VTTA racing on Zwift

This week a new departure in my virtual racing career. A Zwift group called Sporting Course Time Trial Series run time trials over hilly courses on Zwift. You accumulate points over the series at the end of which a final leader board is constructed. So far the groups have been organised on the basis of FTP but on Thursday they ran their first event using the UK’s Veterans Time Trial Association rules. Veterans are riders 40 years of age or over. For all the standard UK time trial distances (10, 25, 50, 100 miles and so on) each age has a standard time. For instance, for a 10 mile TT a 40 year old has a standard time of 25.59 and for a 71 year old like me it is 29.14 – still marginally over 20 mph! The VTTA web site standards page also has a facility to calculate custom standard times for other distances. The race I took part in was 17.4 kilometres so my standard time was 31.38. I was the oldest rider by 5  years and, apart from a couple of 62 year olds, everyone else was under 60. As you will see from the results below the winner was the only female in the field and I was last.

I was one of only two who didn’t better their standard time. The overall result is calculated on the basis of times achieved relative to the age standard. Compared with Scott who finished one place a head of me, I was 2.27 slower but on age standard I was only 14 seconds slower. I very nearly wasn’t last!

The intention is to run these VTTA style events on a regular basis so I hope to make some progress. I did the same course as a trial and recce on the Wednesday and went round in 34.42 so the race was just on a minute faster. In the process Zwift upgraded my FTP to 164 watts so I obviously made a bit of an effort.

Racing with Zwift

There area number of different types of organised rides you can do on Zwift with a 24 hour calendar of events. So far I’ve done social rides and a few races. Recently they have introduced group training workouts to supplement the menu of different workouts for individual riders. I haven’t tried a group workout yet but will do so in the next few days hopefully.

They are like the individual workouts in that you work through a series of intervals based upon a percentage of your FTP but you are riding in a group that always stays together (assuming you keep pedalling) despite in practice producing different watts that would in the ordinary way mean individuals would be travelling at widely different speeds. Unlike a social ride or a race you can’t get left behind and you can’t escape off the front. The illustration above shows that despite the riders in the group list producing varied watts per kilo but still riding in a compact group.

I have done a few races. My first one was a handicap event where you signed up to race in one of 4 grades, A, B. C or D. I was in the D grade for riders whose watts per kilo are 2.5 or less. My FTP is about 150, maybe a little higher, and my weight is 87 kilos so my watts/kg are 1.7 so as you might imagine I took quite a pasting! THe groups started at 3 minute intervals with the D group setting off first. I got dropped very early, after about 5 minutes and rode alone until first the B group and then the A group came flying by far too fast for me to latch on and get a draft. After about 30 minutes the C group caught me going significantly slower than the B and A group and, if I had not been so knackered,  I think I might have been able to stay with them for a while. In the event I was just about cooked by then, 40 minutes into a 60 minute race, and I blew up and stopped. My big mistake was not realising I had to go absolutely flat out for the first few minutes so as not to get dropped by my D group. I let them go because I knew there was no way I could keep up the speed at the beginning of the race for a full hour but I now know neither could they. After I dropped of I found that after a while the gap between me and them more-or-less stabilised. They still drew away form me but quite gradually and not so fast that, had I still been with them and drafting, I could have lasted much longer with them. Who knows how long but the C group would have caught us or me much further into the race and I may have had a chance of at least finishing and getting a position. I’ll try this race again in due course I think.

Otherwise I’ve done 5 races with The Big Ring handicap events. These are rather different in that everyone starts together but are handicapped by adding or subtracting from their weight depending on their FTP. The idea, I think, is to make everyone have the same watts per kilo so that in practice the same watts produced at anytime in a race, up hill or down dale, will produce the same speed over the ground. This means in theory that the only difference between riders and therefor the race results will depend on how they manage their effort, for instance judicious use of drafting, choosing when to use energy closing gaps and when to conserve it and hope to get a tow across, when to climb at a steady rate and when to make a greater effort to bridge a gap or drop someone drafting you, and so on. And of course, the ability and stomach for suffering!

