The beautiful, eloquent, and passionate story of one man’s quest to fill his spreadsheet—Zwift Badge hunting and DIRT Team daily motivation!
In the words of Frederic Audet, himself!
Bonjour! My name is Frédéric and I’m from Saguenay, Québec, Canada. I’m 42 years old, father of two little monsters of 6 and 8, passionate statistician, and a recent member of DIRT(!).
A year ago, I was literally a couch potato. During my (little) free time, I was watching movies and gaming on PC. I had low morale. Following a physical and psychological examination, it became clear that I needed to take better care of myself… on all levels.
When spring came, I decided to get back to
something I love but that I had neglected: cycling. I started slowly in May and June with approximately 60 km. Nothing extravagant. Then, the most beautiful month of the year, July, and the end of the school year for the kids allowed me to ride 140 km.
Hail SORA !!!
But this record, this new passion, was going to die out… everything would collapse with the arrival of winter. Here, in my beautiful region of Saguenay (Quebec, Canada), October often rhymes with rain, cold…. and snow. I was desperate… until I heard about Zwift!
It was love at first sight! It’s the perfect match between all my passions: statistics, gaming, cycling, and my desire to have an activity “to me, for me”. I started reading everything I could find on Zwift: the hardware required, how it works, and of course all the details about the game itself. Because yes, for me, Zwift is an interactive game before being a training platform.
Only obstacle: I had already spent more than an entire paycheck on a bike, and I was going to have to stretch slightly less for the trainer. I hesitated… but since we only have one life to live, I gave myself the OK!
I’m going for it! On September 23rd, I bought my trainer, with the goal of starting Zwift on October 1st.
A new toy!!
In my avid quest for information, waiting for the big day, I devoured a fair amount of articles from
ZwiftInsider, and came across the Route Schedule post. Again, I fell in love! A thoughtful and flexible program to cover all Zwift’s routes gradually? I’m in! 🙂
I am convinced—and life has proven it to me many times over—that having a clear and precise objective is the best way to stay motivated (regardless of the field for that matter). Another important point to maintain motivation, as the challenge stretches over several weeks, is to be able to divide it into several small objectives that are easier to achieve.
With the list of routes, it’s easy: each route leading me to a distance, time, or elevation record would become an intermediate objective.
You can check out Frederic’s ZwiftPower profile here.
I adapted the proposed challenge in my own way, of course! My first step was the same as in many of my projects: build myself a detailed and exhaustive spreadsheet of everything I had to accomplish! 🙂 Because that’s also what being a stats buff is!
I combined information from several sources (mainly from Zwiftinsider), and finally, I had my objective in view: the list of all the routes with their number of drums (or “bidon” – classification of the proposed challenge) to which I added a realistic estimate, based on my current fitness, of the time it would take me to complete each route (several hours of fun on Bestbikesplit).
I added my route planning for the month and the week, the route statistics, but also other “small treats” of mine, such as the evolution of my XP and “drop” bank, the future frame and wheel purchases planned, and my best times for each section (sprint, KOM and laps) —very useful in planning the BIG FIVE (the 5 longest routes).
Once my main tool was built, all I had to do was jump on the bike and go through all these routes!!!! Wait… it’s not that simple? No! Because between work, family, children, chores… it’s never easy 😉
Fortunately, there is teleworking! Some get up early to go out for a run but I prefer lunchtime! I wolf down my dinner during the morning break, and I just have to switch from one screen to another when the noon bell rings, and BOOM! I’m ready to Zwift!!!
For routes longer than 1-2 hours, there are Saturday and Sunday mornings… and I’ll see later for the longer routes, right? 😉 After that, just plan each route according to my available time, and I’ll get there easily!
I then embarked, every day, on planning my routes for the week, or even the month. Some would say abusive planning. To these, I will only say this: you’re right! 🙂 When the release of the next world calendar is the highlight of your month, you know you’ve been hooked!
Reviewing my remaining routes and fitting these ones into my 5 lunch hours and 2 weekend mornings has become my favorite sport! I have spent countless hours there; almost as much as the time spent on the bike!
