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Sunday, December 20, 2020

I Finally Zwifted and It's Awesome


I am very late to this party, but ...

... COVID... 

... new indoor trainer with power (finally!)... 

... broken wrist that is keeping me from riding outdoors...


They give you a free trial, so I checked it out before buying.

Honestly at first I didn't really get it.  I rode, on virtual courses, but kind of mindlessly.  It didn't have the social element I was expecting.  I went up some stupid hill, didn't know when it would end, and finished my ride.

$17.99 CDN / months for this?  Nah.

Then I joined a group ride and it all made sense.

Then I raced and it blew me away!

Group Rides and Workouts

These are pretty cool, you're in a group, usually there's a leader who keeps everyone together.  Everything is expressed in "w/kg" - basically your power output divided by your weight (or at least the weight you told Zwift!)

Depending on the ride, the leader can be cool, annoying, the groups can be fun or you can end up alone if you're too fast or too slow... but it's pretty easy once you have a handle on your w/kg to find rides that match your ability and desired workout that day.

I use these for easier days, when I want some company and someone to hold me in check.


For me, this is where things got so much more fascinating.

Now it's worth noting these are far far far from structured workouts... they are legit races, and people take them seriously. 

The biggest benefit of Zwift races - you don't have to be that fast, and unlike real road races there is no danger!  There are categories all the way from A to D, and in each category there's typically a several groups that form.

The drafting is the one element you have to get a bit used to - following riders gives you a speed boost.  Zwift steers for you, but you need to understand at the front you need more power to break the wind than when you're in the pack.  

Most importantly you have to understand the draft effect decreases to almost nothing on hills.

And as a big guy, this is where I need to really pay attention... one minute I'm soft pedalling in the pack, next minute and off the back and busting my ass to try catch up!!!  

The result is that I'm paying attention constantly, the minutes don't crawl by they fly by.

The other thing is just like real life there are attacks - and usually on that final climb, or there's a sprint to the finish, and a palpable increase in pace leading up to it...

It's just a hoot.  Like playing a game for an hour (or less, or more!).

What Zwift Is Not

So they do have structure workouts as well for those who prefer to do ... that.

I don't, and from what I understand Trainer Road is better suited to that kind of thing.

I decided awhile ago that I have minimal interest in really improving to my full ability.  I know that sounds crazy, but honestly the biggest gains I've ever had were when I loved what I was doing and did it more.  Indoor especially that's a challenge - so fun trumps perfect training regiments. 

(Honestly I haven't done structured training of any kind since Ironman 2014 - I push myself but not in any kind of methodical way. And that's how I like it.)

Friday, September 25, 2020

Race Report: Fall Epic 8h - COVID edition


The Start

Normally the start at these races is crowded and horrible... hundreds of people in a giant bunch, storming up some double track and eventually all getting to singletrack and having to wait if they're not in the first dozen or so riders.

I didn't miss that!

Today, instead, you could start whenever you wanted.  Peaceful.

The First Lap and The Course

I literally had the entire course to myself - I was the second person to start today, didn't catch the guy in front of me and nobody caught up to me.

Very nice "recon" lap - and it also ended up being my fastest lap. 

One thing I noticed straight away - lots of singletrack, right from the hop.  Since they didn't have a mass start, I guess they didn't have to worry about spreading people out.  Climbing on real trails was kind of nice, better than trudging up the lonnnnnng double track climb at Hardwood Hills!

There was still one steep double track climb, and I dreaded it every lap - but far better.

The theme of this course seemed to be "very doable singetrack" - there really wasn't any feature you HAD to take that was particularily difficult.  I had difficulty with one log-over, it was right on a turn and you had to really heave your front end - my back has been bugging me and first lap it screamed "don't do that again", so I didn't.  Other than that I was able to ride everything.

The other things I wasn't quite ready for - the last km in the previous race I did was easy peasy.  This time they threw us onto the Pan Am course!  It was not easy peasy.  Rideable, but in that closing km I wanted to just bomb down a hill and be done!

All in all a beautiful course that takes in a lot of the best of Hardwood Hills, really enjoyed it.