So far my results have been mixed to put it mildly! My first race I didn’t finish. I got dropped in the ‘neutralise’ ride to the start where the leader’s call of ‘go, go’ go’ started the real race. An ignominious start. My actual weight at the time was 88 and I was riding with a handicap of 78 I think. The problem was mainly not warming up properly and not being mentally prepared to go with the pace even for the roll out. As a result of this the TBR handicapper took pity on me and I found I had a handicap of 61 kg for the next race. Not surprisingly I found I was able to stay with the bunch near the front and finished 3rd. I was with the leaders at the top of Box Hill after a hard chase but had little left for the few miles left to the finish. So, a podium. In fact the next race, with the same handicap, I won! This was in the final sprint which I took by 2 seconds.

This, I’m afraid, was a false dawn for my renewed racing career at the age of 71 and after a 31 year break from road racing. A mistake had been made on my handicap and rather than 61 kg it should have been 88, the same as my real world weight. The next two races were a trip back to reality for me. My third race I finished last just over 4 minutes behind the second to last rider and about 12 minutes behind the winner, someone who I had beaten by two and half minutes the week before! I rode the whole race by myself apart from the first 5 minutes. My fourth race, last Tuesday, once again I finished last, this time over 5 minutes behind the penultimate rider and nearly 15 minutes behind the winner. This sounds worse than last week’s race but in fact there were some signs of improvement. I managed to stay with a small group for about 15 minutes before getting dropped but managed to stay with and get a draft from one other rider. I managed to do a few brief turns on the front but even drafting I was at or above my threshold for most of the time so wasn’t much help. I hung on until the bottom of Box Hill but got dropped by two and a half minutes by the top and struggled to the finish line alone losing a further couple of minutes.

So, from hero to zero in 1 week. It is a little dispiriting but I didn’t start using Zwift with a view to winning races, just to lose weight, get fitter and live longer! Unless my handicap is changed I think I am likely to finish last on a regular basis but it will still be a measure of growing strength and fitness if I can be closer to the riders n front of me and, perhaps, one day, not be last! My next race is tomorrow. Watch this space!

Update 8/11/17. My handicap was reduced from 88 to 76 kilos so I did better in yesterday’s race. I finished last as usual but only 9 minutes behind the winner and 2 and a half minutes behind the second to last rider. I also stayed with the main group for a little longer and lost less time on Box Hill. Progress!

 

Zwift and smart trainers

For a few months now I’ve been trying to persuade myself to buy a new smart trainer and start riding on Zwift, the internet cycling social platform. So last Tuesday 25th July I bought a Tacx Neo direct drive smart trainer and set it up on the spare bedroom.

It took a while to fit the sprockets from the Giant Defy to the cassette body on the trainer but once I realised it needed an additional spacer (I had 10 sprockets and the body takes 11) all went quite well except I get chain jumping on the 4th largest sprocket, the first separate sprocket after the block of 3 biggest). A smart trainer measures speed (mph), cadence (rpm) and power in watts. When linked to software it will display and record all this data.

I have joined Zwift which gives you a range of virtual locations to ride, at the moment various circuits if different length and terrains on a fictitious island called Watopia, various courses in and around London including the Surrey hills like Box Hill, and the Richmond USA world championship course from 2015. In addition there are a number of training workouts to choose from for everyone from beginners to top athletes.

I have joined three Facebook groups focused on group rides and races on Zwift. The Big Ring, based in Australia, runs a series of weekly races on Mondays and Thursdays. The Monday races are handicap events which in principle puts everyone on a level footing. Most races are for different categories of riders depending on their watts per kilogram measurement. This is calculated by dividing your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) by your weight in kilograms. FTP represents your ability to sustain the highest possible power output over 45 to 60 minutes. Generally speaking the figure used is 95% average power you can achieve going flat out for 20 minutes. Mines about 160 watts at the moment so my watts per kilogram (current weight 94 kg) is 1.7 w/k, not very good. For Zwift races this puts me firmly in the D category for riders under 2.5 w/k. The Big Ring handicap races even everyone up by assigning them a weight to enter into their Zwift profile before the race. Strong light riders have an increased weight and heavy weak riders like me are given a lighter weight to enter. At the moment my race weight is 78 kilograms! The highest is 220 and the lowest 58. My first race will be next monday.

In the meantime I did a steady paced 1 hour ride with another Facebook group, Ride On For Health, or RO4H. This was very steady and it got me used to riding in company, drafting and closing gaps. The illustration below is of me (my avatar is not a good likeness!) leading the group. It’s a good supportive group mainly focused on fitness and health and, where appropriate rehabilitation.  Zwift seems to simulate drafting and the gradients very well and you get a real feel for group riding and the tactics of racing. On this ride I got a bit carried away and around the 40 minute mark another rider, not in our group, came past and I jumped on his wheel gaping my group by about 15 seconds at one point. I dropped back fairly quickly and we all finished together as intended.