In Zwift (as of the time I’m writing this), I estimated:
Now, ACTION! 🙂
Without going into all the awful statistical details that I am so passionate about (!), here is how my challenge to have all the route badges went!
Staying young at heart!
Week 1 (October 1st to October 10th):
11 routes, 293 minutes, 137km, 1178m.
The first week is the discovery of the game. No big challenges that week. I evaluate what I can do. I assess my physical condition and my equipment. Observation: I’m going to need a heart rate monitor… and a fan(!) ;-).
Week 2 (October 11th to October 17th ):
8 routes, 393 minutes, 170km, 1988m.
The second week was the week of my first modest goal: to do a route of more than one hour. The lucky winner was Everything Bagel (NY). The challenge was real because it was my longest ride in 10 years. It seemed endless, but I accomplished that first goal with the greatest of pride!
Week 3 (October 18th to October 24th ):
7 routes, 401 minutes, 164km, 2263m.
After my success with Everything Bagel (35km, 550m, 1h30), I decided to aim higher (literally), with the Achterbahn (48km, 990m, 2h30). Absolutely not a speed contest this one, but I went nice and slow from start to finish.
The bigger challenge, bigger pride! Confidence was up, and fun too! 🙂 My purchase of the week was a real pair of cycling shorts. What I had before was a bit outdated and the longer journeys imperatively required greater comfort on the saddle.
Week 4 (October 25th to October 31st):
11 routes, 632 minutes, 257km, 3941m.
In the 4th week of my journey, I had an epiphany. I realized that with the flexibility of teleworking and the one offered by my employer, I had the possibility of extending my cycling sessions over lunchtime. Instead of an hour, I could go up to a maximum of two hours. With this extra time, I had just tripled my possibilities; instead of doing routes of more than an hour just on weekends, I had just found a way to fit them anywhere, 7 days a week!
After the Achterbahn, I had higher peaks in mind and was eager to reach them. I redid my research and I embarked on the most emblematic climb of Zwift: the Alpe du Zwift!
I hadn’t even tried the much more affordable Epic KOM yet. Sometimes enthusiasm makes you do irrational things! 😉
HA! The Alp du Zwift(AdZ). She’s Zwift’s star. This is what Monaco is to F1, what the Eiffel Tower is to skyscrapers! It is neither the longest nor the highest of the mountains, however, the AdZ has it all: time per section (for statisticians like me:-D); the possibility of obtaining, “for free”, the lightest wheels in the Zwift universe; its availability at all times; and several badges related to his ascent (one in speed, two in a total number of ascent and I would add a fourth one, the vEveresting). And how many Zifters have used the AdZ to unlock the Tron bike? Countless!
Back to my journey – sorry, I got carried away(!) – I decided to use my first “extended lunch,” on a Monday, to make my first ascent! 101 minutes up, 13 minutes down! Frankly, a very passable time, but that was not the important thing. The important thing for me was that I succeeded! And, again, with great success comes great pride!
After the AdZ, I felt invincible! That week I completed Triple Loops, Big Foot Hills (another length record at 70km, and even longer on the bike than the Achterbahn), and Mountain 8—my first ascent of the Epic KOM!
In my preparatory research, I read that rest days are important, but I must admit that once on a roll, it is not easy to stop. I also read that rest, for a cyclist, is not complete rest, but a 30-minute ride at a moderate pace. I started to have a few little sores, but nothing too bad, so I continued.
Week 5 (November 1st to November 7th ):
8 routes, 568 minutes, 215km, 3635m.
Always looking for new goals to achieve, and as France does not come back very often on Saturdays, I planned that week to tackle Mont Ventoux. It’s nothing less than the longest climb in the Zwift universe. Among Zwifters, we hear a lot about AdZ, but much less about Ventoux. Probably because she didn’t get as much love from the designers. Mont Ventoux was for me another record course, both for elevation and time spent on the bike! Apart from this magnificent course, the week was quieter.
Week 6 (November 8th to November 14th ):
7 routes, 650 minutes, 267km, 4126m.
