Not Enough

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However good you think you are, it’s a lie. Look at Lewis Hamilton’s race this morning in Australia as conclusive proof that anything can happen, and does, and the only way to deal with that is to be as prepared as possible. I’m not dumb enough to compare my training to the world of F1, don’t worry. However, I’m well aware of what complacency can do for your mental state. This is one of the reasons why I’m on this sixteen-week training course, being summarily schooled in what my legs can and cannot do. Yesterday I began what the Guide refers to as Neuromuscular Power training.

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I have only briefly trained like this before, and the hour session completed yesterday made it apparent that I’m severely lacking. After a brief warmup, body was asked to do 15 sets of 3.30 ‘intervals’: 3 minutes at my comfortable cycling pace and 10 seconds right up in ‘owowow’ Zone 7. In fairness, I did manage ten of these before my legs started complaining, and the last fifteen minutes was the most uncomfortable I’ve been since any kind of training began. BUT IT WAS FINISHED. Today’s workout is Anaerobic Capacity and I’m already pretty nervous for that, too. However, we’ll do it.

At least I hope that’s the case.

Understanding the science of what is going on in my body has been incredibly helpful in order to grasp why all these numbers and zones have a relevance. Understanding how muscles tear and strengthen, what exercises benefit which parts of your body, why rest and stretching matter so much… all of this contributes to enlightenment and understanding, which in turn makes me a better athlete. It also gives me a chance to plan and organise everything else with a level of certainty. Even if I don’t make the Ride London Ballot, this is body strength that will set me in good stead for the years to come.

Eventually, my legs might even stop hating me and begin to enjoy the journey.

Crying

What a weekend.

I’m on five hours sleep right now, and maybe this isn’t the time to be starting something quite complex and potentially life-changing, but that’s how this works. Today begins a sixteen-week Cycling training course, which is how long before I go on holiday. An awful lot could and might happen between now and then, but this is how major change takes place.

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It’s meant for Ride London athletes, but the whole thing is organised around Zwift’s workout mode, and is linked to your FTP, so (ideally) it only pushes you as far as your body itself is capable. It is a change from just doing a weekly goal and has the potential to fundamentally alter me physically. I have no idea how long I can keep it going, and what the consequences of doing it might be, but this is my plan going forward. I have my starting weight as a guide, and I’ll be able to judge physical fitness by the end in terms not simply of my FTP, but endurance and stamina.

They say everything should have a goal, right?

If all else fails, that’s four month’s worth of content taken care of.

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


 

I Go to Sleep

I just had a kip on the sofa. It means I’ve managed eight hours of sleep for the first time since the weekend and is a reminder that if I want to get better at exercise, there has to be more rest.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this tired before in my life.

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The problem is that this isn’t just physical: yesterday was a day of getting my brain around the two writing projects I want to get finished. I realised just how awful my work was back before I believed in myself and what was possible. Then I finally lost my temper with a group of toxic people who I will no longer allow to hold back my progress when it comes to doing what matters. Now they are all on time? I can start to focus on what matters, which tomorrow means a day of self-care and pampering. I have skin products and am going to take care of hands and feet as well as body and brain.

Then I hope to finish week one of the Hard Bastard Exercise Regime on a high.

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Nobody said this would be easy, and it hasn’t been, and there have been some stutters on the way to becoming more consistent. However, progress is undoubtedly forward.

I hope tonight’s bike ride will be a distinct improvement on yesterday’s.

Relax

There should be a ton of stuff that is freaking me out today, but nothing is sticking. Finally, after a long period of being unable to reconcile all the emotional variables, mindfulness is beginning to have a real, tangible affect on mental health during stressful periods.

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There’s a ton of RL stuff to cope with, plus there’s a bit of a meltdown happening in an area which should really have been better prepared to cope with change, but (amazingly) isn’t. On top of that I’m working on improving physical strength and stamina, which is far harder than I’d ever imagined would be the case. Yet last night, despite having been offered an easy way out, I took the harder road. I’m glad I did. It was actually enjoyable.

