As I mentioned in my winter training summary post, my plan this year is to ride my normal outdoor events on the indoor trainer, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic situation causing event cancellations and making long outdoor solo rides inadvisable.
The first big event on my calendar was the Pittsburgh Randonneurs’ Meanville-Greenville 200k brevet, scheduled for Sunday April 19th (but subsequently cancelled). This was the same route out of Zelienople that I rode last July: my seventh century of 2019 and the first in an impressive streak of six centuries in six weeks.
My intent was to ride the same distance and climbing on Zwift as I would have done in the IRL event. The easiest way to do that was to find existing Zwift routes that added up to the required 123 miles and 7,700 feet of ascent. In the end, I settled on doing the difficult Mega Pretzel, followed by Big Foot Hills, and finishing with Sand & Sequoias.
For the Zwifters out there, that meant doing the Volcano climb twice, the Epic Climb in both directions, the Hilly KoM four times (twice in each direction), Titans Grove three times, and the jungle in both directions, plus a bunch of connecting bits.
The first four hours were tolerable. I had covered a metric century—half my total distance—and two-thirds the climbing, got a ton of supportive “Ride Ons”, and achieved Level 38. I took a three-minute break to refill my bidons.
But it got increasingly difficult thereafter. Ride Ons came less frequently, there was no one on Discord to chat with, and my right calf started bothering me. I needed another 5-minute break at 150k, and again at 175k. As I reached five, six, seven hours, my power dropped, but I’d wisely front-loaded all the climbing, so my final sections were sort-of flat.
In the end, I finished in exactly 7h30m, tallying 202km (125 miles), and an unexpected 8,400 feet of climbing. It was my first 200k on the trainer, and my longest indoor ride by 18 miles. And I received 176 Ride Ons!
After five centuries, I’ve gotten a good grasp on the plusses and minuses of doing endurance rides on the indoor trainer. Here are some of those lessons.
Starting with the downsides:
- Boredom. If you don’t have both a meaningful goal and something to keep your mind occupied, six or eight hours on the trainer will seem like a complete waste of a day.
- Frustration. Zwift’s pretty good, but it still can crash, and the stakes are raised when you’re six hours into a ride when Zwift chokes, leaving your log file corrupt.
- Fatigue. In the real world, you get little micro-rests when you stop for traffic lights, turns, filling bottles, ice cream, and so forth. In Zwift, there’s no reason to stop… ever!
- Fatigue II. In the real world, you get even more little micro-rests when you’re descending. In Zwift—believe it or not—they have intentionally reduced how much gravity helps you when descending, so that you can’t coast downhill much. Hey, Zwift is a training platform, not a simulation, and if you aren’t pedaling, you’re not training!
- Temperature regulation. You generate a ton of heat riding indoors, raising your core temperature. You offset that by having a fan blowing cold air on you. So when you finish a workout, your core is overheating, your skin’s surface is freezing, and your body’s ability to regulate its temperature is completely broken. For me, this is probably the most difficult problem I have training indoors. After a ride, I’ll spend 45 minutes in a steaming hot shower, only to be shivering again five minutes later.
Now for the upsides of doing endurance rides on the trainer:
- Safety! A complete absence of distracted, intoxicated, negligent, violent monkeys piloting multi-ton murder machines at ludicrous speed... Need I say anything more?
- No mechanicals! For the most part, you don’t get flats or other mechanical difficulties on the trainer. And when you do, your entire home workshop is immediately available. You never need to worry about being stranded at the side of the road in the middle of the woods or some hick town.
- Comfort! You have immediate access to anything your stomach wants, from pizza to sausage subs to cold ice cream. If you need your favorite cheering section, call them in from the other room. And where else can you find a water stop complete with your own queen-sized bed?
- Easy, Breezy, Beautiful! Zwift's lack of micro-rest stops has one positive side: riding the same distance takes less time on Zwift than in the real world. Plus there are lots of other riders to draft, and Zwift assumes you’re riding great equipment on an ideal surface. Although my Zwift 200k had 10 percent more climbing than my IRL Greenville ride, I finished it 35 minutes faster.
- Company! It’s difficult being social on a long IRL ride. Not everyone wants to do a 125-mile ride, and those that do often ride at different paces. With cars around, it’s hard to hear what people are saying, and riding two-abreast would be inconsiderate to those murderous monkeys I mentioned earlier. But indoors, using Discord allows you to easily converse with anyone who wants to stop by, even if they’re not riding! It’s the one thing in Zwift that I wish we could port to the real world.
So that’s Zentury #4 of the year—and IRL substitute ride #1—in the books. I don’t have another (cancelled) real-world event until June, which begins with my only two-day event: an imperial century followed by a metric.
Until then, you can look for me on Zwift...