It was that week that, to free myself from the calendar of available worlds, I signed up for my first “Event”. The goal was exclusively to have access to routes not available in the calendar. Several weeks later I also discovered the “solo meetup” method.
It was also that week that I embarked on the first of the BIG FIVE routes, those requiring more than 3 hours of effort. My first pick: The Pretzel (73km, 1362m).
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. Got up before everyone else, on the bike at 06:30. This is the first route where I planned the schedule with the rest of the family. As with all long rides and new accomplishments I’ve been aiming for, I took it slow, aiming to finish the ride in one piece, but not necessarily fast (average 113 watts at an RPM of 67, and a BPM of 140 is not fast). Two months later, I look at those numbers and smile. I promise myself to beat my mark and do this course below 3 hours in the coming weeks 😉
Week 7 (November 15th to November 21th ):
10 routes, 563 minutes, 218km, 3702m.
It was not my biggest week by any metric, but I’m still proud that I didn’t give up. My goal for the week was to check off Zwift’s 6th longest route on the list: Quatch Quest! Another one up the Alp!
Week 8 (November 22th to November 28th ):
8 routes, 619 minutes, 275km, 3955m.
Another small week in appearance, but I still broke my distance record. It was also the week of the Neokyo expansion, with many new routes. I thought about what I was going to do with the new roads… if I was going to include them in my goal. Considering that the most difficult routes to fit into the timetable are the longest and not the 20-25 km ones like those recently added, I decided that I was going to include them in my schedule. The more the merrier!
Week 9 (November 29th to December 5th ):
7 routes, 662 minutes, 339km, 3855m.
I prepared for this one for weeks! My goal: my first cycling holiday! To give me an early Christmas present from me to me. I planned a beautiful Wednesday alone at home, off work, to embark on what I consider today to be THE ultimate route of Zwift: The Uber Pretzel (128km). I always promised myself that after climbing to the top of Alpe du Zwift, I was going to descend it—so 12 km extra, for a total of 140!
While I’m at it, why not do 21 more and also get the badge for riding 100 miles! “And I would ride on fifty miles, and I… would ride on fifty more!” – thanks to The Proclaimers for the inspiration! 😉
Reading the stories of other people who rode the 100 miles, I learned another motto that would change the way I ride a bike: EDS – “Eat! Drink! Stand!” It was a revelation! I also learned what to eat and drink (before, during, and after the ride), and the importance of weighing myself just before the ride, but also during (if possible) and after to monitor possible dehydration.
And so, Wednesday morning: hop! the children to school; hop! good day, dear; hop! on the bike! “Slowly but surely”, my good old motto: I was confident to get there. Unlike all the people I have spoken with, and regardless of the length of the road, I do not put on music or TV when I ride.
The exception I made for this route was, from time to time, to share screenshots on my Facebook feed with some word on where I was. After more than 7 hours on the bike, I completed my goal with, once again, great, very great pride! 🙂
My kid’s chosen fan club (left) and my coaching staff (right)
Note: Coaching staff being: my ostrich (Snap) for physical preparation; my 35-year-old polar bear (Fur ball) I got at the hospital as a child, as Medical Staff; and our (my wife’s and mine) 10-year-old Grizzly bear (FerN) as a psychologist. I’m crazy and I know it ! 😉
In the weeks that followed, I did not have many routes left to do. By December 16th, I had completed the easy routes and most of the less easy ones. I had less than 5 routes left to do, and 3 routes from the big five—Mega Pretzel, Four Horsemen, and PRL-Full.
For the PRL-Full, I knew I was going to need another cycling holiday, like December 1st. But I also knew from the start that I wouldn’t finish my goal in just 10 weeks. For the other two big roads, I honestly don’t have any memorable memories. I took advantage of the holiday season to reserve myself two mornings of cycling.
On December 22nd I was able to tick the Mega Pretzel. I only remember that I was toasted and that the two jungle loops seemed to be more painful than the two Epic KOMs. On January 3rd, I rode Four Horsemen. Unfortunately, I have no memory of it, especially since I had just done other longer routes before this one.
