Amateur Hour

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Dear Zwift,

If you go and read yesterday’s blog post, you’ll see that I’ve finally accepted that your Virtual World is a great place to cycle. However, not everything is brilliant,  especially from my particular position in Watopia. The prospect of taking part in group rides is frankly too frightening to even consider. It will be some time before I feel comfortable considering a workout. For me, there is the spectre of intimidation to overcome, but that’s not the whole story. Let me start at the beginning.

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I’ve played in a number of MMO’s online over the last 20 years. Online ‘gaming’ has a bit of a reputation, with justification, for being elitist and not really grasping inclusivity. I’ve tried my best to not bring these hangovers to your virtual world, but some of the general chat I see whilst cycling is a reminder that everybody has a way to go before we get welcoming virtual environments. On that front, I keep hoping I’ll see a member of the crowd at the Ride London circuits in a wheelchair, or with some kind of physical disability. Maybe that is something you could consider adding moving forward.

For me, however, the biggest single problem coming into the World of Zwift is my perceived level of knowledge about cycling. I arrived frankly with not a clue, despite my husband having completed Ride London, more than once. FTP remains the equivalent of transforming base metals into gold, for all the real understanding I have of it. There’s a horrible fear of even starting a Group Ride because if I can’t keep up, it will feel like failure. Some of this is my own paranoia and uncertainty, that much is inescapable. However, being a woman and 51 years old, I don’t fit into the ‘average’ cycling demographic in the first place.

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I think there are ways you could improve the experience of welcoming new cyclists. On my 62k ride yesterday, there was plenty of time to think about what would make this whole experience less like an exercise in self-reliance… however, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for my hand to be held the entire time, or expecting a bunch of free rewards for just logging in. This isn’t an MMO after all, and I appreciate the amount of work involved. What I’m suggesting is a way to allow solo riders, with no group affiliations, the means to feel as if there could be a way to belong, that does not involve simply vanishing into the anonymity of a massive online cycling group.

Ask an Expert…?

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What would be really useful for someone like me is the means to talk to someone who understands all this stuff: you know, what FTP means, why I need to learn to pace myself, eating and drinking the right things. In my particular case, I’ve been using a Personal Trainer for a couple of years, who’s now a good friend and has helped fill in a lot of gaps in knowledge. She, however, is as lost as to how you can manage to keep cadence at certain levels without your heart rate imploding… so I’d love to be able to have someone in the game to whom I could ask questions, sort of like how GM’s work in MMO’s. Someone could use your stats stored online as the starting point to work out how you might be doing stuff wrong, perhaps in tandem with Strava. Maybe it could be a future part of a Premium Subscription package.

A Better Starting Experience…

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When I started ‘cold’ the entire interface and concept of Zwifting were, I’ll be honest, a bit bewildering. In my MMO there are ‘starting areas’, where characters spend their first couple of hours learning how stuff works, killing low-level mobs and generally interacting with the virtual world around them. I have to say, for those of us with zero cycling sense, this would be really rather useful, and educational. It could also open up the possibility for you to pair up with places like Gyms and Leisure Complexes where you could ‘learn’ to virtually cycle, thus allowing the strength and confidence to go and do the real thing. That’s what got me here, after all. If all else failed, more explanatory dialogues that could be toggled off and on to explain the basics ‘in-game’ would not go amiss.

Better Visual Customisation :D

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I’d love to be able to design my own kit. I’d love to be able to pick separate shirt and shorts. I know you’ve had issues with the avatar looks before, and frankly, I’m not that bothered about physical, but some variation in body types would be lovely, if only for realism. I don’t mind admitting I still have some pounds to shift, and I’m never going to look as good as Victoria Pendleton. Of course, all that matters is doing the miles, but maybe it would be an idea to allow me a bit more of a say in making the little person who is me a better actual representation of what I am.


These aren’t criticisms, simply suggestions. My body shape changes, improvement in strength and stamina plus a real enjoyment of being on a bike really have come as a result of using Zwift. This is the happiest I have ever been about my body, and without your training programme, it would not have happened. I just find myself wondering how many other people you might be able to attract, especially with the launch of your running programme, if you made the entry into it a bit easier and more palatable for those people who are not a) natural athletes and b) as tech savvy as others.

Thank you for changing my life, and I look forward to watching how Watopia changes and evolves in the years to come.

