So like many people, I had plans for 2020. Big plans. One of the issues I find when you start riding long is that people expect you to keep going “harder better faster stronger longer” and that just wasn’t what I wanted. I have no interest at this point in riding more than 1200-1500km events. I don’t want to “improve my times” or “go any faster.” It’s taken me a few years now to get OUT of that mindset, and the guys still give me grief occasionally about my inner girl racer. But her and I, we’ve made our peace at the moment, and I’ve been really happy with where I’m at on the bike during my Audax events.
One of the plans this year had been more tactical: ride another super series (200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km) but also ride an interstate series, meaning I’d have to ride each of those distances in a different state in Australia. I ticked off the 600km ride in February with Thomas and Sean (another 600 with no sleep, see my Instagram Highlights for this ride), and I’d booked in a road trip with my family for the weeks leading up to the Easter break for two more rides. The plan was to drive up to NSW to ride a 200km with a couple friends up in Hornsby, then continue on up to QLD to ride the 300km. The I’d finish the 400km in Adelaide at the end of April.
Or so I thought. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we had to cancel all these plans and are effectively isolated in our home as the Australian government and a number of State governments directed that all non-essential travel should be avoided. The Audax Australia National Committee made the decision to cancel all calendar rides and cancel all permanent rides until further notice. Which meant that even if I wanted to ride an Audax route, it wouldn’t be counted towards my yearly total, and in many cases doing these longer rides was “frowned upon,” even if I was able to carry my own food and water the entire ride.
Cue a bit of grief. Sadness. A slump. And some mental health issues, which is no surprise as I often use my longer rides as an outlet, a meditation for my body and brain if you will. And judging by the “pandemic” of ‘helpful’ social media posts, I wasn’t the only one feeling it.
No I didn’t join the pushup challenge. Or post my 10 favourite albums. Or my favourite workout.
But I did buy a smart indoor trainer.
For those who have followed these blogs for awhile, you know that it’s pretty normal for me to spend about 2-3 months a year on the indoor trainer, usually after I’ve taken some time off the bike and am looking to get my fitness back (see here for an example). I’ve had a Kinetic trainer for over four years now, and it absolutely does the job. While I’d contemplated upgrading to a direct drive smart trainer for awhile now, I could never really justify the purchase for the short time each year that I’d actually ride it. But with a 3-6 month (or longer) lockdown looming, I figured now was probably not a bad time.
So I picked one up, put the Bianchi on it, and started riding. On Zwift.
Yeah, I don’t know who I am anymore either.
Zwift: forgive me father for I have sinned
Needless to say the first Zwift ride I uploaded to Stava caused a stir. In some cases there were PMs along the lines of “wtf are you doing??” in other cases dead silence as my friends decided whether or not to unfollow me or not. And in many cases, cries of “finally!” and “do you want help getting the hang of this” and “can we go for a ride together?!”.
So in typical Tiffo style, I reached out to the help that was offered. No sense in being stubborn here, I really had no idea what I was doing. Level up buying bikes u-turns drafting bonuses meetups ride on what?
Okay, first things first. When was the last time you did an FTP test. Cough. Looks around guiltily… ummm let’s just say it’s been awhile. So let’s do that first. Given I’m an long distance rider, the common suggestion was to do the 20 minute test instead of the ramp test, as I’d be more likely to be able to hold my power for a long time rather than constantly increasing it. To be honest, it didn’t really matter. I’d ridden the Audax 24 hour Oppy just days before (just before the new restrictions came into play) and my legs were fatigued. So might as well get an accurate picture of where I am with tired legs, as that’s pretty much my norm. After all, how hard could it be?
FTP change from my last test: – 57. That’s MINUS 57.
Next, Pete Makin offered to talk me through a Zwift ride, so I got set up on the indoor trainer, called him, and had him explain everything I was looking at on the screen: what I was doing, and how things worked to the best of his knowledge.
A couple days after these first few rides I saw a post on Facebook from Hells500 for the WORLD LYCRA PARTY (vEveresting record attempt) on April 10th, which was only a week and a bit away.
Hmm. Almost all of my Audax rides this year hadn’t been very hilly. In fact, I’d been training specifically for flat rides the last couple months in preparation for the Murray River 1000, the flattest route in the calendar (which I ended up not finishing due to a prior ankle injury and my choice to pull out of this event and make a smart decision. Happens occasionally).
