IMWI · training · triathlon

Screen Time: A Zwift Review

In the year of Ironman training I have thought an obsessive amount about bike power meters.

The bike leg of triathlon is probably where I could see the most improvement. I struggle with focus because I am the most alone during the bike, compared to the swim & run parts of the race. I’m an extrovert and excessively chatty and there just aren’t many opportunities for striking up a conversation while biking! I love being on my bike, I just tend to let my mind wander and that’s when my effort declines. Part of me hoped that investing in a tiny computer calculating my power in watts would somehow hold my attention and translate into a more evenly applied effort.

What I probably need more is a small chip embedded under my skin that would deliver a shock any time my heart rate fell into zone 2 during a race.

The truth is I just can’t prioritize another triathlon expense during the YEAR OF THE IRONMAN. My kids want a basketball hoop and a trampoline. My husband wants to go on vacation to Mexico. And I want these things for them because I know that I will be MIA nearly every Saturday in July and August. Parent guilt?

Alright, so no bike power meter. And no coach prescribing trainer workouts to challenge me. A friend of Jesse’s had encouraged me to check out Zwift. So what is it? My kids love it because they think I am playing a video game. Zwift is a virtual ride application that I run on a laptop while spinning on my tri bike on a Kinetic by Kurt stationary trainer. Yep, a video game.

What I like about Zwift is that there are a lot of great workouts available. No more aimless spinning just to get the minutes in. The first week’s worth of rides is free and acts as a trial period. Then the monthly subscription is $10/month. All of the workouts within the application are free though.

I spent about $35 on an ‘USB ANT + stick and dongle’ that I plug into my laptop. The USB ANT+ stick picks up the signal from the Garmin speed & cadence sensor that I already had on my bike. I don’t use a bike computer, just my Garmin 920xt and the speed & cadence sensor I purchased last winter. If you need more details on set up, check out the web site.

The highlights for me are the workouts, the competition and the views. I am a connection junkie and I love that I’m (virtually) riding with people all over the world. On the lower right hand part of the screen there is a roll call that lists all of the riders near to me. Each rider is identified by their country’s flag and their name. Someday I am going to figure out how to give out the ‘thumbs up’ that I routinely receive from other riders!

I almost hate to admit it but it is really fun to measure my effort against other people. That small bit of competition keeps me engaged in the workout. It also helps that the overwhelming majority of riders are male. My avatar is female and proudly sports a ponytail.

On weekends, when my kids are around, they love to stand next to me while I ride through volcanoes and in underwater tunnels. I guess I am a visual person too because the changing scenery is fun to watch. There are even butterflies and the weather changes as you ride.

The last piece of it that I really like is also the part that I don’t completely trust. The power measurement is virtual and the product of some kind of computation of my cadence and speed – while on a stationary trainer. I did a functional threshold power test (FTP) when I started and the result was a little high. I know where I am at and where my weaknesses are so I don’t trust the number I received. If I put that aside, and treat it as a relative measurement, I do feel like I get the value from the workouts. At the bottom of the screen there is an effort graph that helps me stayed focused. It’s probably the closest I will get to an embedded chip under the skin!

I’m not sure what my plan will be once I take the bike back outside for workouts. Spring will come, right? For now, I’m happy with my virtual weather inside my dark basement on the trainer.






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