The Longshot

When I retired from triathlon to take the job at Zwift, I initially thought I’d almost entirely stop riding my bike. The fear that I still have every time I ride on the road after my accident in 2010 was something I wanted to leave behind. My first month at Zwift was actually my biggest month of running ever, logging just a shade under 600km of running in October 2017. I thought for sure that I’d end up an ultra-runner. But I never really found a passion for it, and I found I missed riding my bike more than I thought I would.

Thanks to easy access to the bike necessary time in Zwift’s “QA Lab,” I got back into riding my bike did extensive product testing, and I rekindled my passion for riding a bike decided that it was important that I ride my bike in order to do my job. I also discovered gravel riding, and between that and Zwift, I was able to avoid the cars and still ride my bike. A lot. I’ve got just over 14,000km logged in 2017, one of my biggest – and easily my best – year of training on the bike ever. Now, a lot of that goodness comes because things are just a lot easier without running and swimming. But I also got a lot out of training in some new ways with a new coach. Change is good (sometimes)!

I had a good campaign on gravel with a KOM jersey performance at Belgian Waffle and a 6th overall at Dirty Kanza, but I found it too much like triathlon – lots of steady miles. Having the Carson velodrome so close, I decided to give track a go. With my roots as a rower, I missed that feeling of fast – really fast – racing, and the track was in many ways like coming home.

I was confident in my abilities to ride in the aerobars – certainly I’ve spent enough time in them, but the physiological component was a big unknown. But thanks to regular track access – I’ve been on the track at least two days a week for the past five months – because Carson is on my way to/from work – and the amazing precision and focus of training on Zwift, I’ve seen my performances in the specific power (and cadence – 110-115rpm is very normal for me now!) ranges needed for track racing improve steadily. As I improved, I also started to wonder how far I could go. After some particularly good blocks of training on Zwift and on the track, I decided in early fall that I’d try to make the US Olympic Team in the Team Pursuit for Tokyo 2020.

Mike McCarthy, Zwift’s VP of Business Development and the ’92 Individual Pursuit World Champion and a two-time Olympian in the Team Pursuit, was the first person I told about this after my wife (long before I ever even dreamed of writing about it here or anywhere else…), since he was really the one who inspired me to get on the track in the first place. I raced my first track race on his Shiv. And he’s been an incredible part of the journey so far. With Mike’s support and guidance, I’ve now started working with Greg Henderson – another Zwift connection – as a coach. The Zwift connections are important to me because more than anything else, I want to use this journey to promote Zwift as the best training tool for athletes of all levels. Zwift is not just a game – though it is that too; it’s the single best elite training tool there is. Structured training, “natural” (virtual) terrain, and competitive racing all exist on one platform. Zwift is more than just a training platform or a job for me; it’s truly become a part of who I am. Without Zwift, this dream simply would not be possible.

Ultimately, I also feel that this pursuit (pun intended, though we’ll see how much mileage I really get out of that…) is something that’s accretive to my job as a Game Designer at Zwift. I think I do a good job because I immerse myself in Zwift, something that I can only do because of the physical and emotional investment I put into my cycling. Furthermore, I’ve been a professional athlete and have no need nor desire to reprise that role. While I’m trying to become a world class pursuiter, I consider that to be an intrinsic part of my work at Zwift, not something I want to – or even can – think of as separate. I do close to half of my training on Zwift, and it’s the simultaneous focus and enjoyment of Zwift that has allowed me get so much out of what I would have previously considered a minimal amount of training. I’ve been doing about 8-10hrs a week since I started racing on the track, and my physiological performances in both long distances (on gravel) and short distances (on the track) have all exceeded what I ever would have thought possible.

While I’m managing to get fitter even as I get older, this is, of course, a dream with a deadline. While the Tokyo games are roughly 18 months away, my real deadline is the last World Cup of 2019. If, by that point, I’m not in legitimate consideration for one of the four spots on the Pursuit Team (the expectation is that there are likely five total slots – four riders plus a spare), I will accept that I’m not going to make the team. And, of course, there is also the possibility that the US Team won’t make the eight-team selection for the Olympics at all. But that’s all still a long way off. The first step is to break 4:30 – the USAC Elite Time-Standard, and while I plan to do it sooner rather than later, I’d put USAC Elite Nationals on July 7 as the realistic deadline for that.

In many ways, calling this a “longshot” is exceedingly optimistic. But the strikes against me are obvious and, as a result, only worth acknowledging and then moving on. But elite sport is all about longshots. Most of my career as a triathlete was defined by longshots. Some of them – many of them – I missed. But I made others that I never expected to make. The word “should” has little place when it comes to setting lofty goals. The only word that matters is “can,” and I believe I can do this. It may be improbable, but it’s not impossible.

When I think about what it is that drives me to chase this, I think back to the fantastic short film that Nikon did about cyclist Rebecca Rusch, climber Alec Honnold, and kayaker Dane Jackson called, “WHY.”

People have asked me why I do this … Because I have to. I don’t know how to live my life any other way.

Rebecca Rusch

Rebecca has a great way with words, and I thank her for putting the thing that lives inside of me into such a clear – and concise (never my strong suit) – idea. I expressed this a long time ago on Slowtwitch, speaking then about triathlon, and it seems like it is time to reprise at least one part of that phase in my life. I’m amazed I was able to say it in so few words…

If you have a dream, pursue it as hard as you can. The world needs more of that.

Jordan Rapp (then the Triathlete and now the Pursuiter)

Go fast. Turn left. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat…

3 thoughts on “The Longshot

  1. Hey Jordan! Love the article. Kick ass man! I just got on zwift this past month. Absolutely addicted! Say hi to Jill and the kids for me. Geoff


  2. Jordan, I enjoyed reading about your post-triathlon adventures. There is something freeing about competing in a sport at which you have hope and drive but few expectations. I will be rooting for you to make the pursuit team for the Tokyo Games. Best of luck, Richard


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