Couch to Cat C, Week 1: Breaking In a Zwift Newbie

Couch to Cat C, Week 1: Breaking In a Zwift Newbie

Cycling is addictive. It’s also social! And my guess is we all have a good friend (or five) who isn’t the least bit interested in riding, despite our many advances.

Boone (left) and I, circa 1982

My cousin Boone is one of those folks. We’ve been best friends all our lives, growing up playing sports, building tree forts, and getting into trouble together. And while we still share a lot of hobbies and family time, Boone never got into cycling, despite my heavy-handed hints.

So when he approached me in late December looking for a 6-week Zwift training program, I jumped at the chance. What’s not to love? Zwift. Bikes. Fitness. Boone. Let’s do this!

The Big Idea

Boone, like many 40 year old dudes, is looking to drop weight and build fitness. He’s not convinced that he wants to be a cyclist, but he knows it’s a time-efficient way to get fitter.

On top of that, we’re always looking for an excuse to hang out, and this was perfect: he would do his training at my house, on my Zwift setup. It would be a fun experiment with bodily repercussions, not unlike the time we climbed into barrels and rolled ourselves down a hill at the age of 10.

Our goal: to transform this 265-pound rookie rider into a cat C Zwift racer in 6 weeks.

The Plan

After chatting with Boone, checking out various Zwift workouts/training plans, and talking to some coach friends, we settled on the following basic plan:

  • Week 1: Benchmark testing + Endurance
    FTP test, attempt first Zwift race, and get some time on the bike
  • Weeks 2-4: Endurance + Cadence Work
    Lots of work from low zone 2 to mid zone 3, with some high-cadence drills to train the legs for efficient pedaling
  • Weeks 5-6: Endurance + Intensity
    Similar rides as weeks 2-4, with some VO2 and threshold efforts included in short durations
  • Week 6: Benchmark Testing
    FTP test and another Zwift race

Ride 1: Startup

Boone was thrilled with his bib tights

Zwift was the perfect place for Boone to experience his first “real” bike ride in over 20 years. With a lot of new stuff to think about in terms of training, bike handling, clipping in, etc, the last things he wanted to worry about were dressing for cold weather, distracted drivers, and dodging potholes.

As mentioned, I wanted to make it easy for him – so he was going to use my Zwift setup, right here in the Zwift Insider Pain Lab. I had already marked my seat height, assuming I would need to adjust it for him. We wear the same shoe size, so he would be wearing my old (but just repaired) road shoes. And though he chafed at the idea of wearing bike shorts, I pointed him to for a cheap but decent pair of bib shorts, assuring him he’d thank me later.

Our first day was mostly taken up with getting Boone signed up and familiar with Zwift, the Companion app, ZwiftPower, and Strava. Once everything was in place, it was time to ride! Our goal for the first ride was pretty simple: just get familiar with the setup, with clipping in, and riding in Zwift overall.

Boone climbed on the bike, and we were both surprised to find that the seat height was actually just right. He’s taller than me, but apparently his legs are not. Easy peasy!

It had been quite a while since I signed up a new account to Zwift – it was interesting to see how Zwift strips away the UI for beginners, using on-screen prompts to orient as you ride. You don’t even get to pick a route the first time! No rider list, no map.

That threw me off more than Boone, but it worked out alright. He got the hang of drafting pretty quickly, kept his cadence nice and high (he’s always been an athletic and coordinated fellow – his bike form looked pretty good after a 20-year hiatus). We decided to go for one max heartrate attempt on Watopia’s sprint section, getting his heartrate up to 187.

For much of the ride he was cruising with his heartrate in the low 180’s, but that didn’t last long. After 25 minutes Boone’s legs were done. That’s ride 1, in the books!

Ride 2: FTP Ramp Test

With 4 rides planned per week, Boone would have a day of recovery off the bike between every ride except one. So 48 hours after Ride 1 he was back in my office, ready for Ride 2’s ramp test and pace partner practice.

Our goal for this ride was to get a baseline FTP result, and use any remaining energy Boone had to practice riding in a group with Dan Diesel.

Boone warmed up with Dan for a few minutes, then headed off to the ramp test. I warned him (and so did the test) that it would start out easy, then get really hard really quick. And that’s exactly what happened! The initial intervals below 200W were so easy that Boone said it felt like there was hardly any resistance at all. But as the wattage bumped up by 20W every minute, he started to feel it.

