It is no secret that I have fallen in love with indoor cycling on Zwift. Not only is it great triathlon training, but during a time of social isolation, it has been nice to feel connected to so many people across the world. In the course of a ride, I often hear updates about what is happening in a particular city or country, and how different people are adjusting to the current situation.
This summer was supposed to be filled with duathlons and triathlons, and then prepping for the 2020 Chicago Marathon (because I really wanted to do it after having to DNS 2019). With everything likely cancelled for the rest of the summer (or possibly even the calendar year), I decided to set my sets on big goal that did not require any in-person racing. In May, I completed the 100k Virtual Bike MS (62.2km) on Zwift and said if I can do 100k, why not 100 miles? When I saw a Ladies Century (100 miler) being held on Saturday, June 13, I decided to take the month to prepare for it. The closer it came to century day, the more excited I became and the more I wanted to earn the coveted century kit on Zwift.
You might want to stop here, since the century obviously happened. But if you are in for a somewhat long story, keep reading about how it almost didn’t happen (but then did).
About one week before century day, I was preparing for a bike workout when I noticed that I was no longer able to pedal properly on my trainer. In other words, my bike was not functioning. Our local bike shop said if we took it in, it would take at least 2-3 weeks until I would see it again. Thankfully, I have a lot of friends who know about bike repair. Big thanks to Kara from the Brighton Bangers for fixing the rear derailleur for me, and to my husband. I only spent two days without my bike and was able to get in my final three-hour training ride on June 7th. To get in the training, I had signed up for a 56-mile Zwift race. I was doing really well when Zwift froze at mile 53. When Zwift freezes, you are done and have to start a new ride. Our software had been experiencing some issues over the past couple of weeks, so this made me question whether it was worth doing the century. While yes, technically I knew I could always start a new ride if Zwift froze, I would not get credit on Zwift for 100 miles if it was not all done in one ride (so two 50 milers would not get me a century jersey if that makes sense). My husband played with the resolution and we hoped that would help increase the chances that it would not bug out.
Let’s fast forward to Saturday 6/13:
The 9am start felt tough since I was up very early. However, it gave me ample time to prepare. I dressed in my EventHorizon sports bra because I miss my triathlon group very much and I would never have gotten into biking without them. Bryan and I set up a mini table next to my bike where we put all of my nutrition. My main goal on this ride was just to finish, and to practice my nutrition for when real-life races happen again. As many of you know, race nutrition has been a struggle for me. I usually end up not eating enough to avoid stomach issues. This was a low-stakes chance to practice getting it right. I am very thankful that through COVID, I am still able to Zoom with my sports nutritionist and we put together a plan for tackling the century
At 8:15, I consumed my 2 scoops of cocoa-delite UCAN (because I hate eating regular food before workouts but need the carbs). At 8:30, I logged in to Zwift only to discover that it was installing an update so it took longer to get in than usual. However, by 8:40am, I was at the starting line of the century greeting the other women riders. We set up a utility fan next to me (this was a great purchase for riding in the summer without air conditioning) and opened our living room window.
At 9am, we are off. The pace feels very slow- too slow- but I remind myself that I have a long way to go. I have a favorite playlist going, and I am so happy to be surrounded by all of these badass women. One lady even tells me, “Kate, those jerseys are waiting for us in a few hours!” My coach texts me and I inform him that I have started and am feeling strong. We are 30 minutes and 10.7 miles in when BAM- it freezes. I pray it comes back on but it does not. Defeated, I get off the bike. I might have been crying (yeah, not going to lie) I tell my coach it froze and that I plan to just go for a long run. My coach tells me to knock it off and get back on the bike. I’m like “I have another 90! I need those ladies! I can’t do 90 by myself!” He then told about doing 120 solo miles in 90 degree weather while training for an Ironman. “Just do the 90 by yourself, don’t worry about getting some stupid jersey. You trained for this and you have to do it today.”
So, I get back on, determined to just get to 100 miles for the day no matter how many separate rides it takes me. I message my group of running friends (yes, I have a special group of running friends- thank God for them!) to let them know what happened.
I start looking at my phone. Some of my friends start messaging me saying they will support me no matter what. They know I can do 90 solo, but I do not HAVE TO do 90 solo. My friend Kathy checks in on me periodically via Facebook messenger and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that. I know I have people cheering me on, but that if it doesn’t work out this time, it’s OK.