An extremely rare event, I took a day completely off the bike on December 25th. That was my first day without any ride since October 1rst.
Being part of a team—The DIRT Effect!
Around December 28th I joined the DIRT team, and I participated in my first event on January 4th. It was not a good first impression. I found that people lacked class in their comments. But thanks to the team’s Facebook group, I learned a lot of things and I met some great people.
The first thing I was taught, was there weren’t just DIRT team members in the race that I didn’t like. I realized that the group members are, on the contrary, very kind and that people motivate each other in a beautiful way.
The second lesson I learned was how to make peace with event rankings (A-B-C-D). I was doing my events in class “D”, and in the last one I had done I was disqualified because the algorithm now had me in class “C”.
My first class C experience was disastrous. I found myself alone towards the end of the group, without seeing anyone and being unable to catch up with anyone. To be barely at 2.6 w/kg when the category is 2.5 / 3.2, and to always ride alone, was very difficult for my motivation.
Caring members of DIRT reassured me and explained to me in the kindest and most polite way that being at the bottom of the ranking scale is indeed difficult. In this situation, don’t despair, nor try in vain to catch up with the peloton, but slow down a bit and find other people of your strength to travel with. I was taught the motivation of riding in a mini-group, without worrying about the big black number on the top-right of the screen. 😉 I was also told to compare myself to myself and take these races at the back as opportunities, from time to time, to measure my progress.
I also met some great people; people with whom I was able to exchange more than a “Congratz!” on the ZC-App. Among other things, I was able to say a few words to one of my idols, Eric Shlange, the wizard behind ZwiftInsider, who seems as passionate as me about discovering and popularizing all the technical aspects of Zwift and its Drop Shop.
He is also the one that, paradoxically, taught me this quote from cyclist Eddy Merckx: “Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades”! The excellent motto for a small featherweight rider like me, who now likes to make fun of those I have called in a friendly way “the Flat-earthers” of Zwift! 😉
The Grand Finale
The return to work at the beginning of January coincided with a new schools’ lockdown, here in Quebec. I had to postpone the PRL-Full project to when I would have the possibility of staying alone at home for a whole day. On January 13th, I asked for leave for the 26th; THE date was decided for my ultimate badge: The PRL-Full !!!
I talked about it for 2 weeks (and I still talk about it). I made at least three publications on the subject on the DIRT page, each time with beautiful encouragement. I was both excited and confident!
Just like for December 1st (Uber Pretzel), I took the week to prepare. Purchases (food and drink), improved setup (double fan, food/drink table), and mental preparation. In the morning, the same routine, kissed dear, children at school, hop on the bike!
It helps when folks cheer you on!
As I was told, I found this route easier than the Uber Pretzel. A little longer (8 minutes more only), but much more boring. Two things are essentials. First, take advantage of the three minutes descent of Fox Hill to get off the bike and move. Stretching, walking to refill your bottles, weighing myself to check my hydration, checking off my laps on my whiteboard, anything to move and rest your buttocks and untie your legs. The second trick to toughen up the distance: have fun. I passed time by adding photo publications on the DIRT Facebook page.
DIRT support coming!
I had planned around 7:30 for this route. I finally completed it in 1 hour less than planned!!! Hooray !!!
And the crowd is going crazy !!!
And then?! Finding other goals to achieve!
The Future—Now What?
And now what? We are only in January, it was -30 C all week, the indoor season is far from over. What will the next goal be? For now, I’m still savoring my victory 🙂
I have a taste for modest challenges, such as participating in all the circuits of the Tour de Zwift 2022, finishing the Wahoo Climbing Challenge, and revisiting the first routes that I completed in October, to see my progress (like I did by lowering Everything Bagel from 90 to 70 minutes, or Achterbahn from 146 to 119 minutes 😉 )
I still have the TRON bike to obtain, organized races to participate in, roads available only in events to discover. Not to mention that I still haven’t done any workouts…
In short, I still have plenty of great adventures to live!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!