There is no doubt that 100 miles on a bike is a long way. For the very best it will take around 4 hours, but for the vast majority of us it will take much longer. That’s part of the reason why a 100 mile, or century, ride can be such a challenge; hour upon hour on a narrow saddle, hunched over the handlebars, turning over the pedals again and again and again.
However, the monotony (and perhaps torture) of sitting in the same position and making over 30,000 pedal revolutions is always nullified by the adventure that comes with cycling 100 miles. The aches and pains will be forgotten but the sights you see, the sweeping downhills and harsh uphills, and the café stops will always be remembered.
So, why not take everything that’s enjoyable about long distance cycling and get rid of it? Instead of enjoying yourself in the great outdoors, why not fix your bike in the garage and just focus on the pedalling part; the sweaty, repetitive, achy part.
Of course, that sounds like a horrendous idea. And that is exactly what I did just the other day.
The Zwift Century
It wasn’t long after joining Zwift that I had starting thinking about riding 100 miles on the platform. It was mainly driven by the thought of uploading such a ride to Strava, and being able to brag about how much of a hardcore cyclist I must be. The fact that Zwift actually has an achievement for such a ride was also very appetising, especially as I’m a sucker for virtual, meaningless trophies. Though I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice a weekend ride for the virtual roads, and the idea of riding for 4 hours on a turbo trainer alone was a little daunting.
Then one weekend over a few beers, I suggested the idea to my friend Paul. It took all of 5 seconds for us to decide that this was something we were going to do, and only a few seconds more to have set a date for the following Thursday.
Our setup consisted of turbo trainers side by side, separated by an ironing board, which made a perfect table for snacks, our phones, and the TV remote. We had our Zwifting screens directly in front of us, with a larger TV in the background to keep us entertained, and a single fan to share. Snacks included Oreos, Skittles, bananas, and a few gels.
In a pretty half-arsed attempt to increase drive chain efficiency I gave my chain a quick wipe and reapplied lube.
A little more effort was put into increasing our aerodynamics within Zwift in order to gain some “free speed”, though this was limited somewhat by our Zwift level. According to Zwift Insider, the most aero wheels we could unlock at our level were the Roval CLX64’s, which could be paired with the Zwift Aero frame. For users with a higher level there are faster frames and wheels, though this was the best pairing we could get for a level 12.
As for the route, we opted for the Volcano Circuit. At 4.2km long with 17m of elevation, it would require 39 reps (accounting for the lead in). It definitely wasn’t the flattest option available, though our decision was influenced by the achievement for completing 25 laps of this circuit.
Getting on the bike at just shy of 4pm, I was actually quite excited for the ride. I knew of nobody personally that had completed a Zwift Century and I was very excited to have the bragging rights. I was also looking forward to getting a good quality workout in, as well as testing how well I would cope mentally with such a repetitive challenge.
The first few laps were fairly quick as we settled into the circuit and wore off some of the adrenaline; though we were careful not to push it too much so early on. We were very pleased to discover that we would get a new power-up each lap, with me seeming to get a feather every single time (a god-send on the one hill). It was also great to find out we could rest our legs for about 0.1miles every time we reached the short downhill, as our riders would sail down this section at close to 30mph.
Other than that, after a couple of episodes of Rick and Morty, the first 25 miles seemed to fly by and we had our first quick break. The break involved a bottle refill, a toilet break, and a few stretches.
Break over and it was back to more pedalling, and more of the same Volcano. To get us straight back into the rhythm, and to keep it fun, we decided to try and go for the lap jersey. During this lap I averaged about 300W and completed the lap in 6:06.01, my fastest lap by over 20 seconds. The fastest time though was set by Paul, though we were disappointed to discover that lap jersey’s aren’t awarded on the Volcano Circuit!
Throughout this whole next section we were still in very good spirits, with the miles ticking down very quickly as we continued to maintain an average of 22mph. I ensured to eat and drink regularly, which was made easy thanks to the ironing board placement. The fan situation did start to become problematic now though, as sweat was pouring from the both of us and completely saturating our towels and bib shorts. We also realised that we had been drafting very poorly, though it was so difficult to actually take equal turns on the front.
Our second break after the last section included the addition of a towel change, as they were both absolutely sodden. However, other than the cooling issues, up until now it had been pretty plain sailing. This section was where it began to start feeling a little bit more difficult. It was certainly our quietest section of the ride. In terms of power, we were still keeping it consistently within Zone 2 which should not have been difficult, but we were both hot and starting to feel some aches as a result of so many hours on a static bike.
Paul made a joke about settling for a metric Zwift century as the mileage neared that milestone, and although we both laughed it off there was no doubt that we both were looking forward to finishing.
Pushing on past 75 miles just for that extra little amount really helped mentally. After our last break it meant we would only need to complete 24 more miles and it would all be over, less than 1/4 left. A top up of the bottles, another quick stretch, and it was back to the saddle.
Riding into the 80th mile I suddenly felt refreshed, like I did back at the start. After all, there was less than an hour to go. The legs on the other hand did not feel refreshed, and the wet bib shorts were causing some saddle discomfort. But with so few miles remaining it was easy to keep focussed on the power, in order to get the job done.
100 miles was completed just metres from the end of lap 38, and it was an enormous relief to see the 100 mile achievement pop up at the bottle of the screen. The Zwift century had been completed in a total time of 4 hours 36 minutes.
I could now upload my ride to Strava, and celebrate the fact that I had just completed 100 miles, in a garage, on a Thursday evening in January.
Zwift Century Completion
The Zwift Century was a lot more enjoyable than I had anticipated, and even though it involved 39 laps of the same circuit I still found enjoyment each lap in the 0.1mi downhill, and the short sharp uphill that followed. I think it was this forced variation in cadence that kept me sane.
However, it was also a little more difficult than I had expected. Having completed many century rides over the past few years I thought that the main challenge would be keeping my focus when there were very limited environmental factors to keep me motivated. Instead, I found myself very focussed, but the power did gradually start to drop off in the latter miles as my legs began to feel the result of hours of continuous pedalling. On most outdoor rides the legs get short rests quite frequently, when riding downhill, sitting in on the group, or even just at traffic lights and junctions, whereas on Zwift the amount of breaks are drastically reduced.
The lack of cooling also contributed to the difficulty. As I usually train alone, I’m very used to having the fan to myself. Having to share it caused us both to overheat, resulting in lower power outputs and a lot of sweat. However, cooling aside, riding with a friend made it an awful lot more enjoyable.
Would I do it again? Well, let’s say I won’t be rushing to get this type of ride into my winter training plan. Although, unfortunately I may have to do it again for the everesting achievement…