Vox_Blog_EllaHarris

I am officially addicted to Zwift

I’ve been racking my brains trying to come up with a specific subject for this blog, but as days have gone by, I have been no closer to honing in on that informative and thought-provoking topic of conversation. How is it possible for there to be so much to discuss in current times, yet so little actually happening, and even less areas that I feel sufficiently educated enough to actually write a blog about. Naturally I’ve decided to go with what I do best, that being to waffle on, so rather than addressing one of the world’s most pressing issues today, I’ll just be having a general chit chat with you all and seeing where my thoughts and this Google Doc take me.

Currently it’s 12.20pm on a Wednesday and I sit here in the lounge at my family home in Dunedin, slightly hangry because I haven’t yet consumed my daily porridge. And also rather restless as I haven’t touched my bike for a few days. Not the position where I truly want to be, but not an unpleasant one either. I’m content but unsatisfied right now, a feeling probably shared by many. I just flicked into my Instagram memories and exactly one year ago today, I posted a picture of me standing in front of the splendid view at Santuari Del Far, a restaurant perched at 1200m on the very edge of a mountainous cliff. An incredible riding destination with a one way journey 70km from Girona, and a place where I would feel truly satisfied to be. Two months prior, it would have been quite feasible for me to be in this same position one year later, but I think recently we’ve all been taught quite a serious lesson in just how fast both personal as well as global circumstances can change and how unpredictable the future can be.

We’ve all read, listened, watched and thought about this whole global crisis enough now, so I’m not about to add yet another recount of my own personal blow by blow ‘Covid-19’ experience into the mix, however I would like to talk about one aspect; I just can’t get my head around how quickly this whole situation escalated.

There were very faint murmurs when travelling to Australia for the Tour Down Under that there was a serious virus becoming rampant in China, and I vaguely recall seeing reports on the news of New Zealanders being stranded in Wuhan with total uncertainty of whether they could return home. When travelling to Dunedin from Sun Tour in early February, I had started to receive information from Cycling New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand with regard to ‘staying safe’ in airports and taking precautions due to the small chance of coming into contact with this virus after it had spread to Australia. By then, New Zealand had temporarily banned the entry of visitors who were from or had travelled through China. This already raised concerns for the New Zealand economy given Chinese students make up roughly half of all foreign students in New Zealand universities and it was a peak tourism travel season due to the Lunar New Year. Chinese students are charged significantly higher fees than domestic students, so they are a valuable stream of revenue for our tertiary institutions.

 

When I left New Zealand for Spain in early March, the question arose “have you been travelling in Mainland China in the past 14 days?” which was only seen as a safe-guarding procedure and was brushed off as fast as when you’re asked whether you have air in your bike tires. I had a little chuckle when passing through my Los Angeles stopover to see airport staff donning masks and safety glasses, and my flights were ridiculously busy from Auckland right through to Heathrow with re-booked customers who were unable to travel through Asia. Even on the 5th of March, Heathrow Airport was as chaotic as ever and social distancing was definitely not a thing. Fast forward to the 20th of March, and there I was standing in a completely deserted Barcelona Airport, listening to intercom messages reminding passengers to maintain a two metre distance, and watching as people would break into a ‘slide’ style dance move in order to shuffle as far as possible in the opposite direction. It had never crossed my mind that I would be back at the airport just over two weeks later; I guess it was a nice European getaway though.

As soon as I returned home to New Zealand in late March, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and there was no doubt in my mind that I had made the right decision. I had mulled over the “should I, shouldn’t I” question for a few days, only to panic buy one of the few remaining seats out of Barcelona on what was to become my final night in Spain. My original predictions had me left with no racing for two months which seemed incredibly daunting, however it’s now actually less than two weeks until that date and the only thing I’ll be lining up for anytime soon is a Zwift race. I was really worried about leaving Spain in case a race still miraculously went ahead and I ended up going home only to return unreasonably quickly, but now that we’re looking at August at the very earliest, I realise just how starry-eyed I was back then. Currently, a daily Google search for me is “International travellers into Spain” in order to get an inkling of when I could be allowed to enter Europe again. I’ve learnt from the racing rescheduling though that it’s probably not worth coming up with guesstimate dates, because I’ll look back in three months’ time and yet again realise how wrong I was. You’d think if the European borders aren’t open, then the various countries won’t be in a position to actually hold these races anyway, and then take into account what is required to even reach the European border. Flights. Lots of them when you’re 40 hours away, and they aren’t exactly a readily available service currently.

Just a couple months ago, a nationwide lockdown would have been unthinkable and even though it too seems unfathomable, all evidence at this stage points towards long-haul travel being a pipeline dream for 2020. Air New Zealand reduced its long-haul capacity by 85% in response to the outbreak and have delayed a new direct New York service until late next year at the earliest, which gives a potentially realistic indication of when long-haul travel could once again become viable. Another important point to note is that the New Zealand Government’s official travel advice is “do not travel overseas at this time” and who knows how long it will be before this warning is downgraded, meaning that most travel insurers will not provide cover if travelling against Government recommendations. I’m not sure this is the sort of risk I’d be willing to take knowing my crash and injury rate.

