Round and Round

Regulars will have heard me talking a lot about Zwift in the last month, since training at the Gym became impossible and I got a bit nervous about going out on my own. My husband is an avid cyclist: he completed the inaugural Ride London (and every one since, though we are predicting this years will yet be cancelled in August and are looking forward to be proven wrong.)

That means, in the shed at the bottom of our garden where the ironing happens and music is played, there are two static trainers, and over the last month I’ve been doing my best to get back to the form I possessed a few years ago that helped me complete the shorter form of Ride London (the 46) for charity. It’s not a ‘pain cave’ as the Zwift people like to call it. It’s therapy. This is what is helping me keep positive.

It is a new, and quite different experience from what has come before.

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I am very much aware I am a VERY long way away from the ‘pro’ training users that Zwift is targeting in that video above. This is not about massive gainz or training for races. It is trying to find the way I can stay fit, and remain mentally comfortable whilst doing so. Being socially isolated because of my health, I’ll be honest, is beginning to get to me, as I suspect is the case for many others.

I would really like to be running on a treadmill and lifting weights. I miss the rubbish dance music soundtrack someone else clearly thinks is motivational. I miss my friends terribly. Writing those three sentences has been enough to reduce me to tears, so it is fair to say that any reasonable substitute for all of these would be great. Zwift gives me the illusion of lots of people, and the certainty that behind each avatar is someone who may well feel the same way I do.

Even if they don’t, I can imagine they are frightened and uncertain too.

My husband keeps encouraging me to chat whilst riding, but it currently takes all the brain power possessed just to ride. I’m not even sure there’d be that much to talk about  with all the serious and clearly far fitter people anyway: as I literally crawl around the courses at 1.2w, one assumes such endeavours are paid scant attention. All the courses and special events do, in all honesty, make me a bit nervous.

I didn’t come here to win things. That’s not what this is about: there needed to be a place where exercise could happen, to a soundtrack of my choosing, where effort could be monitored, recorded and then improved. Last night, discovering the Free Ride function meant I got to choose the effort, and Zwift simply provided a backdrop. For an hour I felt more free and relaxed than has been the case since this real life nightmare began.

That alone is worth more than than could be currently quantified.

Right now, I am (pitifully) slowly grinding my avatar to max level. You are awarded XP for finishing rides, custom workouts and group events. I also discovered that all the different courses grant extra XP if you complete them, and last night began a journey that will take months to complete at the speed I ride. That’s absolutely fine. It is a notional goal that grants motivation for attainment, and is exactly what is required right now.

This has never been a sprint, and at 53 maybe I can aim for the occasional best time going forward, but that’s never why this is happening. Mental wellness, right now, matters more than the level of fitness, that’s just a bonus. In what can be quite a dark and lonely place on some days, Zwift grants me a purpose, and is the constant reminder that there has to be something other than just leg days.

Eventually, I will climb high enough for the Tron Bike too.

Eventually.

I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside

I am wondering if I could make a walk to the coast count as Government Mandated Exercise as the weather gets better. If running was possible I could easily do it, but that’s not quite achievable as yet. These legs are still suffering after Monday, if truth be told, but that means we have stronger muscles and more stamina, both of which are no bad things.

The numbers look great too.

Having my heartrate registering on the app in front of me is an extremely potent motivator. It allows brain to work in the zone and grants a greater awareness of how hard is hard. It has certainly made a difference with the bike work over the last week too: I’ve gone from struggling in sweet spot training to being oddly Zen-like last night, sailing through the transitions without a thought.

One should FTP test about once every couple of months, but if this training becomes academic it could come sooner, or I could at least take the longer SST (Sweet Spot Training) test, which at 85 minutes could well be the stamina upgrade required. I’m running the 45 minute one at 110%, so if I go back to 100% that should allow me the legs to manage the extra 30 minutes on a bike.

Really need to sort out some new playlists for this as well.

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Planning my own workouts is the brain stimulation I never knew I needed.

Run to the Hills

The biggest single problem I possess right now in terms of exercise ability is stamina. HIIT routines are now just that, but anything over 90 minutes and I will summarily wilt. What is required is an understanding of what my limits are, how to play to them and then finally exceed them.  Fortunately for me, Zwift has the means by which I can deal with this issue, and still keep myself sane.

