The Flock Go The Distance Zwift Tips

On the 25th February, I joined Danny Pecorelli, Managing Director at Exclusive Collection and Graeme Bowerbank, Head of Rugby Operations at Harlequins for a panel discussion to focus on sporting endurance and professional business practices and where skills and learning points complement each other.   In part of the process and as lead in questions, I half drafted replies in a word file which I've put into context below and extended some of the answers.

For those doing The Flock Go The Distance Everesting challenge, I am the rider who appears as "a. cyclists (GTD)", have a habit/passion for riding longer distances.  I did a vEveresting and ROAM challenge in 2020 with the Covid restrictions, completed a Road Everesting in 2019 in Scoltand and I've also done various other long distance events (such as TransWalesLEL and EL).  I had hoped for a stella 2020 before everything changed.   With what I've done, I've put in some advice and notes to help those going into the GTD challenge and my business thoughts too.  For those who prefer a video format, here's an around 10 min summary I recorded while Zwift'ing this morning.  The panel discussion will be hosted through the Exclusive Collection and The Flock for the full picture.

Mental health and mental hygiene is a term increasingly associated with the pandemic. While wellness and wellbeing have been on the business agenda for some years, do you think only now companies and organisations are taking the term seriously? 

Yes!  I work for ThermoFisher Scientific and they have recognised the impact and recent HR hires are looking closely at it – specifically related to our "new normal".  Most noticeable which has been seen from the top down is that our global CEO Marc Casper (based in North America) has become more personable – not that he wasn't before, but through the pandemic there's more personal, intimate and emotional language used from the highest position which breaks a lot of the taboos.   Hearing your top line CEO say that they have found working from home tough but also immense value in sitting down to have dinner with his family instantly connects to the rest of the work force all doing the same or similar.  Previously it had felt there is a much bigger gulf between the Executive Leadership Team and the common employee.   The move to ELT Townhalls livestreamed globally to all rather than a recorded message and yet another corporate branded email, has made the company feel more as one.   It's something which I think is a practice that will long outlive Covid.

For us, the pandemic problem is touching every employee, industry, territory, and we've a very common problem which everyone is coping with differently.   Mental health in employment is traditionally seen as a company specific weakness which a rival will exploit (so often hidden away rather than discussed).  If anything the mental health discussion has brought us closer together – it's a common foe for internal and external partners and everyone has had this massive disruption.   It is something we've become more willing to discuss with our supplier communities, and we feedback through our HR and Employee Survey Channels.  It is going to be on our priorities list long term especially with the difficulties of remote working and different personal lives. 

Can wellness be attributed to productivity in business / on the field?  

Physical wellness can make big contributions just by a walk around the block at home or out of the building when at the office makes a difference.  Endurance sport or a specific class or club isn't required, just the act of moving.  Just giving oxygen to the brain and stirring up the body gives that boost.  But mental wellness is very personal and comes from many different areas, not all of which workspaces always cater for and that is where peer communities and interests need to be encouraged – common interests in arts, craft, literature, sports, entertainment, gaming or anything else.  Sharing a mental health conversation between peers while discussing an interest can be as or more impactful than meeting the HR expert in yet another Zoom meeting and cautious to how they will respond.   My immediate team always use webcams just to see each other and arn't afraid to say "are you OK today?"

The way which I see my balance between business and the sport fields is:

  • My physical cycling contributes to my physical wellness and allows me to "do stuff."
  • My family and friends contribute to my emotional wellness so I can enjoy and engage in.
  • My professional mentoring and peers in my sciences, sports and business practices contributes to my mental wellness and keeps me productive
  • My workplace contributes to my financial wellness (!) and overlaps with my emotional, physical and mental wellness but I don't expect it to be my sole source of wellness.

Do you see mood affecting performance?

On endurance events, mood is extremely dynamic and it's one of the greatest draws to the activities.  I like the idea of Pandora's Box – "at the end, the only thing left is hope." My personal endurance goals of self-challenge is often to see how deep into the box I can get.  If you take on a massive challenge, you'll go through every emotion and mood possible; anticipation, fear, joy, pleasure, relaxation, focus, distraction, happiness, calm, fraught fighting, fear again, back to joy, nervousness, exhilaration, despair, hope, accomplishment, depression, and then back to anticipation of the next event.  Letting yourself go and riding at dusk in the calm with owls flying around you is amazing before the fear of leaving the last town as shops close, the climbs in the wilderness starts and spots of rain start to fall with hours and hours of riding to go until breakfast and first light.  It's what make the event a living experience rather than going through the motions.  Reaching the next morning, shaking off the night, stowing the extra layer and riding through a town or city while people wake up and walk to get the morning paper is the lift.   Managing the emotions and moods is one of the keys to endurance and how you respond to challenges.