 

Before this whole kerfuffle began, I wasn’t the best when it came to racing on or using Zwift and to be completely honest, I avoided the indoor trainer unless injury dictated otherwise. Yes, indoor riding has played an important role in my cycling development and yes I did win the Zwift Academy, but it is those two very facts that had led me to avoid the trusty Tacx whenever I could. To put it simply, the whole Zwift Academy process took so much out of me both mentally and physically that I did not want to touch the indoor trainer any more than I had to once it was over. This sounds overly dramatic, but the Zwift Academy was hands down the hardest experience I’ve been through. The sessions themselves were very tough and tested me right to my limits, but the competition side of vying for such a massive prize with so many other talented cyclists made the whole process especially difficult. Not only was I focusing heavily on my own power, my personal targets and then trying to demonstrate my best output in certain tests, but then also getting far too absorbed in the numbers of other riders. Over those months, I undertook far too many evil sessions and too much power analysis than what was healthy for my mind, so come the end of the Academy, I was a little bit over the whole ‘numbers game’ and high intensity Zwift work. With a slight tongue in cheek, I think I suffered from a little Zwift Academy PTSD over the subsequent year. In saying all of that, this whole lockdown situation is probably the best thing that could have ever happened for my relationship with indoor riding and maximal efforts on the trainer. I have made peace with Zwift again in my own mind and my attitude towards training indoors has done a complete 180 degree turn. I absolutely love Zwift. I am officially addicted, and I cannot get enough.

The catalyst that reignited my Zwifting was when I arrived back in New Zealand and attempted to go outside for at least two hours training a day, which very quickly took its toll. Physically it wasn’t particularly arduous, but I just wasn’t enjoying forcing myself outside for this monotonous exercise and subsequently began questioning what I was actually doing it for. The short answer was that without any upcoming races, it was best to take a step back and simply let the legs tick over. Mentally I struggled thinking that I wasn’t doing enough, and anything that I did do wasn’t really seeming adequate. This was heightened by the fact that the lockdown rules in New Zealand seemed rather conflicted, with mixed messages coming from the Government, the local police and even police head quarters. The outdoor exercise restrictions were quite unclear with different interpretations on what ‘riding local’ meant – I wasn’t particularly liking the manner in which fellow cyclists, along with non-cyclists, were voicing their opinions on the guidelines across online platforms. I felt surrounded by total negativity when it came to bike riding – from online sources such as Strava and Facebook, to onlookers around town and then my own muddled training thoughts on top of this. It all came to a head when one day I was out riding, and only 20 minutes in, I saw a bus stop on the footpath that looked far more appealing than the road ahead. I subsequently sat inside for a further 20 minutes with zero energy to continue. I then phoned my parents and they drove me the 6km home. That was that – just a bit head-cracked upon reflection. After being more or less completely put off outdoor riding for a while and having no programme to follow on Training Peaks (it was all deleted post racing cancellations), I went ‘underground’ and solely rode on Zwift for over two weeks in a row. Seeing so many other people, not just in New Zealand but globally, using Zwift during these times also inspired me to ride indoors. This was both out of sympathy for those who actually couldn’t go outdoors in their respective location, and also because the community spirit on Zwift was just so fantastic. In New Zealand we have been having fantastic weather recently which almost made up for the summer that we never had, yet despite this I had absolutely zero cares to lap up the sunshine and cruise alongside a glassy, sparkling Otago harbour. All the local riders I would normally hang out with on a Sunday bunchie were all hanging out on Zwift instead, and it seemed as if 90% of New Zealand’s entire cycling population was on there too; I was just a sheep and wanted to follow everyone else. It was really cool to have the ability to connect with all these different riders across New Zealand and I have to say, my training became far more social than it has ever been.

In doing so, I discovered a whole lot of motivation that I didn’t realise I could stir up after the monotony of the road training I’d been completing. I have been enjoying everything on Zwift, from group rides to races and even collecting badges for completing different routes. I found myself entering multiple races a day and trying to learn as much as I could about e-racing, an area I’ve previously neglected a little. I was probably doing a bit too much training than I should have been considering the lack of outdoor racing on the horizon and the fact I could have an extremely jam-packed end of year calendar, but developing a passion for Zwift racing has certainly been a positive for me that has come out of this otherwise unfortunate situation. My Zwift rampage peaked with the Tour for All Pro Tour last week where I set top three performances on Training Peaks in all three stages that I did; I won’t mention the fact the races finished between 1.00am and 2.00am for me. In the final stage finishing up the infamous Alpe du Zwift, I set a new 90 min power PB and was two watts below my best ever 20 minute power (set during an actual test on the road). In the first stage, I had a 30 second laptop freeze with 50km remaining which resulted in the front bunch sailing off into the distance. I’m not one to give up that easily, so I ended up setting my best ever 60 minute power while TTing my way back to the head of the race. Because of that misfortune, it ended up being one of the best team performances I’ve been a part of in Zwift racing. It was so rewarding and I was buzzing afterwards.

 

I honestly cannot see a week go by where I won’t jump on Zwift into the future. In these uncertain times, it has done wonders for my head and for my form, I haven’t felt this good on the bike ever before. Even when I’m not riding on Zwift, I’m doing anything from watching racing live streams and listening to podcasts, reading blogs on anything from racing to the latest updates and working out how I can level up faster by unlocking new badges in-game. I told you, I’m obsessed right now. There is no doubt in my mind that Zwift is an incredible tool to enhance performance and I’m so pleased that I’ve managed to get really stuck into the platform during this time. It hasn’t just helped me physically, but mentally I feel so much better and I am far more in control of my thoughts when it comes to going really deep or suffering, an area which has made me quite nervous and rattled prior to a tough session or event previously.

 

There is so much more I could start rambling on about right now but I’ve done more than enough of that, so I’ll keep a lid on it and leave it there for now. To all the readers, thank you for making this far; I trust you’re keeping fit (on Zwift ideally), healthy and that your sourdough starters are working their magic (keep up that banana bread baking too). Be sure to keep up with my current happenings on Instagram @elllaharrris and see you all around the roads of Watopia sometime soon!

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