But then again, when was the last time I really climbed? I do like climbing. Hills ARE the way right? And I probably have a stupid amount of base kms in my legs right now, that should get me through even if my legs aren’t even close to climbing fit. And it is mostly mental, and damn if I don’t have a beastly amount of mental toughness…
Ride solo but in solidarity with our kick-ass crew from around the globe as we stake a claim on a new vEveresting World Record this Easter.
OPTION 1: (only for direct-drive smart trainers)
– Alpe du Zwift segment: www.strava.com/segments/17267489
– 24.3km lap distance (includes descent)
– 1,036m gain per lap
– 8.5 laps for the vEveresting
– 207.5km for the vEveresting (If you are interested, 9.65 laps for 10k vert..)
– Everesting calculator link: http://bit.ly/2pSNhCi
OPTION 2: (open for all smart trainers)Hells500 Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/events/3100332533320261/
– Zwift Epic KOM Reverse segment: http://www.strava.com/segments/11596925
– 12.3km lap distance (includes descent)
– 436m gain per lap
– 20.3 laps for the vEveresting
– 243.3km for the vEveresting
– Everesting calculator link: https://bit.ly/2QRyqXd
So my first plan was to go and recce the Alpe du Zwift (AdZ) segment, and try and pace it out at what I would consider “Everesting Pace.” I’d Everested before (blog here for anyone interested) and found that it was ideal to set a solid pace early, and try and be consistent with that all day. It took me just over 90 minutes and seemed pretty easy.
Reading up on the “vEveresting rules” there were a few things I didn’t quite understand, so I reached out to my mate Andy vB, who heads up the Hells 500 cycling collaborative and is the founder of the Everesting global cycling phenomenon.
A few questions later I had my answer as to why the AdZ was so easy: I’d had my trainer set at 50% difficulty, which is the default setting for Zwift. For an Everest, it needed to be set to 100%. Basically the difference was that at 100% when the gradients kicked up I would really feel them as it increases the resistance changes on the hills.
Andy suggested I go out and ride it again and see how it felt, but his suggestion was to ride the Epic KOM segment as that’s what he’d be doing.
Two days later I set out to ride the “Uber Pretzel” loop at 100% difficulty. This 128km ride ended at the top of the AdZ climb, which meant I’d already have 116km in my legs before I started climbing. And with 2,335m along the course it would be a good taste of what “climbing” and a long day on the indoor trainer felt like. This also gave me some good tips on what I’d need on an even longer day (see: change of knicks, lots of changes of gloves, box of tissues, more towels. And a lot more salt/electrolyte drinks as I lost 2kg during this ride).
In good news, my climb time was consistent with the pace I had set a couple days earlier. However, my knees FELT this climb. And with over 4000m of vert in the bank during the week (some real, some virtual) I wondered if it would be smart to subject my knees to 8.5 repeats of this climb in just under a week’s time.
My new motto for 2020: just because I CAN do something, doesn’t mean I SHOULD do something.
The next day I went out and checked out the Epic KOM reverse climb (Option 2 as noted above). While there were some disadvantages (there was very little freewheeling on the descent as you still had to pedal through 2-3 climbs on the way down) the advantage was that it was only a 31-35 minute long climb, even if all the climbing was at 9-10%.
Okay. Let’s do this.
Prepping to #stayathome
Surprisingly the prep for my indoor Everest wasn’t that much different from my outdoor Everest. I would start again just after midnight, same as my first one as this worked out just fine last time. It still required getting buy-in from the family. It still required buying a lot of different kinds of food as I had no idea what I’d want to eat along the way. And it still involved having kit laid out for a change of clothes along the way.
And a spreadsheet. Of course a spreadsheet.
So what was different? Well, other than the obvious differences (all the stuff I required I didn’t have to keep in the boot of my car at the base of the climb) I would actually have crew all day on this one. So I prepped my husband and kids on how I thought it would go, and they agreed from about 6am onwards they’d “cater to my every need.” This meant that about 10-20 minutes before I wanted a break my husband Max could be in the kitchen getting everything ready so I didn’t waste time off the bike. My son took his “water boy” job very seriously and would keep all four bottles topped up all day long. He was also in charge of small snacks… mostly because that meant he could have one as well. And both kids were in charge of crossing off each lap on the sheet we had behind me.
