In the interests of full disclosure, I must start by admitting something: I’m not a cyclist. Nobody wants to read a blogger who is clearly talking out of his or her hat (or helmet) so I think it’s better that I ‘fess up from the get-go.
I didn’t start Zwifting from a cycling, or even triathlon-based training perspective. I’m actually… a runner. One of the worst kind, as Dean Martin once said.
My Reluctant Arrival on Zwift
Zwift, and our now sweat-splattered digital rollers, first became a fixture in our house for the benefit of my wife’s triathlon training. She was very keen to get me into cycling for the ‘cross-training’ benefits, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t find time for it around either running or resting. Last winter had been my highest mileage period ever (hitting a 90 mile peak week) and I knew that once training kicked in again there would be no place for them. Why start something you know you can’t finish?
My epiphany, as it were, came in the form of a nasty little injury to my left calf, where it joins/becomes tendon. I ran a long, hilly race, started cramping from miles 18-20, persevered like a good running cliché, and obviously damaged the calf. In retrospect, at least it was just the one.
That was June 17th. Fast forward two months on, after continuing to run and train on it (…like a good running cliché) and I aggravated it even more on a speed session, where I continued to limp my laps on it (like a good… well, I think you get the point).
Complete rest was accompanied by the inevitable physio appointment. Light work and gentle strengthening exercises were prescribed. Cycling was suggested as an option, along with rowing. Heating and icing were recommended. I went straight to the cycling and fired up a Zwift subscription.
This wasn’t without perils. My haughty runner’s attitude towards cycling meant I naturally did too much too soon, with 30 minute sweat-inducing sessions followed immediately by the rehab exercises. Sure enough, the following days, the calf would be worse again. I persevered for a week before knocking it on the head and going to back to square one.
Ice. Heat. Repeat.
Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Bike
At first progress was intangible. Too minute to detect, until after a few weeks of rest, ice, and heat I finally reached a point where my first step out of bed wasn’t done with the kind of delicate footwork more often seen on a jewel thief in an alarmed environment (like a blonde Catherine Zeta-Jones, only shorter and less good looking. And male.)
Then the Zwifting began in earnest. See, there was one other problem around this injury which was becoming more and more pressing with each passing day. I have a very important marathon date in 2018. It literally will be fulfilling a dream.
I’m running the Boston Marathon.
Since I got fairly ‘alright’ at running, the aim was always to qualify for the London Marathon (I’m UK based, it’s the big one for us). But then once that was achieved I knew Boston had to be my other target. While it may not be the biggest, that requirement of a qualification time makes it exceptionally prestigious.
The application period occurred while I was in my second phase of complete inactivity, icing, heating, hoping. Once I was accepted, the pressure was really on. I wanted to get a good 22-24 week training period in before I toe the start line and I needed to get the legs, heart and lungs working again (as well as lose some weight!) However by this point the fear of continuing to aggravate the calf was pretty strong. So Zwift became the driving force behind my rehabilitation. I started out just cycling 30 minutes every other day.
That was late September. At the end of the month I began throwing in tiny runs, starting with a mile and building half a mile at a time, but always with a Zwift session in the intervening days.
Early Signs of Progress
Again, in the interests of honesty, I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy Zwifting at first. I had no idea whether the cycling was going to significantly aid me, so it felt like a token gesture, a means to an end. Despite my consistency, I kept telling my wife that once I was running regularly again, I was probably going to have to ditch the cycling.
Two things have changed. The more committed I got to the experience of cycling on Zwift, the more I got out of it. My first group ride was great, so completely different being a part of something as opposed to just cycling aimlessly around. It helped me complete my (then) longest ride. There was also a midweek race in October, where I placed middle of the field but got DQ’ed because my FTP had improved to the point where I performed in the category above the one I considered myself in. That was a genuine shock! So with that bonus of appearing to improve, I started the 6 week FTP builder training program, which has completely changed my workouts. Having that structure, those goals to attain, and the feeling of improving my fitness is exactly what I needed.
The other thing which has changed quicker than expected is my overall fitness. Now this is a hard one to gauge because you’re only as good as your last performance. When you’re just training you can only speculate as to how you compare to your mates, to yourself, to last year, to spring, etc. It’s hard to know what to expect when the training is in its early stages and you don’t have any real data.
What I do know is, I ran my running club’s tough, multi-terrain 7.8 mile race (the South Molton Struggle) off the back of only one run over 5 miles between then and early August, and placed 3rd. I was even 20 seconds quicker than last year.
The following weekend I ran a 10 mile race, another distance milestone since August, in 1:00:55. That’s my second quickest 10 mile race to date, although I must add flat 10 milers aren’t very common around here. Fully fit I know I could have been under the hour mark, but it was much better than I anticipated, as I had a 1:02-1:04 time in mind.
My legs really suffered throughout the next week, it was a bit of a shock to them. Not enough to stop me cycling and running, but it certainly necessitated a resurgence in heating and icing (and an ice bath, ouch). What Zwifting had boosted was my cardiovascular ability, beyond where I had got to in terms of my running strength (if that makes sense.) I pushed my leg muscles to their absolute max, because the Zwifting had boosted my ability to handle the intensity I was running at. Y’know, VO2 max ‘n’ stuff.
Moving Forward (Difficult on Rollers)
As you may imagine, I’m now having a full rethink about my training! I’ve got 4 ½ months until Boston and I’ve resolved to keep Zwifting as much as possible, even when the running mileage starts to crank up. I think this could be an exceptionally interesting period of time and I’m looking forward to seeing how the Zwifting boosts my running and in turn if my running boosts my Zwifting.
The current plan is to run every day, for at least 30 minutes, to rebuild that leg strength. Meanwhile, I’m 2 days away from completing the 6 week FTP builder, so I’d really like to be wrapped up with that by December 9th and then try a few races. I shall hopefully be reporting back on my findings!