At this time last year, I summarized my first winter using a smart trainer and Zwift to maintain fitness. Now this year's spring blogpost is due, even though the Corona virus and shelter-in-place orders will extend the indoor riding season into April, and May, and June, and...
But let’s start with the good news and winter happenings before turning to the more unpleasant, ominous future.
The Harrogate UCI World Champs course
Scenic ride through Titans Grove
Not a bad day, for December!
My Xmas gift: the Tron bike
New Year's in the Italian village
Halloween dinosaur on a mountain bike
The Herd kit
In the six months from October through March I rode 2,830 miles, 99 percent of them on the indoor trainer. I did one-third more riding than the previous winter, mostly because I didn’t get my trainer until December of that year.
In that time, Zwift has given us a lot of changes and additions. The most noteworthy were the addition of the undulating Titans Grove route, the Yorkshire UCI World Championship course, the short Crit City expansion, and a much needed redo of the half-baked Richmond (Virginia) UCI course. Zwift introduced mountain bikes and even tested steering in a short off-road path. And they debuted individual and team time trials, although I haven’t tried those as of yet.
And one has to mention how well Zwift have handled the dramatic and unexpected growth in usership resulting from the Corona virus lockdowns. A year ago, it was noteworthy if there were 10,000 to 15,000 people Zwifting simultaneously. Recently we’ve been topping out around 35,000: three times last year’s peak.
The biggest farce of the year has to be the Fence, a tool that community organizers have long begged for, to help keep group rides together. I found it inconvenient and fiddly. And ride leaders only transitioned their whining about fly-away riders to complaining about people merely riding close to the Fence. Plus Zwift botched the implementation so horribly that they had to withdraw the feature after a short time.
Meanwhile I made a few improvements to my own Zwifting setup. The biggest win was buying a smart outlet, which allowed me to turn on my cooling fan using my smartphone, without getting off the bike. I also wrote a background program called zwift-pic-monitor that automatically displays any screen shots I take while riding (normally Zwift saves each photo but doesn't show it). And I added a new IRL cycling jersey to my already large collection when The Herd—the club I ride with on Zwift—completed its long-awaited design.
On the negative side, I’ve been plagued by chain drops and slippage, particularly during high-power sprinting efforts. I’ve already installed a new chain, so I suspect my outer chainring is worn; however, I can’t verify or fix that at the bike shop until the current Corona virus lockdown is lifted.
That brings us to this winter's achievements; it’s quite a list.
In December I completed my first year on Zwift. Disappointingly, I never got the anniversary email they usually send out.
I finished the December 100-mile mission, the April 250k mission, the Italy and Everest challenges, the 5-stage Tour of London, the 7-stage Tour de Zwift, the 3-stage fondo series, and the 3-stage Haute Route Watopia. I rode 16 stages of the (nominally 5-stage) Tour of Watopia because they were doling out double experience points; but I only did one out of 3 stages of the Tour of Innsbruck. I earned the Zwift mountain bike & tires, acquired the Zipp 808/Super9 disc wheelset, and was awarded the much-coveted Meilenstein Lightweight wheels upon completing my 10th ascent of the formidable Alpe du Zwift.
I started the now-poorly-titled “off-season” at Level 26, and am currently at Level 38. But after two winters I’m only 56 percent of the way to the current max level (50) because it takes lots more XP to level-up at higher levels.
And then we get into the really noteworthy stuff...
After ascending 5.7 times the height of Mt. Everest, I earned Zwift’s Tron “Concept” bike. Everyone covets it because it takes a long time to get and has ostentatious glowing tires. Although noteworthy, it’s tacky and doesn’t perform any better than several “real” in-game bicycles, so it’s of little interest to me.
I earned the Masochist badge for completing 25 ascents of the Alpe du Zwift. That’s hard and also takes time to complete. A nice, respectable achievement. Tho I’ve just about given up on breaking the 60 minute ascent barrier.
I’ve already written about completing Zwift’s challenge for completing each of the in-game routes: first an initial 25 routes, then the full 67 routes. The second set was my most memorable and noteworthy achievement of the year, because it included several of Zwift’s hardest courses.
The longest of those routes was 107 miles, and I also extended the second-longest one to 100 miles. As you know, 100+ mile rides are how I judge my year. The following week I notched a third one by repeating the 33-mile Stage 1 of the Watopia Tour three times in one day.
With my usual real-world events being cancelled due to the Corona virus, I’m hoping to do rides on Zwift that match the distance and climbing of the outdoor centuries I’ll miss. The first of those was a challenging 200k (125 miles) with 8,400 feet of climbing that I completed yesterday, but that deserves its own separate blogpost. However, that means I’ve already completed four “Zentury” rides so far this year.
Mimicking my first IRL event is a segue to where my training stands now. In a normal year, I’d use this space to summarize my level of fitness and preparedness for the transition to upcoming spring events. Although outdoor riding is going to be severely curtailed, there’s still good reason to review where my fitness stands.
My Chronic Training Load (CTL) bottomed out around 50 at the end of October, as I recovered from a strained achilles, but the aforementioned route challenge motivated me to train hard through November, December, and January. By New Year's, my CTL had risen to 80, which exceeds my usual summertime peak. After those two Zenturies to complete the route challenge, my CTL maxed out at 98, setting a new and unexpected all-time fitness record—in January! Since then, I’ve let it subside back down to 75, which is still above my summertime peak form.
While recovering from last fall’s injury, I produced a disappointing 197W back in my November Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test; but in February I bounced back up to 215W, and a subsequent Alpe run bumped it up to 227W, which are both closer to what I would expect when I’m in form. I’ll see where I stand again in May.
Based on my CTL and FTP, I’m in great shape for whatever riding I'll do, indoors or out. But thanks to the Corona virus, it’ll be more of the former than the latter. All my group rides and major events in April, May, and most of June have been cancelled, and I expect that will also be the case through July at least.
It might make sense, then, to revisit the goals I set for this year. Ironically, four months ago, I wrote the following:
I don’t really expect to surpass my 2019 season, due to this year's confluence of circumstances. Will 2020 also feature great weather, limited travel, no job commitment, and an understanding partner who will loan me her car to get to distant rides? And can I continue to evade the growing concerns of age and health?
While I couldn’t foresee cancellation of the entire cycling calendar along with all other public gatherings, I was skeptical that 2020 would be as good as 2019. That was eerily prescient, huh? Barely two weeks into spring we knew that unless the trajectory of the pandemic suddenly changed, there would be no outdoor centuries for me this summer. We’re left now to do what we can with what we’ve got.
That’s why I can’t tell you how glad I am that I bought my smart trainer and started Zwifting in 2018, so that my indoor setup was up and running a year before we were ordered to shelter in place. I hesitate to imagine how stir-crazy I’d be now if I wasn’t set up for indoor riding!
But I’m not looking forward to spending one of my remaining summers inside. I already miss being warmed by the sun, fresh air, being out in nature, exploring new places, and making lasting memories. But putting miles down on the turbo is infinitely better than not riding at all… or being deceased.
Stay tuned, and stay indoors!