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The previous night, due to the fact I’d swapped to the geared bike, I only managed 70% effort. I used to get annoyed at people telling me how little I’d be doing in raids when I was a Warcraft player, or if I was playing a spec that could do more damage. Eventually came the realisation that if you’re truly going to master a skill, doing a half-assed job will never get the results required. Gone are the days when I want to just be good enough. I don’t need to beat you, or even be in competition, but I have my own (very exacting) standards of competency. That means I can make 90% effort and more, if brain can be worked around the gears.

Today is my new scheduled PT slot. I still have an ache in shoulders from working myself really hard on Monday in the Gym, and I’ll do the same on Friday morning. This entire regime seems to be working out far better than I anticipated, mostly doe to the fact I’ve stopped obsessing over details and overthinking everything.

Let’s hope I can keep this up.

Ride on Time

My husband is a member of British Cycling, and last night printed the first page of a PDF file that he was directed to as part of his membership package. This details an eight week Sofa to 50k Bike Ride training programme.

As it transpires, I’m quite tempted to use this as the warm-up to Eroica because it ensures I get plenty of rest before the day. I’m going to take it and show my PT as a discussion starter next week, but before then I need a new Fitness Plan on the wall.

My starting weight from five weeks ago is EXACTLY THE SAME as it is now, except with a crucial difference: I am eating more to fuel the extra workload. That means, logically speaking, once I adjust to more miles and start eating less? My weight will fall. The PT (quite sensibly) suggests not fixating on the scales, especially as I’m adjusting to a completely new form of exercise. Undoubtedly my stamina is improving, and the fact I’ve increased just about every weight in my upper body sessions suggests that side of things is benefiting from the change.

Now, all we need is legs at a consistent level.

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The key in all of this is the Weighted Average Power number: the higher that number, the harder my legs are effectively working. This is the second day in a row I’ve been able to maintain 134w and the plan now is to settle at this level for a while and build the endurance. Ideally I’ll want more but both ankles and knees need time to get the plan and work with it. I also need a Physio to poke my right foot at some point which I suspect has a trapped nerve somewhere. They’ve done wonders for my hands via shoulders so I would hope something can be done to at least reduce irritation.

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The other massive, positive change is my sleep pattern. I’ve had no choice but to go to bed at 9pm all this week, I’ve been physically incapable of anything otherwise. Both body and brain have been shattered and that lasts until I have to pee, almost without fail. Tonight I can afford a couple of extra hours because there’s no 7am school run but honestly, my life is getting better and not worse despite the need to rest more. I’m noticing more attentiveness and crucially, when I am tired, it is everything that shuts down. Fighting the tail end of my cough/cold/illness this week my body pretty much insisted I go have a kip, or we were not doing anything at all.

I cannot remember the last time that happened.

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The plan remains to aim for 110 miles a week, which is utterly doable at my hourly rate. As this is a static bike there’s no worries about the weather, and the recording tools I have (heart-rate monitor, Zwift) allow some decent number crunching after the fact.

I’ll let you know how I’ve gotten on in five weeks.

Warm Sound

I have an infection. It is quite possibly viral, sitting in throat and lymph nodes. I am often guilty of overthinking illness, and in previous years would have dismissed all forms of exercise until I knew things were ‘better.’ Yesterday, I did a session of PT and the most productive hour on a bike I can remember since I started using Zwift.

Exercise is now becoming relaxation: once upon a time, I would have slept through yesterday. Now, I’ll freely admit this is will what will happen (but only for a while) after I’ve finished writing here today. I needed yesterday as proof that I am physically in a better place than was previously the case. Having proved this to myself I can relax. All of this is, I now realise, as much a test of stamina and endurance as anything else. The numbers exist as evidence to other people that I’m doing the work. After that, the only person I’m really doing all this shit for is myself.

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I’m also finding drawing my three panel cartoon surprisingly fruitful. There’s a plan in place for the first month or so, leading up to February 1st which is Time to Talk day. I’m planning to spend some time visualising what Depression looks like to me. This is a fairly ambitious plan for someone with no real skills (as yet) in that department but aiming big’s worked in the past. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?

If I need to be reminded how much has changed since this time last year, I’m currently on a three week uninterrupted exercise streak. It won’t be the end of the World either if that finishes today. Life now is about understanding that even with obstacles to health, you can remain so with enough enthusiasm.

There is certainly motivation to spare at present.