Before I know it, I am at the first 15 minutes of my new ride and I grab my Gatorade. My nutrition plan was Gatorade every 15 minutes, 1 gel every hour. My nutritionist tells me to that taking in nutrition is a good way of passing the time, and I can now see how this is true. Instead of thinking about the next few hours on my own, I just have to get through every 15 minutes. I also decide to break my special intentions into 15 minute blocks- every 15 minutes, I pray for/think about/dedicate my riding to a different person/group
At 30 minutes, I take more Gatorade and my husband gets home from his run. He tells me his honest opinion is that Zwift will likely freeze again but reassures me that 100 miles is worth celebrating, even if not “officially recognized” by Zwift. At the 1 hour mark, I take my first gel (Apple Cinnamon Hammer gel is actually quite good). I am not hungry and normally, I play the “I’ll wait a little longer game” during endurance events and end up paying for it later on. Nope. Today I am getting it right even if my fueling table looks very intimidating.
By the 1:30 mark, I realize that I am fully invested in this solo adventure and that I am going faster than planned. All of the focus on praying that the Zwift software does not freeze has left me little time to worry about being tired or bored. I decide to let myself enjoy my music and the occasional texts from friends.
At the 2 hour mark, my husband is quite surprised Zwift is not frozen. I take a Raspberry Hammer gel and am thrilled that it does not bother my stomach. However, at 2:15, I decide I cannot stomach more Gatorade, so I switch to Hammer Heed Electrolyte Drink (which has less sugar), deciding to go back and forth between the two.
I keep my pace steady. By 2:30, I’m at 50 miles. I shout out, “half way there!” to my husband and then realize that I am actually more than halfway there. I keep forgetting about the 10 miles I did before starting this ride. 40 miles to go. Having it made it this far, I decide to let go of what I cannot control and enjoy the journey, jersey or no jersey.
At the 3 hour mark, I start to feel a little light-headed. I take a Nocciola Hammer gel which has a tiny bit of fat and protein thinking I need something a little more hearty. We are now past the 60 mile mark (or 70 if you include the first ride). In the original group ride, there was supposed to be a 5 minute break at mile 60 for people to use the bathroom, change clothes, and get more food. My husband urges me to get off and take the break but I refuse. I am not risking a Zwift freeze and I surprisingly do not feel an urge to pee yet (or maybe I do but I just don’t care).
At mile 70 of the new ride, I start to seriously consider that maybe Zwift will not freeze and if this is the case, maybe I can get to 100 miles on this new ride. I confide my plan in a few friends who have been messaging me. I try not to get my hopes up. I start telling my husband, “either 20 miles or 30 miles to go!”
By mile 80, I am invested in doing the full 100 if Zwift will cooperate. My coach messages me again. I text him a picture and say, “in the words of Lizzo, I’m feeling good as hell!” I start to speed up, knowing that I only have 20 miles (or 10 if Zwift ends up freezing). I also start to see that my A goal of finishing under 5 hours is a very real possibility (once again, if Zwift does not freeze). I do not tell my coach that I am considering going up to 100 on the new ride, since that would put me at 110 miles for the day.
I debate whether or not I should take a gel at the 4 hour mark and my husband convinces me to stay on the plan and do it. The Orange Hammer gel is actually sort of refreshing. However, when I get to 4:15, I decide to just drink water instead of Gatorade. With all the nerves and excitement, I feel it is all my stomach can handle.
Bryan suggests I call my parents but when I go to do that, I realize my phone is almost out of battery. I hand it to Bryan and he charges it on the other side of the room, and puts on another Spotify playlist for me.
At mile 85, my legs are feeling good. I have energy and know I can finish. I do not want to slow down. My butt starts aching and I stand up a few times in my seat, but otherwise I keep going. Bryan asks if I want a break and I tell him “no way am I getting off this bike now.”
By mile 90, I realize I have ridden 100 miles in total for the day. I could stop here. Bryan cheers for me but not for long, since we know that I need to give it a shot.
At mile 91, I start moaning. Bryan asks if I am OK. I feel fine. I am still on pace, although my heart rate has risen quite a bit. Nothing hurts, except my butt. I am just SO BORED. Bryan brings my phone back but I am too focused on finishing to look at it or text anyone.
I keep asking Bryan if I should go faster. I have it in me to do so but I am so afraid to put in the extra energy because I still keep thinking Zwift might freeze on me. “I don’t want to push for nothing!” I compromise with myself and give a slight push but nothing crazy.