Yours gratefully,

Sarah xxx


 

Go

After the worst opening two hours of a day for some time, there was only one thing for it.

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Exercise makes me more mentally productive. There is totally no doubt that it promotes feelings of calm, relaxation and happiness. On days like today, it also has the ability to alter bad to good. I can’t fix the stuff that happened, but this will allow the ability to improve the rest of Tuesday.

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I took my rest day from the bike yesterday because of lots of upper body shiz, and my legs still aching from Sunday, but tonight I’ll be working towards my NEW ZWIFT achievement. It’s a fairly well-worn gaming staple: finish a certain task, get some free shiz. I have no idea what I’ll get at the end of cycling through Italy, except the enjoyment of imagining what that might be like for real. I should get to do that during the Summer, whatever happens. We’re already planning an overland trip, so fingers crossed…

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For now, I even managed to get some Novel done yesterday, and if I can clear the blogging decks by lunchtime, the same will happen today. Next big aim is 60k, which involves a bunch of stuff not yet written… but that’s doable. I know what has to happen in the spaces, so that’s fine. I just have to make it happen…

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I watched this video yesterday on my phone. I NEVER watch anything that way, but yesterday I did. The phrase ‘How Bad Do You Want It’ has been rolling around my head ever since. A random search turned up the following video, and once I’d watched this a door opened in my head that was previously jammed shut.

This video was made in 2011. I have no backstory or information about the Seattle Seahawks player or the preacher, but it is largely irrelevant who I’m watching. There’s a procession of these inspirational tirades online (because that’s what they are) which will all claim to be the answer to finding success. However, this one has stuck, probably because of the reference to asthma. Do I want to breathe as much as I want to succeed with everything I do? No, I need to be able to do both. There must be air and space, ability and capability. This is why those ridiculous ‘get fucking buff in 30 days with 6 CD’s’ are no use to me. I require teaching, and then there needs to be personal dedication.

I’m sure as fuck not staying awake for three nights or forgetting to eat to get there.

I do now, however, grasp the importance of pushing myself through fatigue to get the job done. This does not mean listening to my body or being ridiculous with how much time I spend working on physical fitness… goals need to be reached, and planning not overlooked. My real focus is not how bad do I want it, but how well can I do it. It isn’t just me I have to consider in all of this either: I have a family and commitments that cannot simply be dropped to attain what is wished. Balance is the key, and as of right now there is the belief that this is the right path, and that the strength required to make it happen really does exist.

Last night, my daughter hugged me and pronounced I am thinner than was previously the case. Yesterday, someone unexpectedly called me kind in public. They are all small moments of perfection, tiny victories that are celebrated far more than my ability to lift a weight or complete a session on the bike. Except, this morning, lifting was better. I felt stronger. Last night, despite really not wanting to cycle, I did my 30km and not only beat my time for the same distance from the previous night, but I came close to being the overall Ladies Sprint jersey holder for what would have been the second time this week. Now I understand that they all count. Progress anywhere is still progress.

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I am getting not only physically, but mentally stronger. The events of this week tell me that, without the need for reinforcement by anyone except me. If you ask me how badly I want it? I’ve started cutting out even more bad food. I’m snacking at new levels of healthiness, and my food logging is becoming pretty well regimented. I worked so hard this morning my arms will ache tomorrow, and my legs too if I push for extra miles on the bike.

Yeah, I want it badly enough now to make it happen.

New Life

There’s been an standing joke running between myself and Mr Alt since I started using Zwift for exercise: I don’t do more than an hour at a time. As soon as the clock ticks over to 01:00:00 I stop and that’s me done. I knew the reasons behind this were sound, and last night science decided to show him with FACTS. My body is nowhere near as strong or capable as his is, and I genuinely struggle with endurance. On what I know about myself I’d expected to last about ninety minutes before legs stopped working. In the end, I made it to one hour and forty minutes before the bottom half of my body gave the finger and simply ceased to function.

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The first hour included pacing, not pushing 100% (as I normally do.) It did not matter one iota that I went up hills, because I’ve been training in fixed gear pretty much 90% of the time and the trainer I used down not automatically adjust when there’s a gradient. Resistance is my concern as a result and was only really used as way to give arse a rest from over an hour sitting down. The problem, on reflection, was that I never had anywhere to recover. Active recovery is a concept my trainer has taught me, the means by which you don’t stop after a burst of intense exercise. Having Mr Alt next to me who just pedalled through everything made me push, far more than was normally the case.

