Return Of The Zwift – Back On The Gain Train

Indoor Cycling on Zwift.

Toot, toot

It’s been a while since I’ve been indoor cycling on Zwift, concentrating instead on riding outdoors whenever I can to make the most of the sweltering summer weather here in the UK. The majority of my rides have been longer in distance and a bit infrequent. It’s meant that I haven’t done many high intensity efforts, so I’ve lost my top end.

It’s set up like a ‘Hare & Hounds’ type of thing.

There’s also a particular skill or style of riding on a trainer, which benefits from a little practice and specificity. The Hotchillee Gain Train is an ideal way of reintroducing indoor riding and training back into the schedule. You even get to choose your pace when you sign on.

The Gain Train timetable

Not only is the Gain Train an excellent workout, it’s also bags of fun. It takes place on Zwift Thursday evenings @ 6:30 London time. The format is unique.

The event takes around an hour and each of the groups have a ride leader.

It provides just enough friendly competition to spur you on and maximise your training effect without having to resort to the usual mental battle. It’s set up like a ‘Hare & Hounds’ type of thing. This means you get the opportunity to put the pedal to the metal and jump on the wheels of the hounds when they overtake at the end if you feel the love.

All aboard!

Riders are free to choose one of three groups of differing abilities. The first group, categorised as ‘Buffet’, is the easiest and sets off a few minutes before everyone else. I usually sign up to this group as it tends to be around my endurance pace. The second, faster-paced group sets off a few minutes later and the final, most challenging group, sets off last. The event takes around an hour and each of the groups have a ride leader. These are the people who keep everyone under control and behind the ‘fence’, which carefully dictates the pace of that particular group.

It’s a great way to catch up with people whilst indoor cycling.

Although not officially a race, the idea is that before the finish, the faster groups catch up and merge with those in front. The whole field comes together a couple of km before the end for a sprint to the line.

My metrics, particularly my ‘Fitness Level’ – some mathematical wizardry that tells you how ‘fit’…. Anyway, my number is less than half what it once was. Probably because I’m not riding consistently atm. However, my ability to maintain a steady endurance effort has never seemed better. What do those maths wizards know, eh? So, the ride felt comfortable for me at the start.

Shooting the poop

Usually, others riders I know will join in. We all jump onto a Discord voice channel to shoot the poop and listen to each other’s heavy breathing. It’s a great way to catch up with people whilst indoor cycling. It makes everything feel a lot more social and real. It’s also a fantastic way of building a good rapport with teammates when racing with a team online. #WinWin

Being the hare

Eventually, of course, the inevitable happens and the chasing group catches up, giving you the opportunity to join them by upping your pace. Alternatively, you can stick with your original bunch and stay with your designated ride leader.

Indoor cycling on Zwift.
Indoor cycling on Zwift.

Becoming the hound

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Tonight I tore myself up to tag along with the faster group when the catch came. All seemed good; I was cruising along pretty comfortably, having to put out occasionally to make sure I didn’t get shelled out the back – as often happens with me, particularly when there’s an incline. This course was flat, however, you still get short, sharp pitches even on flat Zwift courses that require some extra effort from me to stay with everyone else.

I punched away randomly with my finger to try to activate this feather thing.

I’m always buzzed when I get a feather powerup as this makes you lighter in game and enables you to stay competitive uphill with a little less effort. Sadly, the feather advantage is very short-lived. We hit a short 15-second ramp and the field did what it usually does and pushed up the hill hard. I was getting a sweat on and thought I’d use the feather I had in hand to ensure I stayed with the bunch. So, I stretched out to the iPad screen in front, which was just far enough away to not be able to reach. I punched away randomly with my finger to try to activate this feather thing. The struggle meant I had to stop pedalling in order to click the icon as I comically tussled to stay on the bike. This wasn’t the brightest tactic, and I slipped out the back of the faster group pretty quickly, finding myself trying to put in a massive top-end effort to reconnect. Nah! It was all over. I was on my lonesome with only 5 km to go.

Rolling into the station

I managed to keep a gap ahead of the group I originally started with, which was now behind me. I also caught a couple of riders who had suffered a similar fate as me. In the end, I fought it out on the line with a few others who had passed me as we approached the run-in, and crossed the finish line knowing that at least I wasn’t last.

On reflection, I suffered a bit of body shock from the higher intensity.

I must’ve put out an effort, as I’d broken into a decent sweat, had hit my max heart rate and felt pretty gassed at the end. The average power for my effort was over 200 watts. I’ll take that, as I usually struggle to achieve those numbers when riding outdoors, with all the stoppy-starty stuff that happens on the road.

On reflection, I suffered a bit of body shock from the higher intensity. Thankfully, there was a meal ready for me cooked by my smallest, which was amazing and helped massively. All my kids are brilliant cooks. The meals they make are scrummy. I wolfed it down after burning so many calories that quickly. I was more than happy to go to bed fairly quickly; hopefully it will help my body recover.

All in all, this was a decent effort and a good reintroduction to indoor cycling and racing; it marks a good starting point from which to build on.

Zwift, I’ve missed you.

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