Professional mountain biker Sarah Hill says the indoor trainer is proving a boon for cyclists now that outdoor training is impossible – and in particular it has enabled her to work on her most limiting factor.
“That is consistent power – as hard as it is, and as much as it turns me inside out, I’m learning such valuable lessons about sustained effort.
“There’s no long singletrack to hide and recover in, and definitely no time to coast. It’s all raw power training, something I’ve never been fond of but am making friends with very quickly.”
The 26-year-old moved to her father’s house in Bryanston, Johannesburg, for the lockdown period. She lives on the third floor of an apartment complex with no garden or space to move around much, so felt that was the best option.
“For the lockdown I knew my biggest struggle would be the prevention of being outside. My dad’s place has a big garden and even a tennis court, so I knew my heart would be happier there.
“I also decided to move back to be close to family. My dad and two younger brothers are really close, so it’s important to stick together during times like this. It’s the first time in eight years that all three kids have lived together. We are all in our 20s now, so this is really special for us.”
The Galileo Risk rider says it is all about perspective as people go through phases where they wish they were somewhere else.
“Dealing with that kind of anxiety is tough. We’re all stressed about what is going to happen and when we can restart our ‘normal lives’ again.
“It’s important now to realise that there’s not much we can change. We need to make the most of the moment we have been given and see it as an opportunity for growth.
“We’ve all heard it, but we’ve been forced into a place of self-reflection. We should take this time to think about the aspects of our lives that truly make us happy. What do we enjoy seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and talking about?
“It’s quite a transformational period for all of us. I’m looking forward to seeing the authenticity that arises from our nationwide lockdown.”
Regarding working on any specific weak or strong points, Hill said she was definitely mixing it up.
“I can’t push my weakness every session or I’ll kill my little flame inside of me. The process of recovering well so you can give your best during interval sessions is key.
“I’ve noticed that it actually takes me a bit longer to recover from the indoor trainer due to the lack of coasting. I didn’t realise I was such a lazy pedaller.
“I include sessions that are good for the soul (short and sharp) and sessions that expand my comfort zone with regards to time-trialing.
“Because we don’t know when our racing calendar is going to start up again we want to be prepared but not over-trained. [We] can’t let Zwift get too exciting!”
Hill admitted that a month ago she would have said indoor training was just the worst thing ever, and only people who were stuck for time really benefited from it.
“Boy, am I wrong. I finally understand why my racing partner Theresa Ralph is so mentally tough when it comes to suffering.
“This indoor trainer doesn’t give you a minute of relief. If you have to sit at 260w for a given period, it keeps you there. What a way to build resilience and absolute toughness when it comes to sitting in the hurt box.
“I have always and will always be an advocate of outdoor riding, but the quality you get from the trainer simply cannot be replicated outside. It’s like being in a perfect lab where all variables are controlled. Not often do we all get to train every day under these perfect circumstances.”
She felt it provided a huge physical benefit and built strength through consistency.
“Mentally we can choose for the experiences to benefit us or break us. I choose the challenge of practising staying hard-headed.
“I have a group of us who have come together and formed Zwift groups, where we do fun races and keep things exciting. That’s a huge mental gain.
“Emotionally, riding my bike makes me happy. Breathing hard and getting your dose of positive suffering is awesome. This helps make me feel like I’m part of a community and not alone. I get to share my experiences with my friends through banter and encouragement. It’s a great way to keep the motivation up.”
Hill said the indoor trainer gave her a great space to put quality work in.
“I’m already getting used to sitting on it for around two hours, so that’s a huge plus.
“With the help of my rollers I’m able to do a three-hour day pretty easily. The only thing it doesn’t cater for is my mountain biking skills, which I make sure I practise in the garden every afternoon, just to keep my spirits up.”
Hill and her coach have had many discussions on what they are going to do training-wise.
Her plan is to “work on my limiters but still keep things fun. The future is unknown right now and we want to embrace this space of ‘freedom’.
“Focusing on what is going to make me a better racer includes both a physiological and psychological strategy. Keeping that balance is essential.”