(side note: for those skeptical about the difficulty of a vEverest versus an Everest, of course there are differences. This is one of the best writeups I’ve seen: https://www.sirguylitespeed.com/virtual-everesting-veveresting-versus-real-life-everesting-which-ones-easier/).
The journey to Hell. Again.
After having Zwift crash 4 times on me at just after midnight, I finally got going on my ride at 12:26am on Friday April 10th. I rode the first 6 laps (so about 4.5 hours) without a break, which is ‘normal’ for the first leg of an Audax ride so I figured it would work for me as well. My first online riding buddy jumped on around 4:15 (thanks Scott Lovegreen, that was an early morning for you!) and we chatted for a bit via the Zwift companion app. A quick stop off the bike, stretch, re-application of the chamois cream, change of gloves, and I was back on the bike. I actually didn’t need any ‘distractions’ so was quite happy listening to Spotify and just watching the Zwift screen.
The next set was probably the toughest set all day. Everyone talks about the “death zone” on an Everest (usually at 6000m+ when you realise how much further you still have to climb) but I hit mine at 3000m of climbing at around 5am.
Reflecting on this now, I think part of it was that I didn’t have a very strong “why” as to why I was doing this ride. Other than to be a part of a world record and help out a mate to achieve this, I hadn’t really set out why I wanted to do this. Shear boredom or because I needed a challenge didn’t seem to be a very strong reason why either.
So I had a mental wobble. Totally normal, they happen all the time on long rides. Usually I can look around at the scenery, chat with a friend, listen to a dad joke, or stop and have something to eat and I’m all right. But at 5am with no one around, nothing to see but the darkness, and my stomach not wanting to eat anything… it was a tough one.
But one of the great “Audax sayings” is that when things are bad, just keep pedalling, eventually they’ll get better (and vice versa unfortunately!) but experience has taught me that it’ll get better, so I just kept riding. About 45 minutes later another friend popped in to the virtual world to do a bit of the climb and have some chats. And sure enough, by the time Max got up an hour later I was fine.
I won’t bore you with all the details of the ride, as just like on any Everest it was basically up/down/up/down/up/down break. Food. Repeat.
So what surprised me?
Again, the support amazed me. I had thought the day was going to drag on and I’d have to rely on watching Netflix to distract me from the ride, but this wasn’t the case at all. I had riders pop up beside me on the ride all day long and it made an amazing difference. Yes, even in the virtual world. What was great is that a lot of the riders who joined me I rode with when I first started riding but I don’t ride with anymore due to the distances and the rides I choose to do now. So it was nice to “see” them and catch up. Some would ride up and start “chatting” on the companion app, checking in on how I was going, throw a bit of crap at me, make some jokes, or let me know how others were going on the AdZ climb. Just like in real life the distraction was sometimes useful, and sometimes not, but always it was appreciated.
But again it was the consistency of the Audax riders that made me smile. My Audax mates would pop up on screen, not say anything, and just pull their bike near me and tap it away. No chats, no nothing. Just quietly ride next to me for support, knowing that so many times on these long rides what we really want is quiet companionship. And they provided exactly that.
It wasn’t just in the virtual world that I had people join me either. One of my friends re-organised her weekly training schedule so that she had her long ride while I was vEveresting, so video called me while she was working out so we could chat. I think we spent a good proportion of that phone call comparing just how unflattering the camera angles were that we had chosen, commenting on the shear number of chins we had, and of course, the heavy breathing at each other as we got through our workouts. But it was two hours of time to chat about where my head was at, how the mental toughness compared to other rides, and generally giggle at the stupid faces we were making.
My husband Max also got his bike on the trainer later in the day and set up the larger computer screen so we could watch John Wick together. I had assumed I would make it through the entire trilogy during the day, but found that actually I didn’t need, or want, anything other than my music and the occasional chat. So around 3:30 in the afternoon Max and I rode our bikes together while watching Baba Yaga, who is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will…
So thanks Mel and Max, much appreciated!!