 

Tadcaster Sportive 2017

When I bought my Giant Defy Advance all carbon sportive bike in March 2013, just over four years ago, I had no idea how little I would use it. For most of that year I was doing fairly short rides on my steel hybrid to get fit and the first sportive I entered was the Lincolnshire Arrow in May 2014. This didn’t happen as I was unexpectedly away and the following April, 2015, I had the mountain bike accident that required most of the summer to recover. So the first sportive I managed to do was April 2016, the Tadcaster event I reported on here, three years after buying the bike. As a result of my stay in hospital with a ruptured kidney I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery in August 2016 which kept me off my bike for most of the rest of the year but I did manage to ride the 2017 Tadcaster sportive earlier this month. But as the route recorded below, I only did 22 miles.

I played in a racketball tournament the day before and had a fairly heavy evening so got up late on the Sunday morning and had to rush. I got to Tadcaster in time to sign on and get through the starting gate before it closed but I was on my own. The route for the 60k event, which I was doing, was common to both events, the 60k and the 100k. Those doing the longer event repeated the first 3 miles or so of the 60k route and then went off on another 40 k hilly loop to the north east of Leeds. The route was well signed but unfortunately I missed the right turn in Boston Spa for the initial 60k loop and when I picked up the next sign I was unknowingly on the 40k hilly finishing loop for the100k event. As soon as I got into the hills near Collingham I knew I’d gone wrong but didn’t feel I had the fitness to turn back. I carried on, walking on a couple of the steeper hills and eventually got back to Tadcaster when I recorded a time of 1 hour 51 minutes, an average speed of 12 mph which, in the circumstances, was quite creditable. But it was a lonely ride with none of the group riding I’d bee looking forward to, or being able to shelter in the wheels like I had last year. On the plus side it was lovely countryside, the East Leeds villages are very pretty, and it was a sunny and fairly windless day.

I shall do more sportives and also look out for suitable audax and reliability trial events. I’ve got a few days cycling with my friend Mike in Scotland in June and France again in July. There is also talk of doing the Sustrans route along the coast from Dover to Brighton. We shall see.

Post prostate cycling

After my radical prostatectomy on the 21st August it has taken a while to get back on my bike. I was walking the next day and having a gentle knock on the squash court in less than 2 weeks. Competitive racketball started early November. But cycling is more of a problem as the re-plumbing required is directly adjacent to the perineum which presses on the saddle. I first rode my hybrid post-op on the 21st October for about 15 mins. A bit sore but not too bad. Over the next few days I did a short 2 mile circuit with the saddle tilted slightly down at the front to relieve pressure. This seemed to work but put additional load on my arms. The following dated paragraphs are copied from my Facebook updates.

1/11 Went a bit further today. The saddle tilted forward does help ease the pressure on ‘the affected area’ for the moment but a new saddle is still needed, probably in the next week or two. I spent a lot of time pushing a highish gear on the top ring to help keep weight off my bum. This worked pretty well too. I’m usually a twiddler and prefer lower gears and faster pedalling. This is a habit I got into riding many miles in road race bunches conserving energy. Being in a lower gear (as long as it’s not too low) helps you accelerate faster in response to an attack or splits in the bunch. I managed to do at a PR on Strava even though I’m unfit. Perhaps I should start using higher gears in future. The ride back along the canal was stunning; sunshine, the autumn colours and the swish and rustle of golden leaves on the towpath.

[I bought a Bontrager Montrose Comp MTB saddle from All Terrain Cycles in Saltaire on the 5th November. It is suitable for road of mountain bikes but is designed for a fairly aggressive forward leaning posture; posture 2 in the Bontrager 5 posture schemes where 5 is leisure and 1 road racing].

8/11 First ride on my new Bontrager saddle. Only 30 minutes but felt OK so far. Still making steady progress but will need to get longer rides in and a few more hills to get my previous level of fitness back. Fortunately there is no shortage of hills round Bradford!

13/11 Had a lovely ride this morning, testing out my new bum-friendly saddle on slightly rougher ground. Met good friend and fellow racketeer Rick Brooks at Saltaire and rode back with him along the canal to the Bridge cafe at Apperley Bridge for breakfast. We then rode up the hill to Greengates to catch the 2 minutes silence at the Memorial Garden before going our separate ways. It was interesting to hear about his experiences meeting an old friend in the US a few weeks ago. Where he went there seemed little doubt that Trump would win.