When this goes to the day job, the feel of riding before or after work makes a firebreak between personal and professional affairs.   The feeling of turning the wheels brings me joy and de-couples work and home life although this is harder during Covid.  The cycle commute makes me daydream of riding with owls on remote roads which is where my endurance riding feeds that relativity of thinking "I only have to ride 25km home in October rain, that's nothing compared to what I did in North Wales on that race…..".   Cycle commuting achieves that easily in a way car commutes can't and that massively boosts my productivity.  It also fights depression, even in the depths of winter where I love the feeling of riding with my dynamo light whirring on yet another country lane, jacket keeping my chest warm and work emails can't catch me.

Do you / your organisation take time to introspect?

This is undervalued by far.   Our leaders are high on introspect and will wax about its value.   Lower in the business we encourage and we have a lot of work going into understanding employee emotional and physiological behaviours, motivations and health.   With future, post-Covid developments, I hope that all business and health services build to develop more tools to understand and cater for the range of diversities in all employees, citizens, humans, all of us.   My industry has been at high speed for over a year now and only in the next six to nine months will we start to slow.   Other industries are our inverse.   For time to be introspective, the sooner we can tackle it, the better.

Personally, this blog is part of my introspective process.  I can waffle on, think about what's going on while I put it into type and re-assess values, events and actions.   As I've put before, life is about learning from yourself and from others and keeping out of your own silo.   Discussing, talking, sharing, blogging, recording this snapshot of life, all helps move on to the next steps.

How do you deal with a day when you feel tired?

I plan what work suits what day and then slot projects to the available spaces.  I know specific days will be harder physically and mentally so I look at which tasks need interpersonal tact and avoid them when tired, and which ones I can shut out the world, put on headphones and "just do it."   Rest days are very important so periodising training in weekdays and weeks minimises the tired day slump.  Both nutrition and hydration mindfulness helps and sleep is vital.   Apps and connected devices, even the cheapest versions, go a long way to help this.   


We talk about RPE (rate of perceived exertion) in sport and exercise - can it be applied to business?

The process I work off is something nicknamed "The Grit Bank." I can't recall where I picked it up from but it's the idea that you pay in and payout from the Grit Bank and you can have credit, debit and an overdraft.   How you use them in sport and business is similar.   Every action you do that pays into the Grit account, you can withdraw at some point in the future.  You'll have maintenance fees on your account so can't just neglect it because it will dwindle and go back to zero.   Once you become a habitual saver, it's easy.  The healthier the credit score from crediting and withdrawing from the account the better your business and sports health will be, so you must manage the process.  If you pay in a mix of shorter high RPE efforts and a lot of low level RPE you'll build your reserve, develop your skills and bank the effort.   This can be HIIT's and steady state riding, or it could be flash work projects and routine baseload business development.   Both of these you can track in excel sheets, apps, files and PowerBI trackers.  You can then apply and withdraw your currency to what you want – burn brightly in a project, race hard, faster or longer or even go into the negative and start using the overdraft.   BUT, if you burn too hard or go to fast or too long, the account empties and the overdraft interest rates kick in – time to stop, rest, and rebuild.   The idea is to use the war chest in the Grit Bank for the races, battles, big projects and keep bankruptcy at bay.   Although you may not share your personal financial bank details with anyone but your partner, sharing your Grit Bank with your sports coach, trusted friend or business mentor helps as an impartial auditor.

In sport I use various bits of tech and software to help.   RPE is extremely good but sometimes you can fool yourself and the numbers show.  If the TSS score is too high to manage and the RPE is pushed to the limit, something snaps.  If the Grit Bank both physically and mentally runs out it's time to stop before damage kicks in.  If you approaching an event with a very high Grit Bank, then you'll peak at just the right time and the RPE feels so much lower for the same performance.

In business I know key projects kick in each autumn and this is when you want a healthy Grit Account before starting that process – clear the decks, build the reserve, hand over tasks to focus and burn bright on task needed and if you complete at a positive balance sheet that’s a bonus.   If you need the overdraft, it’s there but you should have built enough credit in the account first.   Never start the task already in the red!