At mile 95, I tell Bryan he needs to stop what he is doing and sit with me.
‘I’m here supporting you. Isn’t that enough?”
“Umm no, I need you to talk to me.”
“I don’t know what to talk about.”
“Umm, I’m at mile 95 and technically mile 105 for the day. Talk about ANYTHING- the sky, the trees, math problems, ANYTHING. I am so bored”
Bryan starts taking me pictures of me in case Zwift freezes before I get to 100.
At mile 99, he takes out of his phone to capture my finish with a video (if you read my blog and follow my social media, you know Bryan is famous for his videos and commentary). I am pedaling strong. Bryan asks if I have any words to say as I embark on finishing my century and all I can say at mile 99.5 is “I hope I actually finish and Zwift does not freeze.” All I can think about is the software not freezing. I cannot relish the finish line. I don’t even feel my legs, I could keep pedaling for another hour for all I care!
99.6. Wow. 99.7. Please turn, please get closer. 99.8. .2 left!
When it gets to 99.9, the top of my screen does something weird and looks like it is resetting. I freak out, what is happening? Then suddenly 100. I let out a huge cry of relief. A big message comes up on the bottom screen saying “congratulations, you have completed 100 miles!” It is followed by another message saying, “you’ve unlocked the century kit.” I got my jersey. I did not get it the way I expected but I got it! It took me 4 hours and 56 minutes.
I stop pedaling. My legs are so tired that I need my husband to help me off the bike. At first, I hobble over and Bryan grabs my hand, but then I balance myself out and realize that my legs feel better and better as I walk around my apartment. I am hungry and thirsty, but not ready to pass out. In other words, I feel much stronger than I normally do, and this took me over 80 minutes longer than it takes me to run a marathon. In fact, this is the longest endurance event I have ever done.
I shower and make some toast with lox and cream cheese (a favorite recovery meal) before we head to the bakery.
This was not the day I expected, but in many ways, it turned out better. Even though I rode alone for so long, I am grateful for the 10 mile warm up with the Zwift ladies, and if it were not for them, I never would have signed up or trained for this in the first place. Second, I learned that I am tougher mentally and physically than I ever thought I would be. Imagine if I had never gotten back on that bike! Finally, the ability to actually follow through on my fueling plan was tremendously gratifying and healing. I recovered very well from this and went for a 10 mile run the next day (I admit, I probably would have skipped if my friend Dan did not come to Brighton do it with me but once I got going, I felt good). This gives me confidence that I can tackle more endurance events in the future.
Stay well and stay strong, my friends. I hope to see many of you in Zwift in the near future, and I look forward to the day we can race together again.
To anyone looking to do a century on Zwift, here are my recommendations:
- Make sure you have done a few long rides first. A 100k is a good place to start.
- Have a purpose for your ride. Do it for your favorite charity (it need not be a big fundraiser, I just did an anonymous donation the morning of my race) or in memory of a loved one.
- Make sure to eat and hydrate, and do so before you get hungry and thirsty (by then its too late). Also, everyone is different. Some people can eat a slice of pizza no problem while others have a sensitive stomach. If you have a sensitive stomach, I am proof you can do it with Gatorade and gels (although I may try more solid stuff in the future- I had bananas and bars around but decided not to try them this time). Do what works for you.
- Get a good fan!
- Keep yourself entertained. Your mind will give up before your body does. Let a few friends know you are riding and ask them to check in with you. Make good Spotify playlist. Download a Podcast. Call someone. Pray/meditate.
- Know that Zwift is iffy. It could freeze. From my experience, Zwift tends to be more likely to freeze when I am in group rides, so riding solo might not be so bad for endurance achievements. Also, lowering the resolution and putting it in windowed mode can help. However, nothing is guaranteed with technology.
- Walk afterwards. Do not go far or fast, but just be sure to move the legs to get the blood flowing and speed up recovery.
- Have a post-ride plan and reward, it need not be anything big. Looking forward to a nice dinner with my husband (we ordered from our favorite Thai place) helped get me through the final 30.
- Always stop if you feel pain or sickness. No ride is worth an injury or heat stroke or anything like that. You can always try again.
- Choose your courses wisely. My 100k was very hilly and even though I finished, it took longer than expected and in retrospect, was not the best decision for a personal longest. I made sure my century was flat. However, if your goal is climbing, then you may want to get in those hills!