It’s me again, back once more to fill the void left by a lack of real-life professional racing by telling the tales of a somewhat unfit, heavy, and slow nobody trying to make it in the blunt end of Cat D events. Huge thanks to all the people who have read so far, and for all the positive encouragement and constructive advice provided. If nothing else, Zwift has a great community of users. Ride On!

End of the Beginning

So 6 weeks ago I signed up to a 6-week FTP Builder program in hopes of getting my w/kg closer to 2.5 (the top end of the D category) so I could challenge D podiums, sans sandbaggers.

There have been many times during the last few weeks where I regretted signing up to such a lengthy program.

A lot can happen in 6 weeks, and it certainly did. For starters, the weather was amazing! The UK had its sunniest month on record in May, and I was kind of gutted I was indoors not outdoors.

Now the plan (and the coronavirus lockdowns) is finished, the weather has turned back to winter, and I’m stuck inside once more. Maybe I should start another plan to coax the summer back? I could toughen up and ride in the rain, but then what would Zwift be for?

I also had to skip some interesting events, challenges, and rides with friends as they just didn’t fit with the plan I was doing. But it’s done now, and after nearly 28 hours, 550km and 14000 calories I’m free to ride how I want to. With my new weight and fitness, I’m ready for races and sunshine if and when it returns.

Here’s how the second half of my program progressed and what the outcome of the new ramp test was. Will I be ready for races, or still drafting the joggers?

My stats from the 6 week program, I could have cycled to Edinburgh which I currently have plane tickets to get to.

Badges and Trophies

I had feedback after my previous post that I wasn’t following the plan properly as I was adding extra sessions. I couldn’t agree more! In the first few weeks, the plan was very relaxed. But the fatigue was growing as the days went on, and I was almost certainly impeding the correct training zone development at least somewhat. I knew as the plan progressed it would be harder to stray and I therefore stuck to the plan much more closely after week 3.

The problem is, I’m using Zwift to get fitter because I enjoy it. Yes, being quicker will help me enjoy it even more, but if I take it too seriously I worry it may actually lose motivation and it will be counterproductive. So there were a few occasions where I added a little bit more, and I don’t feel at all bad about it either.

The main extra effort was in the last week. I’m currently hammering climbing routes for the elusive Tron bike, but also to grab the Strava badges related to climbing in June – very challenging for the heavier rider. There was one Strava challenge I really wanted to add to my trophy cabinet, a climb up the Alpe from Strava Japan Club. #BordersAreImaginary

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My previous trip up the Alpe had taken 2 hours and 25 minutes, so I knew I wouldn’t get to the top in my typical 75-minute workout using the Road to the Sky route. Based on my previous rides, my 75-minute workouts were getting me around 600m up the Alpe before they finished and I freewheeled back down. To make it easier, I paused my work out before I started and coasted down the hill through the Jungle to the base of the Alpe. This saved me around 15 minutes of riding and took no effort. Once the road turned up I unpaused the workout and enjoyed the low watt 10min warmup which took me most of the way to the first corner.

The workout was intense, with intervals in the green and yellow training zones. Although I was happy to be quickly ticking off the corners one by one, it’s particularly depressing when you’re hammering away in the yellow zone and someone glides past you in their blue or even grey zones. This happened a few times and I think it should be banned, or there should be Mario Kart powerups so I can boop them back down the hill!

This would level the playing field a little.

I persevered and when I ran out of workout I was at around 750m climbed, or 300m from the top. My head was telling me to get off the bike, by my heart reminded me that the Strava Japan Club had challenged me to complete this climb and this was my best opportunity. (Admittedly, they had not challenged me directly, I found it on a Strava hack site, but I had accepted none the less.) It took me another 30 minutes to reach the top, a total of 1:55 on the Alpe itself. 30 minutes faster than my previous ascent! For my troubles, I got a second helmet from the prize wheel which I immediately listed on eBay, then managed to shower quicker than Digital Bryan could freewheel back down the hill.

Glitch in the Matrix

Yet more badges were earned a few rides later, this time Zwift ones. When I say earned though, my efforts were merely a result of owning an old second hand turbo, which glitched to give me a very brief power output of exactly 2000w. This brief surge was enough to unlock all the power badges above 800w in the process. Very annoying as I’ll have to earn them all properly now before I can sleep guilt free, especially as WADA are still on my case about the weight doping in my recent Crit City loss. If the 2000w badge actually provided a Delorian I’d go back in time to stop it happening, but if one of Eric’s Minions reads this, please take them away!