4/12 Great social ride with Rick this morning. An interesting mixture of short sections of main and minor roads, cycle paths, bridleways and canal towpath. Stopped for breakfast at the Bridge Cafe, Apperley Bridge. Once again luck with the weather. Knackered by the time I got home! The ride was quite demanding with three shortish but steep climbs and my hybrid makes quite hard work of the rough bridle paths compared with my mountain bike. I’ve put on half a stone since my operation at the end of August so I need more time on the bike and less at the bar!

So, that’s my post-op cycling so far. The last ride particularly was quite comfortable, probably a combination of the new saddle and continued healing.

Pre-breakfast training

I did one of my regular short fitness ride this morning before breakfast on my carbon Giant Defy. The difference is amazing, compared with my trusty hybrid. I did the ride in 31 minutes rather than the 40 or so I normally take. The tyres are rather narrow (23mm) for some of the road surfaces round here and I’m wondering if I could do with a more utility road bike in my stable. The Ridgeback hybrid is very heavy but I wouldn’t dream of parting with it. It makes a great commuting bike and of course, being heavy, it gives me plenty of exercise too!

Progress update

I’m amazed to discover my last update was in November 2014, 6 months ago. So here’s the latest although not as systematic as some of the earlier ones. The first report was in November 2012 when I recorded that from 17 stone 5 lb in July I was now down to 15 stone 10 lb. Today, just short of 3 years on I am 12 stone 5 lb, a loss of 5 stone. This has not been linear by any means and for about a year I stuck at round 14 stone 6 lb but starting to play racketball, a bit more cycling and regular walking, coupled to starting to log food and calories with MyFitnessPal, I got down to 13 stone by the beginning of April this year. Then I had my accident. When I came out of hospital after 8 days I was down to 12 stone 4 lb. Because of the type of injury and the fitting of a kidney stent  so far I’ve been unable to ride or play racketball although I’ve started to do some very short sedate walks and a few exercises. Most of the weight I’ve lost is fat, so a good thing, but I’ve also lost a pound of two of muscle. My plan is to try and keep my weight down to 12 stone 5 lb or thereabouts by going onto a maintenance calorie allowance (1980) but increase the proportion of protein in my diet. Then, when hopefully the stent comes out sometime later this month and I can return to full exercise, I can raise my weight by regaining muscle, up to round 12 stone 7 or 8 perhaps. To this end I may even do a bit of gym work at the squash club.

18 months activity report

This post reports on activity for December 2013, January and February 2014. The previous 3 months (September, October and November) my  finish weight was 14 stone 7 lb. At the end of the current 3 months I am still 14 stone 7 lb so no loss or gain. Apart from a brief rise to 14 stone 10 lb at Christmas my weight has remained pretty constant since the end of August 2013. I lost 3 stone in the 12 months up to August 2013. I knew it would get more difficult to lose weight as it came down but I should be able to lose another stone over the remainder of this year or next spring latest. This gives me a target of 13 stone 7 lbs with 14 stone a significant milestone along the way.

December 2013 summary

Road 0 miles, 0 calories
Turbo  1 hr 35 mins,  877 calories
Walking 30.3 miles 2625 calories
Total weight gain 1 lb (final 14 stone 8 lb)
Exercise 3502 calories = 1 lb so diet and other exercise =  +2 lb

January 2014 summary

Road 0 miles, 0 calories
Turbo 1 hour 35 mins, 877 calories
Walking 30.3 miles, 2625 calories
Total weight loss 0 lb (final 14 stone 8 lb)
Exercise 3502 calories = 1.0 lb  so diet plus other exercise = +1 lb

February 2014 summary

Road 0 miles, 0 calories
Turbo 20 mins, 192 calories
Walking 56 miles, 4639 calories
Total weight loss 1 lb (final 14 stone 7 lb)
Exercise 3502 calories = 1.4 lb  so diet plus other exercise = +0.4 lb

The pattern of no road cycling and frequent short walks continues. I have continued to play racketball about twice a week over this period and played in a few tournaments. My intention is still to get down to 14 stone by this summer, perhaps sometime in July, so I will need to start cycling again this month and pay more attention to my diet.