Okay I’ll admit that one of the things I look forward to on the long rides is all the food. For those who have followed my rides before, you know that I love to eat. Especially donuts. With the near endless possibilities of snacks at home during this ride I was hungry about three days beforehand in anticipation. I’d made up a grocery list ages in advance, started baking (much to the endless delight of my sister who lives to bake) and had a plethora of options ready to go. All I needed, I told Max, was for him to ask me about 30-40 minutes before each break what I want, and I’d let my stomach be my guide.
So what did my tummy what to eat?
I guess in hindsight it wasn’t that much of a surprise. I can’t really eat when I’m climbing, and I didn’t each much on my first everesting either. Pretty much for me food + power + higher heart rate = puking. With my weight and climbing ability all climbs were done in tempo (we don’t do zone 2 here people) which isn’t ideal for digesting. So my stomach wanted me to take it pretty easy. Later on in the ride I was scanning through Instagram stories and looking at all the interesting food people were eating.
“Hey tummy, look at that! Pizza/baked potato/frittata/etc doesn’t that look good? What do we want to eat next break”
“But Max can cook us up real food, we’re at home, what about trying…”
Sigh. Magnum, snakes and 1L of Coke it is.Me and my tummy having vEveresting conversations
I guess when you’re so used to riding from bakery to cafe to servo, it’s what you’re used to, and my tummy wasn’t in the mood to experiment much outside its norm.
For those who are interested, this is all I ate during the 16 or so hours (burning over 8000 calories) on the bike:
|2:30am||Snacking on the bike: 2 cinnamon donuts|
|4:40am||1 cinnamon donut and two bites of a Clif Nutbutter bar (peanut butter and chocolate)|
|7:10am||Breakfast: bagel with mayo, cheese, and a fried egg. Coffee.|
|9:30am||Morning tea: two slides of paska with butter. Cuppa tea.|
|11:45am||Lunch: pot noodle and Poweraid. Two Clif margarita flavoured blok cubes|
|2:20pm||Magnum ice-cream bar|
|4:00pm||Snacking on the bike: Snakes and Coke time. One bite of a donut|
|4:50pm||Sandwich: butter and cheese|
|6:30pm||Hot chips and gravy and a beer|
I got the power… except when it disconnects
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing anyone who’s been on Zwift knows the joy of screen freezes, computer crashes, and number fluctuations. My “fun” was two-fold: incorrect cadence sensor, and power dropouts/disconnects.
Look, I’m not a mountain goat by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I have the ability to spin up climbs. But what I do have is consistency, determination, and a cracking diesel engine that just keeps going. So I set my pace at the beginning of the day and aimed to keep near that pace for the entire day. Which roughly I did, because all I did all day was tap tap tap it out.
For most of the day my cadence readings were all over the place. At one point a friend commented that I looked like I was grinding a pretty high gear. Which, as my cadence was reading 26 rpm and my avatar was hardly moving her legs, I’m sure it looked like I was doing. Another lap it got stuck at 95, so my avatar looked like a pro hamster on the way up. But back at home, I was most likely spinning around 45-55 for every climb, because that’s what I do.
But the biggest annoyance was the dropouts in power. Occasionally (like, over a dozen times throughout the day) my power reading would just … drop… off… and then read – – -. And my avatar would stop in the middle of the road for a little scenic viewing. So I’d lean over the front of the bike to access my laptop, hit the “a” button to access the settings, and reconnect everything.
Again. And again. And again. Highly frustrating. Especially as each time I did this she would come to a dead stop in the middle of the hill, regardless of if I was climbing or descending.
It was on the descent of lap 21 when this finally, properly, did my head in. My avatar was screaming down the hill in full aero tuck with Will Gielewski (who had joined me for the 9000m+ climbs), ready for a break once I reached the bottom of the hill, and then the power read — nothing. Right. Lean over, un-pair everything, re-pair everything… start pedalling again as she’d come to a dead stop on a descent… and go.
Then — nothing. Adjust again. Reconnect everything… and go. Then — nothing. Again.
And I lost it. It was 5pm, I’d been on/off the bike for over 16 hours, and I JUST WANTED TO GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THE HILL SO I COULD TAKE A BREAK!!!!!
Cue screaming at the avatar on the screen. Yes, I’d reached that stage of the game where you curse a blue streak, and if I’d had a controller it would have been tossed across the room. My kids poked their heads into the room to see why Mummy was scream-crying and Max very quickly indicated they should run away.
