Why (And How) You Should Race On Zwift
One of the most important things I’ve learned from riding indoors for the past two and a half months is how valuable Zwift can be as a training tool. I’ve been a Zwift member for over 5 years, but I’d never really embraced the idea of racing on the platform.
I’ve always raced quite often in “real life” and never felt the need to have my doors blown off by these anonymous avatars. (I dipped my toe in one time a while back and had a very unpleasant experience.) But, as this COVID-19 social distancing continued, real life racing was postponed, and the professionals flocked to the platform. I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did! There is definitely a learning curve to it. This has been very evident in the Zwift Pro Tri Series as well. Incredibly strong professionals have shared that they posted new 20 min power highs even being dropped in the virtual pelotons. Speaking from experience, that isn’t fun! Realizing that so many World Class athletes do a majority of their training on Zwift, and have now embraced adding races into their training made me realize that not doing the same would be giving up a potential competitive advantage. How do you go about racing on Zwift? https://zwiftinsider.com/how-to-race/ I’ll let this serve as the answer to that question that really provides the "how to." Instead, I'll focus on the “Why” you should race on Zwift. Why should you race on Zwift? Because of the sheer amount of racing being done on the platform, (https://www.zwiftpower.com/events.php) once you become familiar with the various options, it’s easy to pick an event that can closely correspond to your prescribed training.
I’m not suggesting that Zwift racing is a replacement for racing in real life. Instead, it’s a boost to your existing training that provides some friends to suffer with. For the tougher sessions, Zwift races are an additional reason to dig deep and fight through! Racing on Zwift provides a controlled environment that allows you to simulate a race experience of any time frame, distance, or course profile you can imagine. This provides an opportunity for you (and your coach) to gather a tremendous amount of valuable data.
One of things that I’ve really learned about a number of athletes is how they specifically respond to a race prep lead in. For example, if you have athletes race in what amounts to a 20 minute effort two days in a row, some respond with significantly better performances the second day. Some are much stronger with days completely off. Having the controlled racing environment lets you discover that responsiveness and dial in your individual prescription for race day success. For those folks that do use different sources of power on different bikes, smart trainer, etc, there is an excellent tool - https://zwiftinsider.com/zwiftpower-dual-recording/ that allows you to compare the readings of your meters against each other, so you can ensure you’re always training at the right intensity no matter what power meter source you're using. So what are the downsides to racing on Zwift? It’s addicting. You can race 5 times a day if you want, but that’s not going to help your training in the long run. Pick races and events that will help you accomplish your ultimate goal and use them to make your training more enjoyable.
There are a lot of unrealistic performances on Zwift. People can get caught up in this. My best advice is to realize that there are a lot of people who race outside their categories, "weight dope," or have poorly calibrated trainers. Don’t worry about your performance against other people in these races. Yes, it’s nice to compete to win, but using these races to further your goals and your performance is the real win. Zwift is doing a better job of eliminating the obvious issues. And, the more serious races are fairly well policed now, so if truly competing on the platform is something you want to pursue, feel confident that it can and will be done fairly. There are a ton of informative articles and information on Zwift racing, and I’ll share some of my best practices below as well. https://www.cyclingnews.com/features/how-to-race-on-zwift-top-tips-and-setup-advice/
The start of a Zwift race is often a max effort. For some reason this is the norm. I’ve raced A and B Races, and I think the B Races are even harder at the start than the A races (the A just start hard and never let up). Be ready to go when the gun goes off or you’ll spend the next few minutes doing everything you can just to stay in touch before the pace settles.
Air flow. Use fans and do anything you can to have air flow while racing. I use the blower pump for my son’s bouncy house). If you’re in a garage or outdoor area, ensure you have additional cooling options (frozen water bottles, ice bags, cold soaked towels).
Make sure all your equipment is charged and accessible. You can’t stop pedaling in a Zwfit race or you’ll lose the pack and be unable to catch up. Don’t have your phone, iPad, tablet, etc beyond reach. You don't want to have to extend to a point that affects your pedaling.
Know the course. In many of the races there will be one or two areas where the efforts "jump up" and it can catch you off guard. Knowing where that’s going to happen is a necessary advantage to stay in the pack.
I hope this sparks your interest in Zwift racing. If it’s something you have not yet tried, you should give it a go! I’d love to see you at the Virtual Starting line soon! You can find me on Zwift - Allen Stanfield - TEAM MPI