If you think you’re going to have a hard time “keeping it in check” or your ego isn’t going to let that guy just ride by without giving chase, you can do the recovery spin on the trainer (where there will be no temptations). Or don’t suit up in your full cycling kit, or you could even ride a different bike. For some of our athletes who really struggle to keep their Recovery Rides as easy as they should be, we have them ride 20-30 minutes in street clothes on a beach cruiser. Anything to keep you in a more relaxed mindset. I know it may sound like a wasted ride, but your body needs these easy spin days to recover and get stronger, trust me, after incorporating a few recovery days a week into your schedule you’ll notice a big difference in your other rides!”

Maybe I’ll change out of my Zwift team kit and put away the Tron! I like my Women’s History month kit.

Women’s History Month rides and runs on Zwift. Here’s the kit.