Lap 2

This lap was scrappy as hell for me and I'm not sure why.  Just never quite got a rhythm.

Lap 3, 4, 5

... in fact the entire first half was scrappy as hell!  Finally settled in a bit near the 4th hour, but before that I was overcooking the climbs, dying, back was hurting, hamstrings, just everything.

Ultra Endurance Events

I haven't done anything like this in awhile, and I forget just how much your mind messes with you.

"You can stop after this lap, grab lunch and be home with a beer in a few hours..... rather than torturing yourself....."

I was pretty gassed at times, joyful and fine at others.  The pains come, they go.  

But the mental part of it is the toughest.

I mentioned I had some back problems - so the key for me was to keep loose and smooth, not clench up.  I managed to finally find that happy place, and then things got better.

Lap 6, 7, 8, 9, 10...

I want to say I "mailed them in" and I kind of did.  Call it pacing, but I really needed to manage myself today to make sure I could endure...

I never had a lights-out lap but I was pretty steady, laps were within a few minutes of each other from lap 3 on.  A few minutes under 50 for the most part.  Not lighting the world on fire by any stretch!

Ultimately I finished strong and with a smile on my face.

I did 100km which was my main goal.

My back didn't get screwed up.

All good!


Pulse Racing did a great job pulling together an event in a year when events were almost non-existent.  It was awesome being out there, on the course it barely felt different (except way less TRAFFIC which I didn't really miss haha!)

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Race Preview: Epic Fall 8h - COVID edition

Personal Update (feel free to skip)

Haven't blogged much this year, so quick update.  COVID has been actually... pretty good for me.

I've lost 20lbs so far, biked more than usual, and just generally enjoyed exploring the world on my gravel bike.  Working from home means hitting the bike at 4 or 5, hours to enjoy the world all summer!

Alberta Gravel Farmland
Took a road trip to visit family in Alberta so hit some new gravel roads there, it was a hoot exploring my home town.

Then a crash at Hardwood Hills took me out a few weeks ago - it was a bad one, from height (clipped a tree entering a bridge feature thing).  X-rays negative, but lots of pain for a couple weeks.  Just emerging now.

But enough about me... the race! 


A race!  Finally!

The format is simple - you have 8h to do as many laps as you can.  Most laps wins

I've done this one once before solo, way back in 2013.

That was before COVID... so there was a mass start, course crowding (especially on lap 1!) and a party atmosphere.

With COVID the race has already started - in fact this is the last weekend to do it!  Every day has a cap of 100 riders total, start whenever you want, keep track of your own lap times... it's on the honour system.

I assume most people will be honourable, but I'm not fighting for podiums so not anything I need to get too fussed about either way.

My Readiness and Plan

The crash from a few weeks ago set me back a little, but not tooooo much.  I was able to bike pretty much a week after, and last weekend put 200km on my gravel bike over 8h - so I'm back in business.  Did a quick mountain bike yesterday just to make sure the back was OK, it was.

Last time I did this I took a bottle per lap and that worked out well.  I don't have 10+ bottles that fit in the cage of my new bike though, so I might have to stop and refill at some point from a jug.  I toyed with chugging a litre of fluid between laps and not keeping anything on the bike, maybe that's still an option.

There is a 100km pin award if you can get 10 laps in - so that's the goal.  The course will really dictate more than anything how feasible that is, I should know after lap 1 whether I can do it!  The last lap has to be done by 8h30m so that is a 51 minute lap max, including the time spent stopped.

I just remember how shredded my body was after 11 laps in 7h50m last time... not sure I would be even able to mail in a late lap if it would put me over 8h... but I guess we'll see?

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ride Report: Simcoe County Loop Trail - 160km of gravelly goodness

Simcoe County Loop Trail

I'm back for a Ride Report!

The Simcoe County Loop Trail is a 160km loop, mostly on rail trail, and mostly gravel.

Most people seem to start/finish in Barrie and travel clockwise, but we chose Orillia instead as it was closer to home.

We did it in one day, although lots of people split it up to enjoy what's along the trail.

Main site with GPX/etc:

My Strava:

Hot Tips

OK so before I dig into the segment by segment report... here's my advice.  Take it or leave it!

