Endure or Enjoy? 100 Miles on Zwift

I hadn’t thought too much about the upcoming Saturday. As the days bleed into each other and time passes in a strange way at the moment, I’m finding that I often lose track of what day it is. But when Friday rolled around and I realized that the next day I was supposed to be riding 100 miles on Zwift, I panicked about the lack of snacks around the house.

Later this year, if all goes to plan, I’ll be riding the entire route of the Tour de France a day before the pro peloton. The goal of this epic ride is to raise awareness around women’s cycling and the many downfalls of the professional sport; the lack of stability, prize money discrepancies, half-baked racing calendars to name just a few of the issues. I’ll be riding in a team of 10 women, called the InternationElles, and it was with these ladies and any others who wanted to join us, that I was to ride 100 miles on my turbo in the kitchen.

Preparation

Usually, I ride in a smaller room upstairs in the house, crammed into a corner. So, for a bit of a change of scenery and a little extra space, my partner and I set up the area where I was due to spend 5-6 hours pedaling. We’d gone to the shop and picked up plenty of snacks, so these were in reaching distance, as well as plenty of fluids and an iPad to keep any potential boredom at bay.

A big part of my training for the TdF has been focusing on keeping my heart rate (HR) below a certain threshold, a point at which as long as I keep eating, I’ll be able to keep going. So, this was going to be my strategy for the 100-mile ride. Keep the HR nice and low, eat as much as possible, and take each hour as it comes.

100 miles on Zwift Jess Fawcett
The First Hurdle

The Zwift meet-up had been set up so that all riders would automatically stay together. I could have therefore pedaled easier, but I wanted to test myself and see how I coped riding close to my aerobic threshold the entire time.

Just like in 'real-life’ bike rides, Zwift rides sometimes have issues (aka e-punctures). And 5 km into the ride, the group ground to a halt. The ride leader, Lou, had had technical issues and wasn’t with us. After some confusion and chat about what to do, we quit the ride, joined a new meet-up, and set off again. This time we had everyone!

Lockdown Learnings

Zwift has been a real revelation during lockdown life. Before this, I just saw it as a slightly more interesting way to complete my interval sessions. I didn’t engage in chat, I didn’t give ride-ons (I didn’t know how!) and I knew nothing about gaining XP or leveling up. I just focused on my numbers and noticed whether I got awarded a little star or not. During lockdown, it’s become a real tool for connection. Riding with the NGNM ladies every Wednesday and chatting amongst ourselves, calling friends whilst doing meet-ups, and, of course, doing mad things like this challenge with the InternationElles. It’s been a way to set goals and provide structure, to keep up to date with friends across the world and to chat to like-minded strangers, and I’m really grateful to have the equipment that allows me to use Zwift.

Coping

We passed through 40 km in what felt like quite a short amount of time and the group began discussing the idea of a bathroom break and opportunity to refill bottles. We were strict with the stops, limiting them to 4 minutes. This would prevent us from seizing up and mean that the ride wouldn’t stretch on too long. We decided to break at 50 km. It’s interesting how time seems to slow down when you fixate on it. Once I knew I had a little break coming up, I couldn’t stop watching the clock! I tried to distract myself by watching trash TV.

Early on in the ride, one of the riders typed into the chat, “Don’t forget: E.D.S. Eat. Drink. Stand.” Which was simple, but great advice. I kept eating and drinking regularly, pedaling out the saddle, and changing my hand position on the bars, and all these things definitely kept me as comfortable as I could be. Before I started, I was concerned most about body aches during this ride. I was confident about my fitness to complete the distance, but I wasn’t sure how my back and neck would fare. I hadn’t really thought about my feet, but as we approached the half-way point, my toes started to hurt. I think the heat had caused my feet to swell up, so my shoes were a little tight. Other than that minor irritation, my body didn’t complain and I was really pleased about that. It’s hard to enjoy any ride with backache!

Zwift NGNM Women crush Wed ride

Endure vs. Enjoy

Speaking of enjoyment, I think most of us would agree that riding outside is more preferable than inside, but when it comes to difficulty, I’m unsure which of the two is harder. Inside is very controllable, there’s no risk, you have everything you need, there are no potholes or punctures (e-punctures aside) and you can choose a completely flat route on your chosen riding platform. But there’s also no descending and freewheeling, no natural breaks for traffic lights, no tailwind and no scenery to grab your attention. And I think that’s where I struggled the most during this ride; staying engaged and focused enough to block out the little voice telling me I could just climb off the bike and stop if I wanted.

I chatted with the group, but sometimes it would go quiet. I watched bits of TV, listened to some music and even had a couple of phone calls, which all contributed towards keeping my mind off the time and distance covered. I personally like to ignore time and distance as much as possible. Just like a watched phone never rings, a watched kilometer doesn’t tick by!

Milestones

As we passed through 100 km, some members of the ride exclaimed that this was the furthest they’d ever ridden. How incredible is that? I think that’s another great thing about indoor riding; it’s a great tool for pushing your boundaries. If you can’t complete what you set out to, then you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, you’re already safely at home.

Miles 60-90 passed by quite quickly and the chat lit up with excitement, as the end of the ride was within reaching distance. Ever since I’ve done endurance events, I’ve had little mental mechanisms for getting through. One of these is the idea that a distance is runnable. If it’s runnable, then it’s definitely not far to cycle. As we ticked through 10 km to go, I thought, ‘I could run this.’ It’s a little thing, but I do it on almost every ride. It gives me a little boost of positivity that sees me through to the finish.

NGNM zwift riding

Completion

I was pleased, relieved, and proud to finish, covering a total of 104 miles including the false start! It took the group 5 hours 20 minutes and, overall, I’d enjoyed the ride. Everyone that started the ride, finished the ride. And for most of us, it was the furthest we’d ever done on a turbo. It’s not something I would do regularly, but it’s a great challenge, especially if you need a goal for motivation.

My top tips for riding a long distance on the turbo would be, make sure you’re as comfortable as possible on your bike and don’t set off too fast. If you train with power or HR, work out that magic threshold that allows you to ride all day. If you ride without data, you can work it out by the fact that you should be able to talk in full sentences without much difficulty as you pedal. Oh. And finally, make sure you’ve got plenty of snacks!


Jess Fawcett is an ambassador and a ride leader for No Gods No Masters' Zwift ride Women Crush Weds, follow her on IG
Photography courtesy of @george.galbraith

 

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