Assaulting a Virtual Mountain

The weather and travel have conspired to hamper my training over the last week or so.   Travel brings its own special challenge in that it forces me to use either the elliptical or a recumbent stationary bike…both of which I absolutely abhor. This usually means I do far less than I should. Fifteen to twenty minutes in a hotel “fitness center” is about all I can take. The weather is a crap shoot lately. Low temperatures can be dealt with by bundling up and just riding anyway but cold coupled with a snow/rain mix just makes for a miserable and potentially dangerous ride.  Enter the smart trainer.  This is a device that I can attach my road bike to that can emulate the resistance of riding outside – including climbing hills.  It isn’t exactly the same but it is a reasonable facsimile.  I use two programs to control and track my rides, TrainerRoad and Zwift.

TrainerRoad is all about straight training.  There are loads of different training programs to follow depending on what you are trying to accomplish but the interface is bare bones – just a simple graph to follow with on screen prompts giving you tips and drills to improve your cadence, pedal efficiency, etc.


It’s simple and it works.  In conjunction with the smart trainer, you are forced to put out the power that the training program requires because it is in control of the trainer and the resistance that is required to turn the pedals.  No need to even shift gears.  I have used it a lot this winter and I am happy with my ability to maintain an acceptable level of fitness when I couldn’t get out on the fat bike.

Zwift is more immersive.  It is like a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.  Your avatar is riding on virtual roads with hundreds of other riders from all over the world.  Two of the courses represent real world locations and roads- London and Richmond, VA.  The third course is called Watopia and it has an active volcano to ride up (and through!), jungle, dirt roads, flat and hilly roads. Most timely for me is the latest route that has opened – Alpe du Zwift .  Zwift created this route using GPS data to perfectly match the incline and distance of the famed Tour de France Alpe d’Huez climb with 21 hairpin turns and 3,399 feet of climbing at an average 8% grade.  What better way to train for climbing a mountain than by virtually climbing a mountain?  All I can say is that I made it.  I was slow – it took me well over two hours to make it to the top – but I made it.  With no real world climb in the area that can match this level of intensity and length, the plan will be to throw this virtual ride in at least a few more times before I actually climb Mount Mitchell.

*Note the above animation was borrowed from the Zwift blog