Zwift is virtual training for running and cycling
Zwift is virtual training for running and cycling|Source: Zwift
Truth Well Told (TWT)

Zwift - How a Game Unexpectedly Saved My Sanity, and Wardrobe

Simon Hughes

Simon Hughes

So, I know gamers. Even some of my best friends are gamers. And so are their children. I have never been that ‘into’ gaming, mostly for a very practical reasons. Allow me to illustrate through an example that you may call a cliff-edge moment. Not long after arriving back home in the UK, during a visit to spend some time with my sister, I found that her roommate had Colin McRae Rally for their PC. One day, I tinkered with it a few times and found it quite entertaining – I have never been a big fan of FPS – first person shooters. The next day, having wandered downstairs in my PJs after my sis had gone to work, I started playing and the next thing I remember was the front door closing as Helen came home from work. That was it. No more. And it was. I never felt like I was denying myself, I just didn’t do it. I don’t engage. Until now.

So, here we are during a period of ‘extreme social distancing’ – don’t say lockdown! Even though I am quite used to working from home, and I was getting into a nice routine, I - as ripped in so many memes - was looking for the meaning of life or at least my Tuesday at the back of the refrigerator. Result - the blob. I could feel my gut starting to wobble when I brushed my teeth. That was the moment I knew I had to do something, anything, to become more active again – something I hadn’t really struggled with normally. But, under these extreme circumstances of not even going out of the yard, what? Was I going to wear a groove in the yard with a running circuit round the house, or develop a new form of adventure jogging, running at night dressed all in black trying to avoid the BDF, SSG and BPS!? The former seems boring and I knew it wouldn’t work, and the second seems interesting, but also plain risky. Then, I stumbled across Zwift.

This platform has been around for several years now, and had been relatively popular; but, like Zoom as a modest online meeting platform, has exploded during the global lockdown as an alternative to normal ways of doing things. Essentially, instead of clutching a controller, or hammering away at a Nintendo handset, Zwift is controlled by a bike; or, if want to run, a cadence pod attached to your shoe. So, you set up a static bike ‘trainer’ with some kind of Bluetooth power monitor, which connects to the platform, and away you go. You – or rather your naturally slimmer and better looking avatar - are riding (or running) on one of the UCI’s Richmond (USA), Innsbruck (Austria), Harrogate or London (UK) circuits, in New York City’s Central Park, or in the sprawling and diverse fictional land of Watopia. The faster you pedal, the faster your avatar rides. The harder the terrain, the more difficult it is to keep moving. There are challenges and goals, and the harder you work, the cooler kit you unlock. Sound familiar? Yes. It’s a game. And I am well and truly addicted.

I have to admit, I was (largely) quite lucky. My old cyclocross bike was sitting gathering dust, and my wife had bought me a second hand bike trainer years ago. And, several years ago, I picked-up a cadence monitor in a bargain bucket at my local bike shop for P150, and remarkably it all just worked. Well, I did say largely. My cyclocross bike still has cross tyres on it – like miniature mountain bike tyres, knobbly, but narrow - so the rough back wheel on the trainer is unusually loud. It sounds like a food processor on max setting. No early or late riding for me, but our neighbours are fortunately putting up with it. For now.

So, twice a day, I quietly slip into the scullery attached to the back of our house, put on headphones with the latest Lane 8 mixtape (needed to drown out the whining back wheel), and smash out 25 to 40 kms. Sometimes, I participate in group rides or races organised by clubs and teams from all over the world. And at other times, I just ride. All in all, over the past two weeks, I have ridden nearly 700 km, and climbed nearly 6,603 metres. The only thing stopping me from riding hundreds of kilometres now is my ageing butt needs a more comfortable saddle. And, according to my Zwift profile I have burned 69 slices of pizza – something that has changed elastic waistband sweatpants from a necessity to a choice!

The next thing I am looking forward to doing is riding with my sister who lives thousands of kilometres away. I just hope that she doesn’t bring up Colin McRae Rally!

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