As the calendar flipped over from 2020 to 2021, many of us in the endurance community figured racing would return, and our beloved early season races would be there, waiting for us, arms outspread, in March and April and May. Reality bites, as they say, and it looks as though early 2021 may resemble 2020, as far as in-person racing goes. So if you’ve been trying to run out the clock on virtual racing, maybe it’s time to dip your toe into the world of make believe, where the courses are imaginary but the struggles are real.
The Wattie Ink. teams, in this case led by long time Elite Team members Adam Harita and Cesar Valera, discovered Zwift racing as a group last spring, although both of them had raced virtually for some time. “I had been racing in Zwift for years,” says Harita. “And when it first started there wasn’t anything back then: there was no Zwift Insider, there was no team. You just went on the companion app, you found something and you just raced until you threw up and you were done.”
So, What is Zwift Racing?
In 2018, the company World Tactical Racing Leagues (WTRL, for brevity’s sake) launched their first event, a “humble Saturday event.” Soon after they introduced their Team Time Trial (TTT) and athletes began to flock to the interesting challenge: as many as eight riders on a team, with a required four to finish each race (your team’s time is taken when the fourth rider on your team crosses the finish line). Last spring, as quarantines hit around the world, Harita and Valera found other Watties to join their TTT squad, and something began to grow: “soon we had a full men’s team, then a women’s team, then we had 20 athletes racing weekly, then we tried some crits and road races. At one race we brought 50 Watties, which was like rolling into a club and taking the place over,” Harita remembers.
In the fall of 2020, WTRL introduced the Zwift Racing League, or ZRL (we know, so many abbreviations!), which featured a ten-week season during which athletes alternated team time trials and mass start races. Wattie Ink. fielded ten teams. This spring, as the 2021 season gets rolling, Wattie Ink. is responsible for 17 teams and almost 250 racers. “I think what really took off was the Thursday team time trial,” says Valera. “Because racing on your own is one thing, but the team time trial really introduced a team element.
I think people were joining that and seeing how much fun we were having. And then they were building their own teams and having a really good time connecting with their teammates.” As the pandemic stretched into fall, and the last few races dropped from the calendar, more Watties joined in. “We’d post a screenshot of the Zoom call, but there’s just not three of us, there’s the whole team. And then with two womens’ teams, there might be 12 people on the call. I think people would saw that and they would be like, ‘People are racing, they’re racing. I want to do that.’”
The athletes began seeing performance improvements, too. “I would say 40% to 50% of our athletes hit new FTPs, each race,” Harita says. Valera, who owns and runs a successful coaching company, agrees and provides some insight why: “As triathletes we’re just used to steady state intensity, and that’s what most coaches prescribe, because that’s what you’re going to need on race day, right? But this fits into that anaerobic capacity and VO2max intensity that we’re not used to. And I think that’s one of the biggest benefits; since we are not really training for a specific race right now, we can focus on becoming better athletes.”
Athletes also discovered their race anxiety began to drop, too, as they raced more often. “Triathletes don’t race often,” Harita points out. “With Zwift, you can race every weekend, feel that same level of anxiety, and learn how to best deal with it. When we do start racing again in real life (IRL), we think our team members will see a real improvement in how they feel on race day.”
How to get started with Zwift
OK, now that we’ve got you all stoked on Zwift, let’s get you racing! We’re gonna assume you have a Zwift account already. If you don’t have one, go and sign up for an account, and then come on back here. You’re also gonna need your Zwift ID number. Here’s how you do that, and then how you do the rest of it!
1. Regardless if you use a PC or a Mac, head to your Documents folder.
- Find the folder named “Zwift”
- Find the folder named “CP”
- You’ll find “userXXXXXX” with a bunch of numbers. The number is your ZwiftID. Multiple numbers? That means you have multiple users on the same computer. Open up that file and look for dates that you rode. If you see dates that you know you rode on, that’s your ZwiftID. You can see here that there are two users, 78590 and 724492. When I open up 78590 I can find dates of workouts I know I completed, so that’s my ZwiftID, and not my wife’s.
2. Create a ZwiftPower Account
- ZwiftPower is a third-party site that tracks and validates the power numbers in Zwift, and is a crucial part of verifying the numbers you see athletes generating in racing.
- Head to zwiftpower.com and sign up for an account
3. Find your Zwift Account via Web Browser
- Your Zwift account exists in two places, which can be confusing. Many athletes will get to this step, launch the Zwift app (which is different than what we’re doing here), and throw up their hands in frustration. Don’t do that!
- Head to www.my.zwift.com and log in to your account. Click on the three-bar hamburger menu at top right, and then click on your name (circled in the image).
4. Locate your “Connections” section
- Zwift can connect to a whole bunch of different third-party apps! Today we’re just connecting Zwift to ZwiftPower, but think about connecting to Strava, too, and your workout diary of choice (TrainingPeaks, Today’s Plan, Final Surge, etc…)
- Open the “connections” section of your profile
5. Opt-in to ZwiftPower
- This is really only the first part! You need to give Zwift permission to share your data with ZwiftPower here, and then we’ll head back over to ZwiftPower in a second.
- Click on the “Opt In” Button
6. Connect Zwift and ZwiftPower
- Head back on over to ZwiftPower, log in, and click on the “connect” button in the top bar.
- Enter your Zwift ID that you located earlier in the field provided and click “Save my Zwift ID and generate my 4-digit number”
7. Add four-digit number to Zwift
- Once ZwiftPower has given you a 4-digit number, head back to your Zwift account and add the number to your surname in your account
8. Head back over to ZwiftPower, wait about a minute, and click the “connect my account” button
9. Finally, fill out the consent form on the main ZwiftPower page and click “agree”
10. Create a WTRL account
- Hooray! Zwift and ZwiftPower are connected. You can now join a Zwift Race. We’re not done yet, though. If you want to do any of the team races or WTRL events, you’ll need a WTRL account. Yeah, this is a lot, but, a virtual world cycling league doesn’t run itself, yo!
11. Start your racing career
- Great! You can race on Zwift. OK, before you join a WTRL race, though, you’ll need to race three times so WTRL can verify your data via ZwiftPower.
- Do three races of any kind before joining a WTRL race.
- Launch your Zwift App (different than the Zwift webpage, where we’ve been before), connect your devices, and JOIN A RACE! Races are listed to the top left of the main Zwift page. You’ll have to pick your category (A, B, C, or D), which is determined by your watts per kilogram (w/kg) at threshold. Not sure what that number is? Make sure your weight is listed accurately in your account and then do one of the Zwift FTP tests (found in the “workouts” section of your Zwift App). When you complete the test, you’ll know what your w/kg are and you can determine your category. Those are:
- A: 4.0-6.0 w/kg
B: 3.2-3.9 w/kg
C: 2.5 /kg-3.1 w/kg
D: 1.0- 2.49 w/kg
So that’s it! Eleven, um, simple steps? Zwift racing is here to stay, regardless of the pandemic, and it provides an excellent high intensity stimulus to any training program. We would be irresponsible to not point out, though, that Zwift racing, while fun, can be addictive. Zwift races are also very high intensity affairs, so doing too many of them can leave you burned out in February, rather than fast in July, so add these to your schedule with caution!