The Boston Marathon has turned out not to be possible for me. I spent three months babying my knee (after just barely beginning to run regularly in the fall) and still, within a month of starting marathon training it was as bad as ever. I was living on ibuprofen, and most mornings it was so swollen I couldn’t bend it past 90 degrees.

I really need some form of regular self-directed exercise though. I miss it when I don’t have it. Cycling doesn’t seem to bother my knee to any appreciable extent, so it has been filling the hole left by running.

I’ve also been doing some cross-country skiing. I did a series of three introductory skate-skiing clinics in January. I had snapped up a set of skate-length poles out of the sale bin in 1991 when we were living in Iroquois Falls, ON, thinking “I’ll gradually accumulate what I need on sale, and then I’ll learn to skate.” I never expected that it would take me 25 years to gather the rest of the gear, the time, the opportunity and the momentum to make it happen. I have loved being able to mix classic and skate-skiing depending on conditions, but overall I prefer skating!

Biking in the big screen

But biking has become my new obsession, especially since I brought my bike and trainer to Nelson for Zwifting. I’m there from Monday to Friday, and I can use the projector and the pull-down big screen to get the sort of immersive experience that leaves my stomach lurching when I crest a rolling hill at speed. Even though I have to move everything (laptop, water bottle, side table, bike, trainer, wheel block, portable fan) into and out of the living room every time I want to do a ride, it’s worth it!

The lookout at the top of Watopia mountain, just after sunset. Days on Watopia take a couple of hours; nights last half an hour. But the sunsets are spectacular, so no one minds.

Although I haven’t felt compelled to sign up for a race yet, I’ve been joining group rides several times a week, following friends’ progress, chatting through text or voice and hanging out on Facebook groups to exchange tips, ideas and enthusiasm.

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Pretty consistent exercise log over the past while: as much exercise as during my peak marathon training weeks last year.

Group rides are usually oriented around a particular level of difficulty, and most are “no-drop,” which means that the group works together to stick to the advertised pace, stick together to create a good drafting effect, and support riders who may have slowed through encouragement, dropping the pace for a while, and by ‘offering a wheel’ (one or two stronger riders slowing down to meet the dropped rider and providing a draft effect to lead them back onto the peloton).

Some group rides have a bit of a training focus, with the leader encouraging changes of pace or occasional sprints followed by regrouping. The TGIF ride is an easy ride where beer is the encouraged source of hydration, and is followed by an optional After Party harder challenge.

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In case the fitness stats, social life and achievement badges aren’t enough, there are additional challenges. After climbing the equivalent of 5 Everests, I will be awarded the glowing Zwift Concept bike, a.k.a. the Tron bike.

I started out doing the gentlest of group rides, the eternally friendly and polite PAC rides. These are well-organized and well-led. Rider power (scaled in watts of pedalling power per kilogram of body weight, the metric which is then combined with Zwift’s terrain to produce virtual speed) is held to less than 1.5 or 2.0w/kg.

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Strava’s crude but affirming graph of my changing fitness level (baseline mid-December, when I started on Zwift).

As I got braver and stronger, I began venturing into other types of rides, including stepped laps which have gradually increasing paces as high as 3.0w/kg. I can now sustain this for ten minutes or so.

From time to time I win the special jerseys for having the fastest women’s time in the previous hour over a particular segment.

As a distance runner, I was never strong: I could just keep going. When I started Zwifting I knew strength was something I would have to build. I think it’s coming, though very slowly. I’ve done a set of two dozen workouts as part of a six-week program for beginners designed to improve FTP or Functional Threshold Power. I haven’t tested my FTP since finishing (it’s a nasty test you don’t want to do too often: essentially ‘go as hard as you can for twenty minutes, hopefully, though not necessarily, without puking) but my FTP has gone up from 141 watts to at least the mid-160s.

To most Zwift cyclists, runners are still a novelty

On the weekends, back in New Denver, I run on the treadmill. If I stay there, on the controlled even surface, and don’t exceed 10 kilometres per run, my knee doesn’t flare up. Recently I have been using Zwift in running mode. A cheap foot pod, some beta firmware, a secret easter-egg click in the Zwift welcome screen and pretty soon my avatar is running in the Zwift virtual cycling world. Running doesn’t have nearly the realism of cycling (no drafting, no group events, no change in speed based on virtual grade) but it’s better than staring at a treadmill console.

There is still snow and ice and sand and slush all over the roads, and half a metre of snow on the rest of the ground. Last year I did a lovely spring ride up the pass towards Kaslo on March 20th. There is no way that is going to be possible this year. But I am looking forward to trying out my nicely-primed cycling muscles in the real world as soon as the snow goes. I will have to remind myself to steer, and to use my brakes, and to unclip from my pedals when I stop.

Zwifting along

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