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I Tired Zwift Racing for the First Time: See What Happened

Jeni Sanderson 05.11.20

Zwift racing can be fun

If you’d have asked me last year about riding my bike ‘online’, I’d have looked at you with a rather weird, possibly even disgusted look on my face. My ‘indoor’ riding experience basically consisted of following a specific workout once or twice a week purely for training purposes. I’d do them before work to get them out of the way, but only the ones that were difficult to manage outside where the rudeness of traffic lights, give way signs and roundabouts got in way of particularly tough intervals; otherwise, I'd be outside, whatever the weather and I couldn't understand those who chose to ride indoors instead of hitting the road or the gravel.


Top Indoor Cycling Gear

My husband has been an avid user of Zwift for many years and I’d always roll my eyes when he’d chose a Zwift ride over a ride outside, even when the weather was nice. But of course, 2020 has been the year of seismic shifts in so much of our way of life and when all our events were cancelled and the CX season dropped off the radar, I was left without anything to really train for and the same old routes to do when I only had an hour here and there to ride during lockdown whilst working from home with a young child. 

So off I went to Zwift, I created an account and decided in my wisdom to make my first event a race up the mountain of Watopia. Hmmmm, I can’t remember if I felt it was wise or not by the end of it, but I do remember that feeling of adrenaline competing ‘online’. In fact, I was pretty shocked at how much I had enjoyed it - even if I looked a sweaty mess afterwards! (Here I am, pretending it was a good idea!)

OK, I look like I'm enjoying it here

Over the next couple of months I started racing on a Tuesday evening and a Saturday afternoon - I just used the race to keep me motivated and after a while I started noticing the same people rocking up for the races and began to have some nice banter. On a Tuesday I’d have a fun warm up with my friend Laura over WhatsApp, then after we’d crossed the line, we’d video-call our sweaty, red faces and swear about how much pain we were in - it was nice to bolster that camaraderie again that racing at this level tends to lend itself to. On a Saturday I’d begun to have battles with one particular Zwifter - Leah for placements and we began to work together in races, which was great fun - friendships can be formed in the strangest of places!

My only worry was how to break it to our lovely Fran who literally hates all talk of Zwift or riding online and will always advocate riding outside. I totally admire Fran’s opinions and up until recently I was on her path, but actually with a young child and a very busy life, I started to find Zwift can really help me get a good workout in a shorter space of time or when I don’t have to wait for the weather. 

I literally just used Zwift for races - those harder sessions of intense workout that I could do in around an hour and it didn’t matter what the weather was doing, I wasn’t bothered about how many ‘drops’ I’ve earned, which level I was on, what badges I’ve gained or which bike I was riding (surely my legs make the difference?!) and to be fair, I’m still not all that fussed about the gaming elements of Zwift - but I can see how it is motivating for some people to see themselves climbing the level ladder. 

It’s only in the past couple of months that I’ve started looking harder at what’s available to me on the platform. I joined the ‘Zwift Academy Road’ plan at the end of the summer, which offers some structured group workouts (which have been great fun and very social [and hard!]), races, group social rides and segment rides (whereby you have to do your best on certain segments throughout the ride, like a climb or sprint) and have also joined a Zwift ’team’ giving me access to a small community of women and a funky team kit to wear digitally. The new WTRL league has also kept me busy on a Tuesday evening and gives me something to work towards and look forward to.

Racing on Zwift

There are many die-hard Zwifters out there and I for one am not one of those, I find my mental health suffers if I don’t ride my bike, but it also dips if I don’t ride it outside, so I always need to manage my time and rides to ensure I get enough fresh air. 

So you’re probably wondering what the point of my post is really, well mainly to say that it took me a while to take on Zwift and even then, it’s taken me a while to really get into it and even further then - I’m still careful to balance it with outdoor riding. I thought I’d share a few tips from my own experience, I won’t talk about the equipment you need to get set up on Zwift as that’s a minefield in itself, but here’s a few that I feel are helpful:

  1. Just start. I know this is an obvious one, but I sat there looking at the apps and the platform for ages wondering where to begin. Literally, if you’re not ready to give a race a go, just press ‘Just ride’ and see what happens. 
  2. Saying that, sign up for a race. Choose a women’s category race and your relevant category. All you need to do is give it a go.  If you’re competitive like me, then the adrenaline will see you through. Don’t panic if you get dropped, just try and enjoy the experience. 
  3. Get good shorts. Riding on turbo is NOT like riding outside, you’re constantly pedalling and don’t shift your weight as much on the saddle like you do outdoors, you’re not stopping for lights, traffic or coffee. Most people find riding inside harder than outside - get set up properly before you start. I wear non-bib shorts on the turbo - mainly because I don't need to hold any of the flabby bits in!
  4. Oh dear lord BUY A FAN!!! regardless of the weather outside, if you’re putting in the effort, you’ll get warm, keep a towel handy - I LOVE my turbo towel and keep hydrated. 
  5. Don’t worry about bike combo’s, wheels, or kit to start with, just ride and enjoy the experience. 
  6. People keep telling me ‘I have to to the Everest challenge’ or ‘You should definitely do the Three Horseman’…. well no, no I shouldn’t do anything, once you get comfortable and happy with what you’re riding, choose your challenges based on what you want to achieve - i’m genuinely not fussed about earning a bike with lights-up tyres thanks… 
  7. Be social using the chat feature and don’t be afraid to ask questions if people use jargon or you don’t understand. The other day when I was doing a group workout, no-one really understood the instructions, so we all had a giggle in the chat making our own rules up!
  8. Your FTP and W/KG are important but don’t get hung up on them. Doing an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test isn’t a fun experience, I’m not going to lie - BUT doing it will make your Zwift experience better as you’ll know where you sit in the structure. Your W/KG (Watts per Kilo) is your FTP figure divided by your weight in Kilograms. So if you’re 65KG and your FTP is 180, then your W/KG is 2.90. This will give you an indication of which category to ride in for races and group events. If you’re going to try racing, then it’s important to get it right, go in a category too high and you may be left for dust and a category too low and effectively you’re kinda cheating! 
  9. Try not to compare yourself to other people on Zwift - there are so many variables with online training, let alone people not being honest about their weight - the main thing is to keep consistency and keep smiling. 
  10. Grab a friend or join a friend on Zwift - do a ride together, chat on WhatsApp or Discord whilst riding - you may not be together in real life but you can still ride together and chat like you are. No need to be antisocial 🙂

    I know many of you are seasoned Zwift pro’s but even if you are, hopefully you can share your Zwift-starter story and any tips you’ve picked up along the way and if you’re a newbie to Zwift then fingers crossed this gives you a little more motivation!

    Come and share your experiences of Zwift - and sign up for our regular Zwift group rides - on our extremely awesome Facebook Group!


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