One minute he was holding 260W and feeling good, and the next minute Boone was struggling to survive to the end of the 300W interval. And that’s where he stopped.

FTP test result: 230W. At 120kg that’s 1.92w/kg. Our goal was for him to cut some weight (he figures around 20-30 pounds in 6 weeks) while boosting power, so he’s over 2.5w/kg and a cat C racer after 6 weeks.

Doing the math, if he cuts 20 pounds, he’ll need to boost his FTP to 278W to be at 2.5w/kg. Doable? I think so. But it won’t be easy!

Overall Boone rode for 31 minutes in this ride – a new duration PR!

The 3 Stages of an FTP Test

Ride 3: Endurance

Boone’s third ride was just an endurance session. As a new cyclist his legs need to be trained to pedal efficiently, while his crotch also needs to be broken in and his cardio system needs to get used to sustaining all that output. This just takes time on the bike, and that time shouldn’t be at max effort – it should be somewhere between Zone 2-3.

Boone and friends sitting in with Dan Diesel

On today’s ride Boone lasted 51 minutes. including 45 minutes with Diesel Dan (although Boone rode ahead of him for half of it). We also learned how powerups work on this ride, which would be helpful for the next ride: Boone’s first race!

Ride 4: First Race

I wanted Boone to experience a Zwift race early on so he could see what all the fuss was about, and how key strategies like drafting and powerup usage played into things.

We chose a 6-Lap Crit City race for Boone’s first event, for two reasons:

  1. Short length: Boone doesn’t have the endurance to race for 30-50 minutes
  2. Anti-sandbagging enabled: this was important as the D category can get blown apart by sandbaggers

Our buddy Zane showed up to watch this event – Zane is a strong rider who races in the A’s on Zwift and cat 2 outdoors. The three of us have competed in various sports for years, and Zane was thrilled at the prospect of seeing Boone suffer on the bike! He brought over some KFC and a soda to sip loudly while Boone labored away…

For this race Boone and I would be tag-teaming, just like we did as 5th graders playing DOS-based flight simulators: one guy would fly, while the other did the shooting. Boone would do the pedaling – I would handle powerups.

I talked Boone through the race as he warmed up. The key points I hit were:

  • The start would be hard, to the top of the first brick climb about 75 seconds in. Try to stay with the front group, without putting your nose in the wind, in this crucial section
  • You’ll be able to recover a bit on the twisty descent
  • Draft, draft, draft!
  • If you get dropped, we’ll make a decision about whether to keep pushing or sit and wait to be caught
  • The race would last about 20 minutes, so try to pace yourself accordingly
  • It’s all about conserving as much as possible, so you have energy when you need it

Boone started off great – the starting group of 25 quickly split in half, but he hung with the front quite nicely, sitting back out of the wind. But at the top of the brick climb on the third lap, his legs gave up and he got dropped from the front pack.

Boone in no-man’s land

Now sitting in 9th, he didn’t have the legs for a TT effort to the finish. So he took it easy, letting the next riders catch. And catch they did – flying right past because Boone still wasn’t feeling it!

Boone sat in with other riders for a couple laps, then put in a good hard dig in the final lap with Zane, Monica, and I yelling for him to give it everything he had. And he certainly did! In the end he finished 12th, but I let him know… it’s the ZwiftPower results that really matter. And guess what? ZwiftPower showed him winning 3rd place. A podium spot! Bronze for Boone!

(Oddly enough, today ZwiftPower shows him in 4th place. So who knows? But it’s better than 12th!) See his race results here >

Watch the race recording

Week 1 Takeaways

Boone and I talked quite a bit after each of his rides, chatting through his experience, what to do next, where we’re going, etc.

After 4 rides, he’s finding that comfort in the saddle is one big challenge. Most of that is probably just those sit bones needing to be broken in – but part of it could be that he needs a different saddle than mine. Butts vary.

He had a revelation after the second ride – that this sort of training allows one to eat a lot while still getting fitter. That’s exactly right, Boone. Ride to eat. Eat to ride. It’s a glorious virtuous circle.

He’s happy with the progress already made, from 25 minutes to 50 minutes in a week. For the next week it’ll be about doing more of those endurance rides, breaking in the sit bones, and just increasing comfort and efficiency on the bike as he builds cardio fitness and drops weight.

Support Boone!

It always helps when someone encourages you in your training efforts, and the Zwift community is a super-supportive bunch. I’d love it if readers could support Boone with Rides Ons and Strava kudos. If you’re up for it, follow him on Zwift (name “Boone Bridges” and Strava.

