Sunday, February 4, 2018

Zwift: Game vs. Training

I hate this guy.
I was told that my last post regarding my experiences with Zwift were overly optimistic. It's true: I made it seem as though I'm a total Zwift convert. I'm really not.*

I have a fundamental issue with Zwift, aside from it's unpredictable behavior, un-intuitive controls, sporadic ability to integrate with my CompuTrainer and Stages systems (especially after one of the frequent so-called 'upgrades'), etc. My real problem with Zwift is that it doesn't ever inherently fit with my training plan.

Zwift is a game. It was created by game people, presumably game people that also ride bikes. As a game, it's pretty cool, as described in my previous post.

The frustration is when you have an already well-thought out training plan, specific to your race and workout goals, and you try to mesh that intelligent training design with the game elements of Zwift. You know how hard it is to get 'your' workout in when you're riding with a group of wanna-be racers oozing testosterone on your local club ride? Zwift is that, to the nth degree. And now you have more incentive to stray from your training plan: achievement of 'levels' to unlock 'gifts',  constant badgering to 'bridge the gap', sprint and KOM/QOM achievements. The most irritating thing (and I find a lot of things irritating) is that at the end of your ride, if Zwift determines you didn't work hard enough, you get the cartoon dude crying about your pathetic TSS score. Even if you set out to do an EZ ride, and you were able to blow off all of Zwift's distractions and perfectly execute your EZ ride, the dude-who-has-no-idea-who-you-are will weep cartoon tears for you anyway.

I'm guessing that the more you are into gaming or virtual reality, the stronger the pull will be to succumb to these Zwift temptations.

Years ago, when Strava became a 'thing' for everyday cyclists, I saw immediately how it had the power to turn every ride into a race. No longer could you just ride up Truxell; you now had to compare your times to everyone who rode up Truxell before you, and 'defend' your time against anyone who would contest you in the future. Fun stuff, for sure - but now you've given up control of your ride to some nondescript, faceless group mentality. Including people you don't know, and will never ride with in real life. No, thanks. I watched 'Black Mirror', and I'm not impressed by this vision of the future.

So be warned: treat Zwift like the game it is if you don't already have a coaching program or a training plan. It will make you stronger, and you might even turn into a good racer in Watopia (the Zwift universe).

But if you DO have a coaching program, particularly one that you're paying for, you might want to reconsider contesting that sprint when you should be recovering between intervals, or signing up for a virtual race on your 'Recovery Ride' day.  Do you want to do well in your 'real' races, or are you OK with scoring high in the virtual racing world? That choice is yours.

* Dave has figured out when I'm riding Zwift: he hears a long string of non-stop cursing emanating from the Pain Cave. This is his signal to leave the house for a couple of hours. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Zwift Game

Sometimes, you get to wear cool jerseys, like this one!

Let me first say this: I prefer to ride outside. But you probably won't hear too many tales of me on a fat bike in 10 degree weather, swaddled up like an Eskimo mummy, all red cheeks, watery eyes, and snotsickles. That ship has sailed, my friends, and I'm not too sad to see it go. Riding the trails on a CX bike in a fresh foot of snow in a nor'easter? Epic. Have at it. At some point, your frostbitten fingers and years of kidding yourself into thinking that this behavior is somehow 'fun' may catch up with you.

And when that happens, you can look to Zwift to ease the transition back to riding inside.

Zwift is an online 'game' that connects to your indoor cycling trainer. It converts you into an avatar,   sets you down in interesting virtual locations, and lets you ride with other people/avatars. It gives you a fairly realistic riding experience, especially if you have a 'smart' trainer (one that adjusts the resistance on your bike to match the terrain in the virtual program). It's the closest approximation of 'real' cycling that you can get on an indoor trainer. It has some faults and quirks, but it's worth trying out if you live in a climate that makes indoor training a practical necessity.

