Setbacks and Disappointments: Zwift Nationals

So the Canadian Zwift national championships happened this past weekend. Frankly, I really didn’t want to write a race report for this because it was hugely disappointing. I’ve had my eye on this race since October when I got back on Zwift. Almost any other Zwift race you could pass off as being “just for the workout” but this race actually meant something. I’m not at the level on the road to be racing for a national title and don’t intend to ever be. While I know there are a lot of strong Canadians on Zwift, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with them before and I’ve usually been been able to hold my own. This year was the prime time to be competitive at nationals, before the quickly-growing talent pool on Zwift gets too big that only pros can compete.

In the last couple months, I’ve recognized that my fitness isn’t where it was back in the fall, but it was still relatively close. I had also seen that Oliver (my friend and, as previously dubbed, the ultimate training partner) was racing better than ever before, which is clear if you’ve read the past couple race reports. With this in mind, our goal was to set him up as best as possible to win that Canadian jersey. The team goal was my top priority, though I also had some personal goals which involved finishing in the front pack and a list of increasingly well-known and strong people that I’d like to beat.

The race was on two laps of the Figure 8 course, a fun and diverse course on the main island on Watopia. It hits the KOM in both directions and does the flat lap of the island in both directions. These climbs aren’t my strong suit, with both being decided by a 60-90sec all-out effort, but my race times up them were on par with the competition for Nationals. And, I’m usually pretty good at racing and recovering in sweet-spot/threshold on the flats.


So, what happened?

I cracked. Hard. I lasted one lap with the front group, held my own fine on the climbs, then got gapped slightly coming through the infernal esses and just couldn’t close it. There’s no heroic solo chases when double-draft is active. The pace had been high, but still in that sweet-spot zone where I knew I could go for hours. Literally. My average power when I got dropped (286W) I had previously done for 4x as long just three months prior.

Knowing my race was over and I was useless to Oliver now, I sat up and waited for the second group to catch me. I was upset, angry, and extremely disappointed in myself and was on the verge of quitting the race entirely. It’s difficult to explain, but it seems like the ultimate disrespect to the other racers – especially those racing their hardest behind you – to quit just because you’ve been dropped. I hadn’t quit a race yet and I wasn’t about to start doing that now. I rode the rest of the race with the second group but was mentally checked-out.

Finishing order for Nationals. You’d have to scroll way down to see where I finished (60th)

If you want more of a play-by-play breakdown, checkout Oliver’s race coverage here. He went on to ride like a complete champ and sprinted his way into 4th, beating, among others,  Lionel Sanders, Frank Sorbara, Ed Veal, Justin Purificati, and Bruce Bird. Losing only to a pair of provincial and national level champions, and a wildcard who we know nothing about.

What next?

Well, in typical post-big-race fashion, I slogged my way over to a fast-food joint to replenish the calorie deficit. Usually, this is celebratory since I only really eat this after a big event, but this time it felt like more of a consolation prize or drown-your-sorrows kind of meal.

Doesn’t look too unhealthy… until you realize there’s another burger and fries in the bag

Beyond wanting to eat some trashy food, the big thing on my mind was what to do next about training and racing. It’s clear that I’ve lost the fitness I had a few months ago, so what am I going to do about it. The way I saw it, I had three options to choose from.

1. Do nothing (“Stay on target”)

Doing nothing is always important to consider. Maybe there’s no issue and everything will sort itself out just fine. Going this route would entail maintaining the same workload and continue riding the same as I had been for the past couple months. Either the fitness would come back on its own, or I would have to be content with the fitness I have.

2. Cut back

Reduce the amount or change the type of riding, moving away from racing so frequently. The main reasons for doing this would be if I was overtrained or getting tired of racing. This option does hold some appeal since racing can take quite the willpower to push through and it would be a whole lot less taxing to just watch from the sidelines.

3. Double-down

Perhaps I’m not overtrained, but actually undertrained relative to the work I was putting in the fall. Maybe to get back to that fitness level I need to increase the workload and push myself even harder. The training that manifested itself in the fall was quite time-intensive with frequent 2-3hr races and a handful of even longer rides (like vEveresting). But maybe that was the level of work required to get the leg to super-compensate.


My fitness-freshness plot as of Feb 24 (the day of Nationals). Fitness is the dark line, fatigue is the lighter line

I spent a long time staring at this fitness-freshness plot to try to spot differences or trends that would help me figure out whether I need to cut back or double-down. I ruled out the “Do nothing” option since if I was overtrained or undertrained, it wouldn’t really help me improve.

The main trend that stood out to me on this plot was that my workload (fatigue) since January has been more consistent than it was in the fall but I would hit major peaks in the fall then recover. Since I’ve been doing comparable overall work – just without the same peaks – and still recovering fine, I figure I must be tending to the undertrained side, or at least not overtrained. The feelings in my legs and body corroborate this.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to double-down on racing. I have six more weeks of the KISS Community League to go, so I definitely want to be as competitive as I can for that. The winter is essentially my “on” season anyway, with plans only to do some massive base training once the weather changes (more on that in a future post). It’s getting late in the season, but I want to finish strong. Maybe I can’t get back to where I was a few months ago, but I want to have fun racing and give it everything I can. Besides, in six weeks time, it’ll be the off-season and I can recover then.

Lesson Learned

The moral of this whole episode is that, while racing well feels great and can bring great results, it’s the setbacks and poor performances that will tell you more about where you really stand. Reflecting on your current state and making a decision based on what you want is important to do once in a while, and sometimes it takes a failure to remind us of this.



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