Your Thoughts

Got any beginner tips for Boone? Comments on our training plan? Share below!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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7 days ago

Keep at it Boone, last April I started off with the exact same w/kg, 1.92. I got upgraded to Cat B last week. I had a bit less weight to lose but much more power to gain (my starting FTP was 152). Racing is fun, but addictive, I’m sure Eric will stop you from overdoing it! Ride on!

7 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Also I got to Cat C in around 6 or 7 weeks, I used the beginner FTP 6 week training plan in Zwift

Gordon Sloan
7 days ago

Maybe try a TTT is a good way to push yourself without the usual crazy zwift race start. Mocha TTT is just a constant churn of D riders getting upgraded always a struggle to find more to stay competitive in the PL. Decent power for TTT as well.

rdcyclist (Mark Crane)
rdcyclist (Mark Crane) (@rdcyclist)
7 days ago

My tip: If Boone wants to lose 20 pounds in six weeks, he’s gonna hafta starve himself and that’s gonna make improving his fitness … challenging. A pound or so per week is a good start. And having your “buddies” showing up for training events with KFC probably runs counter to the process! 😁 I woulda done the same thing! The way I’ve coached people through the weight loss/fitness process is this: You took a while to get fat and outta shape and it’s gonna take a while to get not fat and in shape. Take your time and avoid… Read more »

bolanbiker (@bolanbiker)
6 days ago

Mark, I’m guess you’re a Registered Dietitian. Me, too. Excellent advice. A pound or two a week loss is plenty, especially since there will be a gain in lean mass (at least we would hope so!). Concentrate on solid, adequate nutrition and good training. Good luck to you, Boone, and congratulations on choosing to improve your health.

Scott Kies
Scott Kies
7 days ago

Way to go Boone!!! I have only finished on the podium a handful of times and get moved to the next category. It will happen quickly!

Buddy The Elf
Buddy The Elf
7 days ago

This is an awesome write up and the timing is perfect as I am coaching my wife into the Zwift experience. Ride On Boone and keep crushing it!!!

Kale Bikkel, (Nico)
Kale Bikkel, (Nico)
7 days ago

Ride on,…

Where I live we say, hardlopers zijn dood lopers.
I don’t no how to translate it the right way,… fast runners are dead runners.

Take it easy, on the weightloss, beter a few monthts longer, and have some fun the way down the road to your weight loss.
Losing weight too quickly is also not good for you

Cade (@caderiver)
6 days ago

Great job Boone and nice write-up Eric, I hope this will became somewhat of a series with updates on Boone’s journey periodically.

Cade (@caderiver)
6 days ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange


Dan Eitman
Dan Eitman
6 days ago

Well done. IRL went from 220 to 170 after knee surgery. Two things to try…do enough riding that you want to keep doing more and don’t do so much you feel burned out…search for your “Why?”…the second is just keep track of what you are eating and when. By doing so you’ll end up ditching the inefficient calories in an easy way and not lose weight too quickly.

6 days ago

Nice one too all involved!

C cat is where you want to be! I won my C race the other day but would struggle to podium in D grade 😂

Jeff Kryvicky
Jeff Kryvicky
6 days ago

Heh, I saw that first photo and thought “that’s a sweet setup for a rank beginner!”. So after reading the article, sweet setup Eric, and so nice of you to lend it to a beginner! Good luck Boone, I’m going through their Every Zwift Route challenge as my Zwift introduction, as I have no real interest in racing yet. It’s been great. You have an awesome friend/teacher 😀

Linda Messinger
Linda Messinger (@lmessinger)
6 days ago

This is great! Go Boone! I will be following you on Zwift and Strava. Ride on!

Oliver Radermacher
Oliver Radermacher
5 days ago

Great article and fantastic way to get in shape! Way to go Boone, I will be following you on your road. Thumbs up. Enjoy the riding and the races, for me it is the most important thing to have fun. If not, I won’t have any fun and there will be no progress for me. Hopefully I see you on one of your rides. Ride on!

5 days ago

Cool article! No offense to the really experienced riders, but those of us who are newbies like to hear about what newbies can do.

Aubrey Blalock
Aubrey Blalock
2 days ago

Hey Boone,
keep up the good work and let us follow your progress. I’m just getting back into cycling after many years. I need to lose 20-30 myself.

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