Lately, I've even found myself looking forward to indoor training sessions. Crazy, I know, but where else could I ride the Alps, or London, or inside a smoldering volcano, without ever having to leave the Pain Cave? And, just yesterday, I 'unlocked' a "Tour of Italy" virtual challenge, so now I get to spend the rest of winter riding through rolling vineyards destined to become second-rate* wines.

At least, that's where my mind will be as I pedal into spring in a few months. Ciao!

* Wine quality by region:
  1. France
  2. Napa/Sonoma
  3. Willamette Valley
  4. Argentina/Chile
  5. Other obscure places like New York and Greenland
  6. More of #5
  7. That country that gave us asti spumante 

Friday, December 29, 2017

December's End

In spite of my rock solid motivations, and the rising tides of guilt, I am having a really hard time crawling out into this cold morning to get to the gym, as I was so determined to do.

Outside, a muffled, metallic scraping of plow blade on snowy street is my only indication that it is morning. (There are no alarm clocks this week).

I weigh my options: virtue vs. a few more minutes under these thick layers, against a warm body, in the middle of winter when  all I want is to satisfy some primeval craving for the enveloping darkness and a moment of stillness.

(Virtue loses, again!)

When I will finally crawl out into the blue light of morning, it will be toward a pot of steaming black coffee and a frosted-window view of a deep and silent season.

Enjoy these dark days. They won't last.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

An interesting perspective on the challenges of Masters competitors

An article posted by Chris Carmichael today totally nailed what I've been struggling with for the past year or so: an unexplained (until now) decline in motivation for racing and cycling.

The article describes a phenomenon in older athletes (the over-40 crowd)* for a reduced tolerance to self-inflicted suffering for the sake of the sport. Although it's critical for the not-quite-as-young-as-we-used-to-be to keep working out at high intensities, it becomes more of a head game to achieve those levels in training. Why? The article doesn't give any solid evidence, but points to the fact that we begin to get selective about the levels of suffering we're willing to endure (which may be indicative of goals and motivation). It also suggests that our priorities change, in terms of why we train and race. Maybe it becomes less important to dominate the podium, and maybe that translates into backing off a bit in training.

I don't know for sure, but I do know that I have considered all these issues as I tried to make sense of my deteriorating relationship with my sport.

In my experience, I have absolutely become less tolerant of crappy weather conditions. The days of training and racing in miserable weather are, happily, (and hopefully) behind me. I no longer feel the need to "HTFU", as the CX-ers like to tell us. Cold, wet, windy days - all the fun things that accompany roughly 8 months of not-summer here in NEO - can suck the energy and motivation out of me in ways that are beyond irrational.

At the same time, my tolerance for indoor training has hit rock bottom, and I'm unable to muster any enthusiasm for slogging it out in front of a lifeless computerized landscape. Rounding out this perfect trifecta: menopause** has brought unexpected (and unwelcome) physical changes, like hot flashes (which means I can be freezing cold and uncomfortably hot at the same time. Yay, me!), hydration/fuel challenges, interrupted sleep patterns, and general crankiness. More than usual crankiness.

I have always relished a hard workout. I would look forward to it the night before and plan it all out. I would wake up before the sun, get on the road so I could take advantage of cool temperatures and minimal traffic. I would push myself to levels that I would not have thought possible. And I would prove myself on the playing field, using races not only as testament of my training and my ability to push limits, but for their value as stepping stones of motivation that would keep me active and engaged for a whole season. Sometimes a whole year, depending on the event timing (like Death Valley rides in early spring).

Nowadays, I often prefer to hit the snooze button a couple of times and negotiate the terms of my planned workout over another cup of coffee. This is an alarming development, and I need to figure it out soon.

I'm not sure where I go from here. I know plenty of aging athletes that have found ways to stay motivated and fit (and happy with their chosen sports), and I'm sure I'll do the same. At some point, I'll find the thing (or things) that resonate with my evolving goals, and that don't require an inordinate amount of misery to achieve.