Considering the importance of team work in business / on the field how do you ensure everyone is in tune with the same goal/outcome?

This is where my endurance cycling side splits from a lot of normal cyclist’s expectations!  I am passionate about solo, self-support endurance style of riding.   If you're thinking of professional cycling with team cars, sponsors, support teams, analysts and micro-nutrition counted to the last calorie I'm the opposite end of the scale.   I typically don't club ride, I don't have a fast sprint or lightning fast climb or fastest bike, I'm more interested in big solo effort.   The events I enjoy by far the most are events where it is checkpoint marker, any route events and between those checkpoints, you're on your own.   You have to find food and water on route, fix any punctures and carry any clothes and lights you'll require. 

My cycling team is more myself, my wife and immediate family, a few close friends and lose bag of other crazies out there who support me.   The importance of team work is a little different as my support team is less direct during the hardest phases while they log or track me and understand that parts of me will go through a lot of hardship which isn't personal to them - my own goals are my responsibility, but if I fail in them or have an extremely tough time, I don't blame the team or lash out at them (or at least try not too!).  At the same time, my wife isn't afraid of asking if what I am doing is right or wise.   I'll save the horror stories for some other time!

For my professional life, the ideas of team objectives vastly contrast!   Compared to cycling where I am selfishly the solo rider and center of my own performance, professionally I am a team member within the group lead by a director.   My role is to liaise and communicate between suppliers and commercial teams, develop strategies and work them into revenue generation and seamless customer transactions.  To be frank, I'm still improving and learning in my role - it will always be a learning curve as the world changes and keeping pace is part of the job.   As a team, we each have our strengths and weaknesses but build the business as a group.   In contrast to being a solo effort in the saddle, my position in the workplace is domestique to the team leader and we all share the responsibilities and report upwards.   I work my own groups, have overlaps with others, co-ordinate handovers, raise, flag and address problems and curate the companies position.  

To keep everyone in the same focus, our company has a strong directional method from the top down and even willing to change course when required (such as walking away from an acquisition).  Our goal tree then breaks down to manageable branches and then to the task level.   We will always have conflicts, but work through PPI's and projects to complete them resolves these easily in much the same way a field sports team operates to the same objective - very different to my cycling mindset but the same in unit methods. 

How have you built you own endurance mindset?

Always learning.  Never stop listening and learning from others.  Work out what type of learner you are and then never stop adventuring and learning.  I have an immense amount of curiosity and dreaming of the next evolution or challenge.   I learn from a mix of peer mentoring and experience.  I find that if I read, or I've been told or shown how to do it, I may be able to mimic it, be inspired or think about the process but never master of "know" it.  If I do it, experience the process and know what it feels like, then it sticks and next time I know what to expect and what to do or not do.  I find the ways that work from me but understand that others have their own ways.   One of my biggest personal breakthroughs was finding out that both personally (endurance cycling) and professionally (EU Category Manager) other voices who stop me being my own isolated island.  Hearing and exchanging stories, ideas, processes, and views takes you away from being the only person in the fight and facing both the positive and negative aspects becomes easier.  Post event depression, pre-event fears, insurmountable work tasks, silly mistakes made then aren’t just yours but a known facet of the activity.  Then it becomes all about owning the mindset and practice.   Time and practice builds the endurance and sharing what you've done formally or informally consolidates it.   In business this is often communications and sharing best practice.  In sport it can be helping others but also blogging and find a way of recording it. 

 The advent of apps like Strava, Training Peaks and even Zwift means we can see how our bodies are faring.  How reliant are you on gut feel vs the metrics.  

I use Strava as social (free!) because I love seeing friends and family doing activities – ranging from nieces and nephews doing baby steps walks through to close friends doing ultra-distance events running and cycling.  I like to have a connection to the person in some way and see it as a diary of my activities.  Strava tells personal stories.

I have used TP but have been a fan of, GoldenCheetah and VeloViewer for a number of years.  

Intervals and GC tells me the numbers without me trying to lie to myself.  If I think I've hit it out the park but the power meter tells me I never woke up, I can't fudge it.  I can then see if I've gone into over training, prime condition or can push harder.   I've had a couple of health concerns and seeing where these have hit relative to going into the red, I can then work out when to pull back. 

Veloviewer is fantastic for the exploration, planning and recording where your adventures have been or when to avoid next time. 