It is probably time I stopped training alone, and (more importantly) I don’t automatically assume that because I had to stop it was a failure.

These stats were a revelation, especially when Mr Alt showed me his for the same ride. He spent the entire ride in Zone 1 and 2, not really breaking a sweat, based on his own FTP (which is clearly considerably higher than mine due to his time cycling.) For me, there was no recovery time at all, hence why I finally had to stop dead. The next step in my journey is to work out how I can take the pain out of longer rides, and increase endurance/stamina. My goal of 110 miles a week is now complete: I’ll consider whether today is a rest day or not a bit later on, once I’ve got my prep work for the next seven days organised.

Once upon a time I would have gotten very nervous about using stats like this to rate my performance. Now I realise that there’s a mental disparity between ability and performance that needs to be both considered and addressed.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

I shifted my blog ‘life’ away from Google a while ago, deciding to come to WordPress where there was more of an opportunity to flex my creative muscles. Having now felt as if I’ve settled in, comes the realisation that for a number of years Blogger helped me live a lie. Though I know I did have a decent audience at the height of my gaming interest, a fair proportion of that did not exist. A lot of my traffic was using my sites as stop points on other journeys, or to inflate the worth of other sites and not mine. I had hoped that by shifting everything to WordPress I could finally say goodbye to the automated response, but now realise I’ve simply swapped one form of robot for another.

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Normally, 10 people liking your post would be a cause of celebration. However, all of these people did so in under a minute of the post going live. I don’t know a single one of them either, which means one of two things: they all happened upon my site simultaneously at the exact same moment my post was published and have all become overnight devotees… or, it was a robot. I know which version of reality I’m going to ascribe to here, and what it makes me question is why this kind of behaviour is considered acceptable. It distorts accurate statistics, feeds the fire of ‘all automation is bad’ and makes certain people believe their own worth far more than will ever be healthy to begin with.

However, I’m beginning to uncouple from an interest in metrics, as it becomes apparent their relevance is fast becoming pointless, at least for me.

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Yesterday I wrote two blog posts and placed them on different websites. I know they were both of interest to my core audience: one was promoted by me throughout the day, the other was not. By the time I’d gone to bed they were both equally read, and the promoted one continued to gain a steady stream of views whilst I was in bed, from a regular audience who turn up to my site regardless of what gets advertised. The fact I could probably name about 80% of these people is neither here nor there, my audience is now a fixed percentage of the people I interact with daily. Everybody else might take an interest from time to time but in essence, I do more business using Social media than I do via blogging.

It’s the future: people don’t have time for all that commitment shit any more.

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There’s also an emergent trend of people I know not using social media as much as they used to, that I’m seeing people forcing themselves away (as I have) to exercise and reconnect with reality. Those who remain strictly wedded to their platforms are becoming more apparent too, and I find myself thinking that if I’m honest, I’d rather pitch content to someone who can show that their existence isn’t just logging in the moment they wake up and not moving from the virtual unless pushed. It is a really delicate balancing act too for someone who’s now attempting to create a presence for themselves online. How much is too much or not enough?

At what point does one accept that the only true progress comes via hard work and consistency? For me, that point has been reached this month with more cash in the bank than I managed when using a custom-built crowdfunding platform. I now have a new stream of content, and assuming I can keep it all going for another couple of months, there will then be the opportunity to turn to people and point, before declaring ‘this is what you get from me, if you pay me we can make it better.‘ It seems a decent way forward, and the exchange of effort for cash then has some actual meaning, because I’m not asking people to fund controversial opinions they disagree with. This is art. You either like it, or you don’t, and if that’s the case then you don’t pay for it.

It’s really very simple, and needs no robots involved at all.

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I’m coming up for 200k Tweets quite soon, and although I might celebrate the passing, it will be with a sense of some irony involved. A vast number of those message have been GIF-based, and it is beginning to make me realise just how important that side of proceedings has become. As I’ll talk about on the Writing site today, the biggest revelation in the last 10 days has been my comic strip, and how art has subverted itself in my mind to a very specific and quite vital opening movement of what is clear will be a path I’ll never stop travelling on.