*There have been a lot of interesting articles lately focusing on this demographic. Either I have just started paying more attention to studies centered around aging in competitive athletes, or there's a growing population of us that can no longer be ignored. In any case, I'm looking forward to more interesting and enlightening scientific data around this topic.

**Fodder for a whole other blog, and then some. There is frustratingly little scientifically-sound information on how menopause affects performance of competitive women athletes.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Then, suddenly, I looked up...

Photo Credit: Marie Rote*

The attainment of any big goal or proud accomplishment requires a laser-sharp focus of time, attention, and energy. Those of us with athletic pursuits know this, and we are very good at eliminating distractions so we can stay our charted courses.

But life is full of distractions, and sometimes the difference between a laser-sharp focus and a moment of lapsed attention is a glorious sunset on a Winter's Solstice evening. Remember that as you plow through your life.

The goals are just stopping off points; the real journey is the places in between.

*Who very wisely rode outside in pursuit of a 6000 mile goal for 2016. And then very wisely stopped to take this photo.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Canyon Life, Metaphorically Speaking

It starts off with a mix of excitement and apprehension. You approach it with wide-eyed wonder and an open heart, ready to accept whatever it brings.

Those first tentative steps into an unknown future become more steady as you find your own rhythm.

Sometimes the road ahead seems too hard, the uphill struggles insurmountable. But you get through it, one step at a time. Maybe taking a break to regroup before pushing forward, sometimes just motoring through.

Sometimes you can't see the way ahead of you, but you simply trust yourself and the trail that you're on. And at every step along the way, there is beauty to behold. If you remember to stop and look,  you'll see that the world changes with every footfall.

You realize that you're not the first person to ever travel this road, and you won't be the last. So you honor those who were here before you, and those who will follow. There is reverence in this journey.

Sometimes you walk with friends, and sometimes you find yourself walking with strangers. At times, you're all by yourself. Sometimes, you travel the same road with the same people, and those are the ones you know are with you for the entire journey.

You get to the end of the trail and you look back over where you've been, and what you had to do to get here. And it's beautiful.

Isn't that exactly the way life should be?

The Tip-Off, on the South Kaibab Trail. This is where the plateau drops into the Inner Gorge.

This was the third time Dave M hiked this trail with me. He lives in the UK.
And Jackie? This is the 6th time we've hiked to Phantom Ranch together. We will have many more adventures together in the future. 

The view of the Colorado River, from the Black Bridge

Nearing the South Rim, on the Bright Angel Trail

I like to hang over the edge of cliffs.

Surreal sunset
Dave, Brian, Jackie, and me at Skeleton Point

To see more photos from this trip, click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Riding into Winter

The day starts off grey. Smoky clouds blot out any hope of sunlight. I take a half-hearted glance at the outside temp, but I know that this is as warm as it’s going to get.

I down my coffee before it gets cold, and begin the art of layering up. Long sleeve base layer, then short sleeve jersey. Gore jacket on top for a wind barrier. Fleece tights. Shoe covers. Heat packs in my shoes. Heat packs in my gloves. Lobster-claw mittens on top. Buff. Wool beanie under my helmet.

If I don’t get out of the house soon I’m going to melt.

 I prepare a couple of bottles of electrolyte, absently put ice in them. Start over.

I haul my loaded bike out the front door. A cold wind shakes the leafless trees, and bites into the exposed parts of my face. Those clouds promise snow, or worse, but not for a while. The street is quiet, and it feels like the rest of the world has gone into hibernation. For a split second, I reconsider my options, maybe I should ride indoors. But the wiser part of my brain quashes that thought before it can take root.

I know that when I’m done, I’ll come back to a warm house and a hot shower. There will be a pot of chili and a cold beer, and, later this evening, a gin cocktail in front of a roaring fire. And it will all be that much sweeter because I rode outside today, when the wind was biting cold and the sky was winter-blanket grey.
Just the thought of it warms me up. I clip in and set off.