–By Kaitlyn Patterson, Team OAM NOW cyclist
I’ve been working on a pretty cool project that has escalated over the past month that I would like to explain. It can be a bit hard to explain to people both within and outside of cycling so I’ll do my best to cover what I’m doing and why.
Zwift is an interactive online cycling program that you can pair to a smart trainer or a power meter ride on a virtual course with other riders logged in from around the world. You can chat with riders around you, join group rides, do pre-written or custom workouts, or even race. If you have a smart trainer, the resistance will change based on the elevation changes of the Zwift course. Overall, it makes riding the trainer 100% more engaging and can be a great training tool.
At the beginning of the summer, Zwift rolled out a program called “Zwift Academy,” open to any female cyclist. It included a series of workouts, a pre and post Functional threshold power (FTP) test and a designated number of group rides to complete over a three month time span. After this “qualifying period” a panel of professionals would analyze power data and other information and select 10 semi-finalists they thought had the potential to be professional riders. The semi finalists continue the program and compete for the grand prize of a one year contract with the Canyon/SRAM team.
When I read about this at first, I was intrigued but I thought it was a bit sacrilegious to ride the trainer in the summer and I only had a couple months of freedom before medical school started. However, I thought it was a pretty cool idea and I joined the Facebook group to keep tabs on it. Through the summer, an impressive community of women from around the world converged on this platform- sharing stories, equipment tips, training advice, and such. Most of them were not in it for the “grand prize” or any prize at all but the pursuit of improvement and inclusion in a community.
At the end of July when I was preparing to move to Ann Arbor to start school, I began to plan how I would continue to train most efficiently with the demands of school. I knew my days of riding my mountain bike endlessly from our front door were over and I knew the trainer was going to turn into an important training tool for me. So just for fun, I looked at the Zwift Academy requirements again. It would be a lot of work to finish the program by the August 31st deadline but it had already elicited the spark of a new challenge and there was no turning back.
Despite occasionally feeling guilty for riding inside in August, Zwift Academy turned into a great outlet for me for several reasons. It definitely helped me fit in a lot of high quality efficient workouts as my volume declined. It also reduced the amount of time I was on the road during the time that I was most anxious about cars due to recent accidents. However, I didn’t post any of my Zwift rides on Strava, because I wasn’t quite confident enough to explain what I was doing or why.
Fitting in the workouts around races and outdoor rides turned out to be more of a challenge than expected because the workouts were legitimately hard. However, I managed to finish Zwift Academy by the deadline. I figured I would likely have a chance at moving on but due to the time constraints, I didn’t do all the workouts at the highest quality and my power numbers didn’t improve much in such a short time. However, one week after the conclusion of the program, my name was among the ten from around the world to move on. (Check out the bios from the semi-finalists here.) I was excited and pleased but also surprised with their selection. I was very honest with Zwift Academy about my school and racing plans but they advanced me nevertheless. I thought this was pretty cool for several reasons:
First, one of my goals of medical school is to avoid sacrificing myself mentally and physically in the process of medical training. Yes, this is historically how it has been done and I may be judged for wanting it to be different. However, I think that the University of Michigan is on board with this and it is cool that Zwift Academy acknowledged this too.
Secondly, my involvement with this project is not driven solely by the pursuit of a pro contract. But I don’t think it is all about the pro contract for Zwift Academy either. The enthusiasm of the Zwift Academy community exceeded expectations and I think there is a lot of power in using both community and “gamification” for some impressively rewarding fitness and satisfaction gains – and not just for the highest caliber athletes. I think building and strengthening an underrepresented community in the cycling world will benefit the sport at all levels. So I was pleased that Zwift acknowledged that I might have something to bring to this community, even if it does not necessarily mean being the optimal candidate to fulfill a professional contract.
The next round of workouts started up last week and I have the months workouts in my Training Peaks. The semi-finals include one outdoor workout, one specific Zwift workout and one Zwift group ride or race of our choice. It is actually a pretty relaxed schedule that allows me to continue to spend time on my mountain bike. The semifinals run through the end of November.So it will definitely be an interesting ride no matter what and I’m excited to see what the next few months hold.