The robots don’t (and won’t) fool me any more. When success does happen, it will also make detection far easier.

Wake Up

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Once my Fitbit is charged (probably another 30 minutes) I’ll be walking to the Gym for the first time since the 23rd. It’s not like I’ve not exercised between then and now either: I’m on Day Five of what (I hope) will be a long, interrupted run of indoor hourly bike rides.

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Husband last night was kind enough to gift me Strava Premium, which is where all my stats go from Zwift, giving an extremely accurate idea of how much work is going on. I also have the Watt Bike at the Gym reporting to the same device, but it is going to be quite hard to register an hourly session because there’s only three of them available to record data, with January set to be a busy month. Therefore I may yet pick a time of day to do an hour out of my normal routine (say after 8pm) in order to start getting body ready for doing 50 miles in a day.

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I’m on familiar territory for the next few days: Zwift has parts of the Ride London circuit digitised and yesterday evening I did the ‘London Flat’: the run up to this loop, and then three circuits worth of sprints. In Encouraging News I was able to beat the sprint time on each loop, which means that there is energy still left after 60 minutes of my legs going OW (quite a lot.) Once I hit the Gym and do weights (plus I think some running today) there will be a better picture of how I’m faring. I’ve put on two pounds since Christmas but that will soon vanish once I get back into good habits and nobody is shoving fresh sausage rolls in my face.

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I’m going to post this here, and assuming Humanity make it to the end of 2018 unscathed? We’ll do a compare and contrast to see how I’m doing then. For now, I need to be burning off more calories, getting physically stronger, and not letting fear and anxiety get the better of me. The last one will be the hardest, on the results of the last week.

Exercise is no longer frightening or intimidating.

Beautiful

This will be the third year I’ve been taken to Christmas Dinner at this particular gastropub. It used to be my local back in the early 1980’s, when I’d go to school a couple of miles down the road. Far enough off the beaten track to be worth the trip, in the days before you went to the pub for a meal. Now, it’s one of only a handful of Essex pubs that make the Good Food handbooks. The last two Christmas Meals have been impressive but this year, they excelled themselves.

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I’ve never liked ‘proper’ Christmas dinner, and knowing I have a calorie limit to deal with I decided I’d go high protein. The terrine was worth the trip alone: I know lots of you people are vegetarians (and I do go meat free now more often than I used to) but honestly, the combination of pear chutney with gamy richness was… frankly mind blowing. You got a tiny slice of sour-dough which I thought might blight enjoyment but nope, just the right amount. I’m also really glad I only drank water all night because I feel alcohol would have made me lose all the subtlety in flavour.

I’ve never eaten pheasant before and I could have eaten double of what was presented: it was served on a parsnip mash which went brilliantly with the long, elongated strip of squash and the wild mushrooms which were just… unlike anything I’d ever tasted before and all the more amazing for it. Portion wise it was practically perfect too… even though I could have done it all over again, I feel my trainer would have been happy with the balance and the fact there was no alcohol sullying the experience.

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The only issue, amazingly, was dessert. The pear tart was far too heavy, almost stodgy, cinnamon and almond completely lost in both custard and ice-cream as accompaniments (I ended up passing that onto Mr Alt.) There was none of the care or delicacy of the previous courses, and it took a lot of water and two cups of green tea to restore some sanity to my system. It reinforces the point that now I don’t eat sweet stuff nearly as much as was the case, when it is badly done those efforts become all the more jarring to the taste-buds. What I’d hoped would be refined and smart ended up as cloying and restrictive, but was fortunately not enough to destroy the brilliance of the other two courses.

Last night was also a triumph for the concept of mindful eating. I was really hungry on arrival, genuinely anticipating the food, and when it arrived there was no desire to just tear through each course or focus on the alcohol instead. Mouthfuls were appreciated, flavour and texture, the way my mind reacted to new tastes. It became as much about the process as the food itself, and a long conversation resulted on how perhaps Mr Alt and I should go out and enjoy food more than we do, as a couple. I’d really like to do that, and expand my mind more. It wouldn’t be to say I’d been to places, but instead to challenge myself to eat more than the stuff I’m used to, whilst reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to do this to begin with.

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This morning, I could do with about another six hours sleep: I have a few things left to do and then Christmas is sorted.

This is the most organised I have ever been, and it is brilliant :D