Reconnecting yet again, I got my avatar moving again downhill, and yet again it disconnected. I decided that I didn’t really need any power as long as she’d keep moving, so mentally willed her to keep rolling down the hill, even going so far as to blow at her (yes, like a birthday candle) across the -3% bridge in hopes she’d keep rolling… which she did. Finally she got enough momentum to reach the bottom, where I decided I’d park her for a bit while I stepped away from the screen for a bit.
Other details and tips
I found it surprising how sore my neck was, but eventually realised that when I’m outside I tend to look around a lot and move my head, but inside there was nothing to look at aside from my screen right in front of me. Which meant my neck was getting pretty stiff holding that one position, so I had to make a conscious effort to look “to the window to the wall” every so often. My knees weren’t super happy about the ride but I’d taped them up before I even got started so they lasted just fine. Shoulders got sore, but again, the “be cool” mantra was repeated in my head so they didn’t creep up around my ears. My hands are pretty sore still, and I don’t have all the feeling back in my fingers yet. The feet weren’t great, but being able to take my shoes off and walk around every two hours made a big difference in keeping the neuromas from flaring up and I didn’t need take any pain killers or anti inflammatories on this ride.
I ended up changing my kit three times during the day (Red White bibs, grade cycling bibs, and Hells 500 bibs for those interested), spent a good portion of the day changing and drying my gloves, went through four sports bras, and had a shower after 11 or so hours on the bike. Luxury indeed, but I was drinking about 750ml of water every hour on the bike and sweating it out in equal measures, so it was pretty soggy on the trainer. No air drying on the downhills either. I lost 2 kgs in the first few hours but managed to keep on top of the hydration after that so didn’t lose anymore. Every second water bottle had an electrolyte tab in it. No salt tabs required.
Tips and Tricks on how to get through one
So what were the take-aways for me on this one? I approached it like I do every long Audax ride: plan and anticipate and plan. Yes I make a spreadsheet, but for me this reduces the ‘decision fatigue’ that comes with the long rides. I had a plan to stop every three laps once the sun came up (with a backup plan of less laps if I was really struggling) and having food off the bike at each of those stages. So that’s what I did. These are habits that have been ingrained in me over years of Audax riding, and they set me up for success. So that’s what I did. It did feel weird eating food sitting at a desk in my room, so after a bit I asked Max to bring me food so I could sit and eat it on the floor. It wasn’t quite “sitting outside a servo in my socks” but it was close and it make me feel more normal.
Does that mean I didn’t have any anxiety or worries going into this? Of course I did. Max yet again had to listen to me rant and rave the days before as my nerves went a bit haywire, but I also had the knowledge to say to him that this was just me freaking out about the unknown. Didn’t mean I didn’t freak out, but it meant that I was able to observe myself doing it and understand what was happening. I’ve done enough long stuff to know how my body and my brain will respond to difficult times, and had to trust in myself that I had the tools to work it out if and when things were hard.
Those tools to work it out included my “bag of tricks,” because it wasn’t just a matter of if it got hard, but when. And coping with the darkness is part of these kinds of challenges. So I did what I always do when things get tough: I played music (and chose a playlist that I could match the beat to my cadence), told jokes, talked to my crew (both virtual and at home). I sat with the discomfort and rode it out. I even had a friend “on call” to talk me back onto the bike if I needed it (which I didn’t end up needing, but knowing she was there was important to me). I listened to my body and when it we only wanted to drink Coke and eat snakes after 5pm that’s what I did, and I didn’t worry about it.
And I told Max to make sure I did not bail after 8848m (an official Everesting) and that I was going for 10,000m. Because if I’m going to be out here doing this all day I might as well go for the big goal.
After all. I am Audax.
- Distance: 288km with 10012 vertical
- Elapsed time: 17 hours 36 minutes (about an hour and 20 minutes faster than my spreadsheet)
- Moving time: 16 hours 11 minutes (a few minutes slower than my spreadsheet)
- Average speed: 17.8 km/h
- Average heart-rate: 144bpm
- Max HR: 171bpm
- Power stats based on my current FTP
- Time spent in Z3: 7:25:56 (46%)
- Time spent in Z4: 2:01:58 (13%)
- Calories burnt: 8009 (a little bit less than an Audax 600)
- Tears and tantrums: 1
- Saddle sores: 0