The Zwift Running League Experience

I had fun with the Zwift Duathlon League earlier this year and thus decided that I wanted to test the Zwift Running League too. But the Running League requires a team of at least 3 and that meant either recruiting a few other athletes or being drafted by another team. How large can a team be? At most you can start 4 athletes in an open race and only 3 in a relay, but it is possible to have more than 4 team members. You can only start 4 in a points race, and 3 in a relay, but they do not have to be the same athletes each week. I know that at least one team has 6 members, and it is possible to have even more. This way if there is a scheduling conflict, an injury, or treadmill trouble another athlete could be used in that spot, or athletes could simply be rotated.

When I first learned about the Running League I reached out to Matt de Freitas, a British runner whom I had met in the Duathlon League. He was racing in the next age group below, but we competed close in the races, and thus seemed to match up nicely. He then added Matthew Spooner to our group and George Darden reached out to me when he heard that we were gathering a team. Matt became our team leader and he came up with the name Team Storm and we all agreed to compete in the Atlanta class – the fastest level. There are also the Helsinki, Munich, Rome and Sydney classes with each of them meant for different speed levels. As for a time slot we picked the EMEA-W league at 2pm EST (7pm UK) which coincidentally also contained most of the fast runners. Initially I believe that the 5 different time zone leagues were meant to be scored separately but in the results all of these time zones leagues were merged together.

Last Friday was the first event of the Zwift Running League and Zwift had slotted in a points race. After warming up separately in UK, USA and Switzerland our team lined up about 10 minutes before 2pm in the starting pen and we made sure all our equipment was functioning. I had fully charged my Stryd to have cadence, and double checked the battery level of my 4iiii Viiiiva heart rate monitor, plus I made sure that the latest Zwift software was loaded on my iPad. My Woodway connects directly to Zwift, but I have my Stryd foot pod and a Runn as a backup in case a connection gets lost. We then wished each other a good race and exactly at 2pm EST the start clock went to zero and from then on it was full gas for 4.4km.

I personally started at 5:49 pace and tried to click up the speed every minute, but with some folks starting at 5-minute pace I was way back in our field. But even at my speed I had a hard time seeing who exactly was near me, but I could see my position in the event and as I ran faster and faster, I slowly reeled in a few folks. In the end I crossed the line in just under 15 minutes clock time (15:24 event time) and that was 9th place in our heat, and 22nd place overall out of 173 total starters. But I was totally gassed. Matthew Spooner was fastest on our team and he finished 7th in the heat and 11th overall in 14:42. George Darden was right on his shoulder and finished 8th in the heat and 13th overall in 14:53. I apparently passed our leader Matt de Freitas late in the race and he ended up 11th in our heat and 24th overall in 15:30.

The German JSPO Tri & Running team finished 1st, 3rd and 4th overall in 12:47, 13:03 and 13:15 with Ruben Schleidner, Finn Martley and Tom Buchholz, making them the top Atlanta team and the fastest team overall. The British NoblePro Jarvis Bear team lead by Adam Holland grabbed 2nd, 6th and 7th place overall and they are thus the second ranked team in Atlanta. Rob Davies and Matt Rees were the other 2 athletes who scored for that team and their times were 12:49, 13:35 and 13:41 respectively. But these event times are with the dreaded “no man’s land” time added on.

Our Team Storm is the 3rd ranked team in the Atlanta division, but that is just today, and we will have to see how the next few races will shake out. It is still possible to register for the Zwift Running League but all the registration has to happen through the WTRL.RACING website. So grab some friends, or reach out to other athletes you know and create a team, and we shall see each other on Zwift. Below is what defines each speed category and more details about the team formats can be found here.

To easily communicate with each other we have set up a Facebook group for our team, plus a FB messenger chat and a Discord channel. The Discord channel however will likely only come into play during the relay events where timing is crucial. And we will find out how well it works on Friday when the first relay happens. For the relay though only three of us can start and we already decided that it will be Matthew leading out, myself running next, and George closing it out, with Matt de Freitas communicating with us all and making sure we don’t start too early or too late.

My Team Storm team mates:

Matt de Freitas is 52-years old, lives in London, UK and started running back in 1987 at age 18. He got worked over early on but trained hard and within a couple of years led the training sessions. At Loughborough University he worked coach George Gandy (who had helped Sebastian Coe) and at the end of his university time he was picked to run for England over 1500 meters and the mile. He ended up running three sub-4 minute miles with the best time being 3:58.48. He ran 3:39.66 for 1500m and also managed to run 400 meters in 49.9 seconds and a 10-mile race in 50 minutes. He gave up running in 1994 and did not run for many years. He is currently working with a new coach on a long-term plan to challenge the British records for 800m, 1500m and the mile when he turns 55.

George Darden is 46 and lives in Marietta, Georgia. He was a collegiate runner at Georgia Tech (All-ACC) but didn't really compete post college. He started getting back into sports in 2009 with cycling, he then found the sport of triathlon and raced in Kona in 2012 and 2014. He shifted to marathons after getting run over by a truck and in 2020 was meant to race Tokyo, Boston, and Berlin. When all these events however were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic he started getting into Zwift.

Matthew Spooner is a 49-year old Brit who lives in Zürich, Switzerland and in his younger days he was a competitive windsurfer racing at national and international level. He was Armed Forces windsurfing champion in 1991 and southern region windsurfing champion in the same year, and his highlight was a 3rd place at the 1993 Weymouth International Speedweek - the world's oldest speed sailing event. He was also an avid cyclist back then but pretty much stopped all forms of competitive sports by 1996. In 2012 he started to windsurf competitively again and did quite well. By chance he took part in a sprint triathlon in 2015 and was immediately hooked and triathlon became an all-consuming passion. According to Matthew running was his weakest discipline, but he gradually improved to the point where running has become a real weapon. In 2020 with most of his triathlon events cancelled he took up ultra-distance trail running and is now excited about that sport.

When looking at the results I noticed that in each division there are quite a few teams with no points, and that likely means that they did not bring at least 3 folks either to the start or across the finish line. In Atlanta only 3 teams out of 14 teams got points, in Helsinki 16 out of 27 teams earned points, in Munich 17 out of 33 teams received points, in Rome it was 15 out of 29 teams, and in Sydney 6 out of 11 teams. The lesson here seems to be that it is important to recruit at least 4 athletes for a team and not just the minimum amount of 3. Much can go wrong on any given day and it is great to have options and backup plans.

If you think you can't get 4 folks together for your own team maybe you can simply join an existing team. Even though our team has 4 members we are also still recruiting a couple pinch runners to have in case one of us gets injured or is otherwise unable to run.