  • Direction: Clockwise vs Counterclockwise - I think Clockwise was the right call - otherwise the sloggiest gravel is in your last third of the ride (if you start/end in Barrie).  Nobody wants that.
  • Day of Week:  Even on a weekday in mid-June, the waterfront in Barrie and Midland were pretty busy.  On a weekend in July, it would be annoying... they aren't super long sections, so it's not a deal breaker if you can only do a weekend, but just be ready to pack some patience
  • Bike: I did it on a pretty typical Cyclocross/Gravel bike, with 700x33 tires. There were a few parts I could have used something wider, others I could have used something narrower, I think if you're comfortable generally on 700x33 you'll be fine. I'd use the same if doing it again tomorrow.
  • Water: Free spring water in Elmvale!  That was the only stop we made in our 7h ride.  There are a several major/minor towns you could stop in along the way.
  • Parking: Orillia had free parking by the waterfront, easy peasy if you're not parking overnight. Not sure about Barrie or other start/finish points, or overnight parking - see the main site maybe for advice on that.

Orillia to Barrie

We started at the Orillia waterfront, and made our way through town to the start of the rail trail.

This was probably the best rail trail surface, packed and consistely good gravel all the way to Barrie.  Not a lot to see - despite the map looking like it's along the water, it's really not, until you arrive in town.


Waterfront was fairly busy, but we made our way through easily enough.

Then ... the trail ends, and it's through town.  Busy town, no real bike infrastructure, not all that pleasant.  Would be great if the town realized what an asset they have in these trails and this loop and fixed this!

Finally leaving town - you exit on a paved country road, which seems like it's going nowhere... until boom, you continue past a T intersection into a charming bit of woods!  Really nice little trail.

Then.. more pavement. I was getting pretty sick of the Barrie area by this point (and certainly wouldn't want this to be my closing kilometers of the ride, so don't go counter-clockwise from Barrie!!!)

There is one section along a road called Snow Valley Road where there is a trail, but it's not clear whether you are "supposed" to take it.  We took it, it's slower but pleasant.  It ends and you're back on road.

Rail Trail!

Finally back onto rail trail!  Yay. 
Water Stop in Elmvale!

The surface of this one alternates, sometimes it was great, other times not so much.  There are some pretty loose and sandy sections here, and it's a sloggy grind at times.  Still fun and rideable, but sloggy.

We stopped at the spring water in Elmvale - cold, refreshing, allegedly the cleanest water in the world!  It's just south of the trail on 27 at the top of the town, don't miss it, little red barn thing.

The trail continues to alternate between good and bad to Wyevale, after which it's good!


My favourite trails of the loop were the forest blast into Penetanguishene and out of it.

The way in - the trail seems to still follow some kind of rail trail, but the bridges have been replaced and it dips and turns and dives through the forest.  So much fun!  Be careful when wet, those bridges can be sketchy...

The waterfront section was short, and then there are some killer in-town climbs to remind your legs what climbing is all about...

Finally there's a blast out of town on some awesome paved trails, winds down a hill through forest, so much fun.  Seems to be some side trails worth exploring on a mountain bike too??

Eventually you emerge from forest and into...


Pavement continues along the shore.

The shore is lined with homes and apartments, with the beach on the other side of the trail from the properties... this could be pretty sketchy if it's busy, be cautious!

There is industry and lake and stuff.  It's nice.

From here you're on pavement for a good long stretch.  It's nice, but there are a lot of road crossings to slow down for.

Waubaushene to Orillia via Coldwater

Finally the pavement comes to an end, and it's back to the gravel we know you all love!

Eventually you're on the Uhthoff Trail, which takes you into Orillia.  This section was a bit boring to be honest, long stretches of straight former railway with fields or kind of repetitive trees.  They did a great job replacing some old bridges though, mostly well maintianed (a couple sections weren't but they were still fast and good).


Finally back at the finish, 160km later.

Overall Impression

It's an interesting enough loop.  The best parts are at the top along the Georgia Bay communities.  The rest is pretty typical Ontario Rail Trail - gravel, fields, trees, flat.

Not sure I'd be in a rush to do it again but worth doing once.