15 months activity report

This post reports on activity for September, October and November 2013. The previous 3 months (June, July, August) my start and finish weight was the same at 14 stone 4 lb. At the end of the current 3 months I was 14 stone 7 lb so a gain of 3lb. I anticipated putting even more on over the winter, especially the Christmas and New Year (this indeed was the case as the next 3 month report will make clear. I was 14 stone 11 lb on New Year’s day but already down to 14 stone 8 lb again this morning. So I’m still confident I can get below 14 stone for Spring 2014 and 13 stone 7 lb by the end of the Summer. We shall see.

September Summary:
Road 112.8 miles, 7,256 calories
Turbo 2 hours, 1,289 calories
Total weight loss 0 lb (final 14 stone 4 lb)
Exercise 8545 calories = 2.4 lb  so diet = +2.4 lb

October Summary:
Road 20.12 miles, 1,216 calories
Turbo 20 mins, 198 calories
Total weight gain 3 lb (final 14 stone 7 lb)
Exercise 8545 calories = 0.4 lb  so diet = +2.6 lb

November Summary:
Road 0 miles, 0 calories
Turbo 40 mins, 402 calories
Walking 48 miles, 3,321 calories
Total weight gain 0 lb (final 14 stone 7 lb)
Exercise 3723 calories = 1.1 lb  so diet = +1.1 lb

This shows a reduction in cycling as the winter progresses and an increase in walking. I have also been playing racketball about twice a week over this period so overall fitness has not suffered too much. In fact the pattern of activity in my 20s and 30s seems to re-emerging when I cycle raced from spring to autumn and played squash in the winter.

Cycling, walking, hitting a ball

I must confess to having lapsed a bit on the cycling this last couple of months. This is only temporary and I am no less enthusiastic about social and leisure cycling and as a means of transport. The relative lapse is due in some part to how successful cycling has been as part of my retirement strategy to lose weight and get fit. As I’ve got lighter and fitter I have started to enjoy walking again and have been tempted back on to the squash court. I gave up regular squash and cycling at much the same time at the age of about 40, the beginning of my slippery slope to obesity and sloth.

I'm on the right of the picture, shell shocked after finishing as runner up in a handicap racketball tournament.

I’m on the right of the picture, shell shocked after finishing as runner up in a handicap racketball tournament.

Since August I have been playing racketball, similar to squash and played on the same indoor courts. I’ve joined the Bradford U3A racketball group and we play twice a week. I still seem to have a good squash brain and my speed around the court and stroke play are getting better. I have managed to win a small local U3A handicap tournament and was runner up in another. This was partly due to me being at the time an unknown and playing in some old track bottoms and plimsolls. All this led to a generous handicap!  I have added to my list of targets, alongside some sportives, to enter the Yorkshire Closed Racketball Championships in the over 65 category next September. And as of this week I am the U3A national racketball advisor with the role of networking and developing racketball in other U3A regions. Racketball can be just as competitive and demanding as squash but because it is easier to learn and play decent rallies it is particularly good for beginners of all ages. I enjoy very much the sessions with the ‘mixed ability’ U3A group. Several of us are ex-squash players but most are new to racket sports. We have an excellent coach, Saeed, and an extensive repertoire of skills practice routines and various ways of playing games that allow individuals of widely varying ability to play on near equal terms. We all get plenty of exercise in a safe and supportive environment and enjoy the social side when we finish a session and go to the club cafe and bar. Some of the keener members have joined the club that hosts our U3A sessions so they can play in the club ladders and mini-leagues.

In addition to this I have developed a range of walks from my home though the greenbelt of the Aire Valley. These make use of an extensive network of paths and bridleways through mixed pasture and woodland. They range in length between 2 and 6 miles, nearly all off road, and typically I do them non-stop at an average speed of 3.5 miles an hour. I’m doing these walks about 3 time a week. This with the racketball and the occasional session on my turbo rollers is helping me get a bit fitter and not put on any weight.

I have definitely lapsed on the diet side of things. I got down to 14 stone 3 lb early in the summer but have stabilised at 14 stone 7 for the last 3 months. I’m not unhappy about this and in any case I couldn’t go on losing weight at the same rate as I had for the first year when I started at 17 stone 7 lbs. I’ll be happy to get through the winter at about where I am now and have a push to lose another stone by spring. I’m not anticipating too much trouble achieving this as I will get more exercise from racketball as I improve and get more involved in competitive play and  I will be increasing my cycling as soon as the weather takes a turn for the better.