Story: Ella Harris - Looking Forward During The Lockdown
I’m twenty one years old and from Dunedin, but when the season is in full swing I reside in Girona, Spain. I'm currently a professional cyclist for Canyon//SRAM Racing after winning the 2018 Zwift Academy. It’s my second year on the German registered team. I'm also a distance student at Massey University and enjoy other past times such as baking, cooking and just generally being active.
I started cycling at 10 years of age with my parents on the weekends. My interest in cycling lead me to compete at the regional school triathlon champs. From there, I continued to cycle, run and swim regularly, partaking in junior training groups with my local triathlon and running clubs while also joining a swim squad. I didn't start cycle racing until three years later when I joined the cycling club at my first high school in Christchurch and began participating in the Christchurch Schools Cycling events throughout the winter. Here I fell in love with everything cycling. My biggest achievement to date would probably be winning my first UCI professional race at Stage 2 at the UCI 2.1 Herald Sun Tour. Representing New Zealand at the 2019 UCI Elite World Championships and winning the Zwift Academy are equally huge moments for me.
The thing I love about cycling is that feeling you get after you’ve completed a really tough race or session, completely destroyed physically but satisfied in the knowledge that you gave it everything and achieved a great outcome.
I am enjoying Zwift races in particular at the moment as they can be so incredibly painful and hard, but it’s great when you can finally relax and take a breather once you cross that virtual finish line!
In my training, I enjoy a classic ‘hill repeats’ session along the lines of 6 x 3-4 mins at above threshold effort, but my personal favourite would have to be a long 4+ hour ride at zone 2/ zone 3 where you’re just pressing on the pedals the whole time. Steady, continuous riding on a solid route with nice scenery and challenging terrain is what I like; especially getting into the quieter roads further away from home and being occupied by your own thoughts. There’s something about the feeling of being completely destroyed and cracked upon arriving home that’s strangely enjoyable, and a coffee and cake stop in a small town cafe is always a welcome add on!
I first jumped on Zwift in July 2017 when I’d just purchased a basic direct drive trainer because I was getting a little sick of training outdoors during winter. Initially, I only used Zwift when the weather was really bad, but in late November 2017, I had a nasty crash which resulted in quite a comprehensive elbow break requiring surgery. I spent five weeks solely on Zwift before I was able to ride on the road again, and despite only riding at the same intensity without any intervals, my fitness was high enough to take to the start line of two UCI races in Australia just under two months later.
I initially signed up for the Zwift Academy during a five-week trip to the US for criterium racing, and conveniently the Academy was due to start the week after I returned home. I’d actually decided against giving it a go, as I wasn’t too sure how it would fit in with my training and racing at home. A friend asked me whether I was still planning on doing it, and that was the wee nudge that I needed to contact my coach and get it slotted into my programme. I was relatively inexperienced on Zwift at this point and didn’t quite realise the capabilities of the programme. However, the usefulness of the workout feature really impressed me and I completed my first proper Zwift race during this time.
When I was progressing through the Zwift Academy, my entire focus was on the end-goal of actually winning the competition. The prize was everything I could have ever wanted for myself in sport, so I was completely invested in making it a reality. In saying this however, I didn't think I'd actually be the one left standing as the winner at the very end - this moment completely changed my life and I simply wouldn’t be where I am today without it. Zwift has opened up so many doors and provided the most amazing opportunities I would have never otherwise been able to experience. I was granted access to a fantastic pathway into professional cycling with the best possible team and guidance, and thanks to this support I’ve been able to push myself in cycling towards levels I’ve always aspired to reach.
In saying this, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that my motivation has been a little up and down over the past few weeks. I went from having 25-30 hour weeks on the programme in Spain during March as preparation for the season, to unexpectedly flying back to New Zealand after two weeks and having all programmed sessions taken off Training Peaks. Initially when I arrived back in New Zealand, I was trying to go outside for at least two hours training a day but this very quickly took a toll. I wasn’t particularly enjoying forcing myself outside for this monotonous exercise and 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 the national police. 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. This contributed to me becoming quite put off outdoor riding for a while, so 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 can't go outdoors in their current location, and also because the community spirit on Zwift is so fantastic right now.
This move completely re-ignited my love for Zwift and I've 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'm really enjoying everything on Zwift, from group rides to races and even collecting badges for completing different routes. I've found myself entering multiple races a day and trying to learn as much as I can about e-racing, an area I've previously neglected a little. I've probably been doing a bit too much training than I should be 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. I'm hoping to improve further in this area and continue to enter as many races as I can while the outdoor side of things remains unclear, as I can definitely see a huge future for the virtual side of the sport, a side I'd really like to become more a part of.
Cycling at the moment is really great as I hate the feeling of being inactive or sedentary, especially if I’m studying or kept at home for a while, so I’d be pretty lost if I wasn’t able to keep my legs turning every day and work up a sweat.
It’s hard not having any definitive race targets to work towards when you’re a 'professional' as it’s literally what you’re supposed to do, so from a team perspective I’m feeling a little worthless right now. In some respects, riding doesn’t really seem to have a purpose currently, but then I remind myself that I didn’t start cycling solely to race my bike and for the most part I actually enjoy training as much as racing. I’m just trying to keep my motivation levels high through doing riding that I want to do and focussing on what brings me the most enjoyment at the moment. At the moment that's Zwift, so I'm really just making the most of the motivation I have to use the platform at the moment and to keep further fuelling my Zwift addiction with every ride I do. I love being able to challenge myself on the bike by ticking off new goals and trying new things, and I treat it as a real privilege that I can have my favourite past time as also my job. It's the one thing I do that is consistent with every day that passes currently and not only is it my favourite activity in these times, but it's also the one thing I'm obligated to do, and that's not a bad crossover to have.
Words: Ella Harris
Images: Supplied by Canyon//SRAM Racing