Zwifting My Way To Better Health

I grew up in a family that loved cycling.

From a young age and for several years I went along on rides organized by our local bike club with my parents and Grandpa.  I enjoyed it, but by about age 12 I was beginning to move onto other things.  It would be close to 20 years before I got on a bike again.

Fast forward several years (who wants to talk about their teenage years anyway!?).  Between 2006-2010 a series of events and losses had me in a pretty dark place and that continued for a long time thereafter.  I began struggling more and more with my weight.  I was also battling severe depression and started having anxiety attacks.  In 2014 at age 31 I found myself at an all time high with my weight, was overall extremely unhealthy, and basically pretty unhappy much of the time as well.  I decided that I couldn’t go on that way and had to start making changes.

Up to that time in my life I did not exercise.  Like at all.

People were telling me that not only would it help me feel better physically, but it would also help me deal with the depression and anxiety issues as well.  I wasn’t convinced.  I started “dieting” and did lose some weight through 2014, but quickly gained much of it back through the holidays and the gain continued during the beginning of 2015.  I had started watching a lot of professional cycling on TV during this time and decided to set my bike up on an old wind trainer that I borrowed with the intention of trying to ride 20 – 30 mins a day while I watched races to make some kind of effort to exercise.  I did it sporadically for a few months, but was not particularly enjoying the experience.

It was around that time that I saw Jens Voigt posting about Zwift on Twitter and Facebook.  I was intrigued.  If for no other reason than I thought, “I want to do that so I can say I rode with Jens Voigt!!”  (Ha! As if!)  I did not have any of the equipment, other than the bike, that I would need to get started and knew nothing about trainers, or power, or really anything at all so I wasn’t even sure if I was ever going to be able to do it.  At the end of May 2015 after some research I finally made the jump and bought a Cycleops Fluid 2 trainer, Garmin speed and cadence sensors, and an ant+ dongle so I could get on Zwift!  I enjoyed it from the get go, but I mostly kept to myself while riding for those first months.

I didn’t have the confidence to even attempt to ride with anyone, in fact if someone was too close for too long I would purposefully drop off the pace to avoid it.  I was pretty sure I would do something wrong if I tried or would be seen as annoying and just generally get in people’s way.  Looking back at Strava I was averaging about 60 miles per week back then.  Then around the beginning of November everything started to change!

One day while I was riding, giving out some ride ons, and still staying to myself Eric Welch said hi to me and invited me to join him on his ride.  Such a small thing.  Yet it had a profound impact and was a real turning point for me.

By the time I realized who had said it in the group that had passed me I was way way back.  I answered that I would try and he slowed up while I chased and eventually caught him just before the KOM.  I pushed harder than I had ever pushed trying to hang onto his wheel up the climb that day and then suddenly lost my internet connection at the top and it was ride over.  I sought Eric out on Strava afterwards to make sure I could thank him for inviting me to ride, it had meant so much to me, and he has since become a good friend.

After that experience I began to want to learn to draft and figure out how to be able to ride with people.  I joined some of the Facebook groups and the IDIF Team.  I started to occasionally try to join people on course when they were going a similar pace, learned a bit about drafting, and eventually went on my first group ride with the IDIF group one weekend.  I was officially hooked.

Around this time I began to notice people on Strava who were doing centuries.  I decided rather abruptly that I was going to do that!  No training, no buildup, no plan.  Not how I would recommend doing it exactly, but on November 11th I got on my bike early in the morning and decided I was going to give it a shot.  I think I started with a 2 hour workout just to try to keep me going through the first part and give me something to focus on.  At the end of that time Eric joined me and rode with me for about the next 60 miles or so.  He gave me tips I would need to help me get through it and gave me encouragement when I started to struggle.  I do not think I would have made it that far without his help that day.

When I hit about 80 miles my power flickered briefly and I lost connection with Zwift and everyone on the island disappeared!  I was in a bit of a panic, afraid I would lose my ride and have to start all over.  I posted to the Zwift Riders group and everyone assured me that I wouldn’t and encouraged me to keep going and finish my 100 miles and to get screenshots just in case there were any issues with the unlocked achievements.

Let me tell you it was the hardest 20 miles I’ve probably ever done, but the encouragement I was getting on my post helped me through an otherwise lonely ride and I finished!  I have done two more imperial and one more metric century since that first one with plans to do many more.  That week I got in just over 300 miles, which is still my best week to date.  After that though I began regularly doing 150-200 miles a week and now I am aiming for and doing 200+ every week in 2016.

Through all of this I had been steadily losing weight as a result of the exercise and generally watching what I ate and making healthier food choices.  As an added benefit I also was dealing with less depression and lower anxiety as a result of the regular exercise (turns out all those people in my life were right about that).  With the help of Zwift from the end of May 2015 to date I’ve lost almost 45 pounds.  (My total weight loss to date from that wake-up moment back in May 2014 which was when I was at my worst to right now is about 60 lbs.)

I thank God every day for Zwift and the difference that it, along with the Zwift community, have made and continue to make in my life!!  I could go on and on about all of the friends who have supported, encouraged, and ridden with me over these past few months and the positive difference that EACH one of them have made in my life!

This as well as seeing others share similar stories led me to create the Zwift ~ Ride On 4 Health group.  RO4H is a place for all who are using Zwift as a part of their weight loss goals and/or for other health reasons (as well as anyone who genuinely wants to support others in achieving their goals of better health) to share victories, tips, trials and just generally be a safe and supportive place for everyone to be.  It has been just what I envisioned and hoped it would be so far.  We are still a small group, but growing, and the way that everyone is supporting each other is truly a wonderful thing to see!!

As for my own health and weight goals I still have a very long way to go to reach my “ideal” weight and depression and anxiety remain a battle that I continue a fight against daily.  Maybe the biggest change I have had is one of mindset.  The numbers on the scale just don’t matter nearly so much anymore.

As I focus on my power numbers, and the miles, and just enjoying the friendship I’ve gained along the way the rest has faded into the background.  I no longer wonder IF I will reach my goal weight, I know that I will.  It will simply be by-product of continuing to enjoy Zwift and continuing to put in the miles that I look forward to doing every single day now.  The timeline is no longer important.

I will get there when I get there, and in the meantime I will enjoy every minute and every mile of the ride along the way!

Leave a Comment