Glitch in the Matrix

No, it’s not deja vu, I get a lot of these. I love Zwift, it’s great, but there are times when I feel like it’s still beta software. If it’s not because of compatibility and connectivity issues with hardware, or quirky route issues where I go the wrong way, it’s the fact that so much of what I’m paying Zwift for occurs on third party websites.

Using Zwift costs the equivalent of buying a new console game every 4 months. It’s not cheap, especially when you need plenty of expensive hardware to make it work. I also now have a subscription for Strava which displays many of the stats that I would prefer Zwift to give me directly (I could feel myself getting fitter as I pressed the subscribe button). Then there is ZwiftPower who do a better job of managing race results for free than Zwift do with their paid subscription. That would be like paying to watch an NBA game on ESPN, but having to check what the score is on some random fan’s Twitter page. I know there are plenty of other sites out there which, in my opinion, do the jobs that Zwift or Strava should be providing, especially for the premium rates we are paying. VeloViewer is another example, or if Strava tracked our calories like Myfitnesspal it could calculate all our meals and macros (or wine, pizza, and chocolate) automatically too. Instead, I have a growing number of random apps and websites all meshed together to provide something resembling a finished product, I think I need an app to manage my apps if anyone wants to make one. It also makes sense to me for Zwift, with their majority winter income, and Strava, with their majority summer income, to merge into a new subscription service. It’s like the ice cream stalls that sell hotdogs in the winter.

Enough of the rant and on with the glitch. This particular one was the most infuriating I’ve had so far as it occurred right at the end of my FTP test. I started the test full of confidence and excited to see an improvement on my previous 217 watts, and I know you are all equally excited to find out how much fitter some random novice you’ve never met can get in 6 weeks. I have to admit though, I’d kind of had a falling out with my legs on the last day of the workout program, and I’m not sure they had forgiven me after just 1 day off the bike. I was pedaling ok through most of the test, but could certainly feel some background ache in my quads, and my hamstrings were quite sore from a gardening session the day before too, although this didn’t seem to be troubling my cycling at all. I hoped that as the test progressed and I warmed up a little they would loosen up, but alas, it was not to be. I’m sure they would have cost me a few watts when the results came in.

Sadly though, we will never know. Just as the test ramped up to 300+ watts, the resistance on my trusty second hand Bushido kept dropping away. I had already lost the ability to hold a steady cadence at this point, so was mashing the pedals a little, but still had some left to give, then suddenly there were 3 very brief moments over a 5 second period where the power cut allowing my legs to spin a little more freely. I kept going through the first 2 instances before deciding that I may end up giving myself an artificially higher FTP. Not wanting to fatigue myself for no reason, yet quite angry it had sabotaged my efforts, I stopped early, and despondently cooled down while googling for trainer upgrades I can’t afford right now. I have to admit this also left me somewhat disillusioned and lost with the cycling process as a whole, similar to how I felt when I’ve had other tech issues in the past.

I’ve hammered my trainer in some high wattage uphill sprints since then and while it’s not replicated this issue or any other glitches, it hasn’t restored my confidence it won’t reoccur in my next test, race or group ride.

There is some hope though! Based on the less than fresh legs and the early finish to the test, I’d expected a really poor result to show up, but was delighted that I’d in fact scored 216, just 1 watt down on my previous best. I won’t update what this means for my w/kg as it’s inaccurate and marginal at best, but the positive I can add to this update is that I’ve finally returned to 102kg, dropping 7kg during the 6-week program.

I have to confess, Digital Bryan is no quicker yet. When I discovered my post-honeymoon fat increases I wasn’t able to bring myself to change my in-game weight, so this weight loss simply means I’m no longer lying about it. Better yet, every kilogram I lose after this will result in a faster DigiBry and I’m also off the self-imposed WADA most wanted list so I can race again, even if this actually means I sign up to a race and pedal around on my own after everyone slides over the horizon together.

Make Fun Fast Again

Now that I’m done with the program, it’s time to look for some races and group rides to put the fun back in my exercise. In a week or so I will try the FTP test again in hopes it’s glitch free so I can see some progress. But first I’m going to take a day or so to rest and recover as my legs and I are clearly not fully on talking terms yet.

Then I plan to scour the Zwift Hacks event listings (another free site doing a better job than the app I pay for) looking for some group rides and races I can join. I really want to add some social to my cycling so I’m looking for a team to join too, a GMT friendly one with chatty and supportive group rides, workouts, and progression if I ever get faster. Also, a slick looking kit would be nice. Team suggestions welcome!

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