Welcome to the Alpe du Zwift.

It’s a bloody big hill, when all is said and done, and I can’t climb it in two hours… but one day, I will. This morning was the reconnoitre to see how far up I could get without busting a gut. I paced myself, bought snacks and extra water and for 110 minutes it was doable. Those last 10 minutes lasted about three lifetimes.

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Before on long rides my brain has stopped me, or my legs and (on a couple of occasions) a combination of both. Today was different. I needed to get used to the heat, and how body operates when energy is low. It was a massive learning experience, and slow realisation that, for many years, it has been my brain which prevented any kind of tenable progress. Now that’s under control, the only obstacle to progress is my own ability to put in the effort. That’s slowly getting fixed. I’ve been at this before Christmas, and only now is progress becoming apparent.

One day I will climb the Alpe du Zwift, but with England v Sweden imminent? It will not be today.

Bicycle Race

You know I mentioned my e-mail address stopped working a while back? Well, yesterday I discovered a quite important e-mail that had gone astray.

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I made it into the Ride London 46 Ballot. Fortunately I’ve not missed anything vital and the participation’s confirmed, though not gonna lie, I’m terrified. It’s exactly seven weeks on Sunday, which is also the day before we go on holiday, and suddenly everything’s become a panicked, anxiety filled mess. This is not how it was hoped such a thing would initially be prepared for and so, as a result, it’s time to take a fucking huge step back at the weekend and quietly consider what is needed.

However, before anything else, it is time to start selling the reason why I initially signed up to do this.

I grow tired of the pontificating on Social media by people who talk a good ‘let’s all change the World’ speech but don’t ever push their own boundaries to do just that. So, I’ve set myself a £500 target, and have already contacted Mind, who will provide me with a jersey and encouragement along the way. This seems to me a far better means of making sure that the people who really need help are getting it, because I’m giving money to an organisation who’s sole task is to do just that. Rather than just sitting on my arse saying I care, this is a constructive means of making things better.

If the anxiety ridden depressive can do this, then maybe that will act as an incentive to others.

Run for Home

The last couple of days have shown that even if I’m not able to lift heavy shit for a while, my legs still work fine, and I can continue to train on the bike without (too many) issues. Therefore, this morning I entered my first group event on Zwift.

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The first item of note here is that this is not a race against anybody but yourself. I can tell you for a fact that a bunch of people did make it a race, at speeds that frankly I’d be lucky to maintain for a minute, let alone ninety. There’s an important fact to be registered too, whilst we’re here: cheating a cycling simulator by lying about your weight and power in order to increase speed, or using other means to drive your trainer to give the impression Bradley Wiggins is a slowpoke… who are you fooling, exactly? Cheating a virtual game’s a waste of time in exactly the same way cheating is wank everywhere else. You don’t get to go and cry in front of the cameras as catharsis either. Seriously, nobody cares.

For me, this is the longest I’ve ever cycled virtually, and it has taught a lot about how physical strength has improved in the last three months.

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The killer was there’s a hill (actually a volcano because FIERY DOOM IS BEST DOOM) in this route, twice: brain and legs did it once and then decided between them that the second time would be easier, albeit about thirty seconds slower. I used gears effectively, rested between the hard bits, and as there was enough in the tank left to sprint for the line there’s the understanding that pacing rides is beginning to become a habit. Once it became obvious that I’d be doing the whole thing alone, too, I stopped stressing about other people.

Mr Alt was a star and stayed with me for the first climb, before pushing up to finish a very impressive 75th (the field ended up as 180 people) He’s taught me a huge amount around gearing and planning hills, all of which was massively useful this morning. I could find myself wanting to do that route as enjoyment, once I’m able to hang onto both handlebars and stop worrying about weight on my left arm. Before, that gradient of hill would be a concern. Now, I’m wondering how much time I could take off the climb. There’s a change from three months ago.

I have two benchmarks to hit in terms of recovery that matter far more than being able to lift again. I want to be able to stick left index finger in my mouth, and put up my own hair. Once those two things are possible, I’m honestly not fussed how long it takes to get everything else up to scratch. I’d also like the pain in my right thumb to bugger off too, and then we can never be that fucking stupid and trip over our own feet again.

I blame BST for all this stupidity. LOOKING AT YOU GREENWICH.