For numbers v's feels (RPE), a huge variable in endurance especially as the time frames get longer is the conditions and mental robustness that the data tracking sites don't show.   On a 400km ride that I scrubbed at over 300km, my numbers look OK for HR, cadence, power etc, but the speed was low.   What the data doesn't show is the headwinds and navigation trouble I had; then riding into more hills with sudden steep gradients in the night; not fully confident on the traffic around me and my lights batteries playing on my mind; and just feeling that the bike was too heavy; I lacked water and couldn't find an open shop to replenish and my mental state was going from "I've got this" to questioning "how can I do this?"   At that point I did (reluctantly) stop and find shelter, but mentally, that decline was already slipping down the slope.   Little of that shows in the .gpx file of HR, cadence numbers, time, elevation gain and temperature.  There is a lot of quantitative data and sites are good for that but the qualitative data comes to photos, writing it down, discussing, talking etc and then learning where to be human, where to push harder, where to be super-human and where to admit that you've just had a very off period.

 I've learnt for next time.

Alex – we are looking to summit Everest on Zwift . You’ve already done it – what tips can you give us all?

It is enjoyable!   It's is a challenge – if it was that easy, Flock wouldn't be setting it as a focus and target so expect to be tested.  So share the experience, make it fun, smile and keep a positive mindset for both training and the attempts.   This is likely to be something outside of your work life so see it as a window of group challenging fun, not a chore to add to the endless Teams meetings we are in these days.  So my advice:

 1)      Contact points – buying stuff has a limit but it certainly helps.  Decent (not massively expensive!) cycling shorts are your friend, and ride commando.   They're designed to be ridden without knickers on and this also means no worries about bunching or VPL.   They are comfier that way and designed for it.  You are on a static bike so may not think mitts will help, but if you're going to have pressure on your wrists for a long time, have that bit of padding handy.  And get used the feelings and tweak.   The time to try your shorts on is earlier in training, not the days before when you find the seam "sits in just the wrong place."

2)      Bike position – book a bit of time with a set of Allen keys and your bike on the turbo.   The intention is to find the sweetest, most comfy and sustainable position.   Moves saddles back and forwards, tilt it in different ways, raise and lower the seat post until you find that spot.   Tweak handlebars too.  IF the saddle is really not getting on with you, consider switching it.   Your bum is extremely personal and no matter how many reviews you'll read or recommendation, a saddle is a very personal choice.  A £300 saddle of the wrong style can be hell compared to a £20 saddle that works with you.  Then in the weekly Wednesday night ride, try it for a full ride and see how it feels.  If it's obviously wrong, change it.  If it is right, get used to it and you will find the future training and event a lot easier!

3)      Time and pace – If you are doing the Alpe on Zwift you're likely to be riding anywhere from an hour to 2.5hrs per accent.  As you get use to longer times sat in the saddle, it gets a lot easier!   The hills have features which helps to make noticeable staging points – ignore the finish line, chunk the ride it to smaller parts and aim just for the chunk.  The hairpins in general have an easier, flatter pit on the corners which allows you to rest the legs again.  Use these to your advantage.  If you are doing multiple climbs, even your pace to something with a sustainable RPE for all of the climbs and the descent is your recovery period – eat, drink, fuel, wiggle about, shake out lactic acid, send a tweet, message friends, send selfies, order a JustEat, give Ride On's, refill water bottles, see how others are doing……….   On the next accent, get comfy, find your natural rhythm, use the gears and keep going.   Time flies quicker than you expect on each accent.   Just makes sure that before starting each climb, you have recovered as much as you can.   Celebrate each and every time anyone in your team gets to the top!

4)      Gears – there are two schools of thought: spinning at high rpm and grinding at a low rpm to climb.  Whichever works for you, makes sure your bike has a low enough gear should you need it.  There is nothing worse than hitting the lowest gear and finding there's nothing easier below it and you have an enormous task ahead.  This only comes from experience which you will pick up as the weeks go on.  If you need to go for a bigger cassette or lower gears, better to be prepared earlier than later.

5)      Get your friends and family involved – (erm…….in a Covid safe way….).   I did the v8848 in March 2020 solo and cycled on to 24hrs/10,000m and >500km.  My family had a BBQ in the back garden, my cycling friends were on Whatsapp and meme's were shared, my brother abused me via messenger as normal, my kids watched Star Wars with me, I tweeted others, my work mates called and cheered me on (virtually) and although alone in the challenge and turning the legs, the event was very positive.    




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