Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Imagine running along a ridge in the Peak District, drinking in the sunset, inhaling the season and hearing nothing but your breathing and the sound of your shoes caressing the ground beneath you. This is what Katie's athletic life mainly revolved around. She didn't just love trail running for the usual reasons, she was really good at it. In September 2020, she won Ultra X England - a two-stage trail ultramarathon race in the Peak District totalling 125km. However, when the second lockdown hit the UK she, like everyone else, was forced back inside. And everything changed... for the better. She found Zwift, a new goal, a new team and a new perspective.
For both athletes and organisations, the pandemic exposed those who weren't ready to adapt to new challenges, those who weren't prepared to deal with extra stress and those who weren't willing to persevere when things weren't going their way. In Katie's case, none of the above apply. When the second wave forced the UK back into isolation, she decided to buy herself a foot pod so she could do her training on the treadmill. She had done a bit of cycling on Zwift but had never tried the running side of the app. She was immediately impressed.
With no races in the calendar, she decided to embark on the Zwift Academy course which prescribed her regular training sessions which she sprinkled into her routine. "Ultra X England was an awesome experience, but part of me felt like I was plodding," she admits. "Part of the reason why I decided to race trail ultras is because I had convinced myself that I wasn't fast and strong enough for the shorter road events. I signed up to Zwift Academy in the hopes of proving myself wrong."
It didn't take long for Katie's speed to ramp up and her PBs to come tumbling down. This was a big deal. Once she had graduated from the Academy, she was given the opportunity to apply for a spot on a Zwift team with a view of racing Berlin Marathon 2021. This team would be coached by none other than world-class distance running coach Terrence Mahon. One enthusiastic video application and one week of testing later, she was in.
Like everything else in late 2020 and early 2021, Team Zwift was heavily restricted in what it could do face-to-face. Usually, Katie would have the chance to go on training camps with her teammates and meet Terrence in person. This time, it would all have to be done remotely, however. "It was still absolutely amazing," gushes Katie. "Having guys like Terrence at your fingertips and writing your programme for you is an incredible thing for an ambitious athlete."
What amazed Katie especially was the way Team Zwift both fuelled a real sense of cohesion between teammates while also being quite detached in practice. "It was really was the best of both worlds. I regularly chatted to Max and Ivan on the team, mainly because they also did a few Zwift races in their buildup and Ivan was aiming for roundabout the same time I was in Berlin, but the whole thing was quite detached in reality," she explains. "At the end of the day, none of us were professional athletes so we still needed the flexibility to fit our training in around our lives. It wouldn't be all that strange to find me hitting the treadmill at 10pm!"
Katie finally met Team Zwift in person when she landed in Berlin for a week of pre-race activities. From filming social media content to trying on her Team Zwift kit to hanging out with the crew, it was a packed schedule. It was everything she had ever hoped for. "Zwift had done such an incredible job of making us all feel like professional athletes, regardless of our experience, ability and goals," she recalls. "Everyone had their own different story, their own path to Zwift Academy and their own motivation, and yet there we all were, ready to take on the streets of Berlin. It just makes you love running even more!"
The actual race also made quite the impression on her. Having done a lot of her training on her Woodway treadmill and on the trails of Bushy Park, she found that the 26.2Mi of tarmac 'just hit different'. After cruising through halfway bang-on pace for her 2:45 goal, she fell victim to the muscle cramps that plagued so many on the day. She managed to stay strong and cruise it in for a 2:55 finish time.
"On the whole, I don't really feel like I did myself justice in Berlin. I know my race plan was a bit all over the place and I could have done a lot more on the nutrition front, for example, to prepare better. But the whole week was just such an experience, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Katie embarked on this adventure to prove herself she wasn't done with 'the fast stuff'. Since enrolling in the Zwift Academy, she has made tremendous strides in her performance but also in her confidence. In fact, she was so confident in her fitness that she ran the Manchester Marathon only two weeks after Berlin and chopped a whole 4min off her best time! Yes, that's a 2:51 marathon for those keeping count at home. That's a hugely impressive time in a void, but considering she had run a whole marathon only two weeks prior...
There are always things to learn in the marathon, there are always ways to make marginal gains and wring the best out of yourself. Zwift has given Katie the chance to work with a crew that is just as passionate about the sport as she is, a team that has only reinvigorated her love for running and a coach who has taught her how to look after herself in the future. One thing that really struck her is that, across the wide range of abilities, experience and age in Team Zwift, everybody made it to the start line healthy and eager. That gave her a huge amount of confidence in Terrence's methods.
For her next build, Katie is determined to incorporate more training on road into her routine alongside more track work and gym training. "The treadmill is a fantastic training tool for easy runs, leg speed and injury prevention, but I do feel like I could have done with some tougher legs on the day. A combination of Zwift, road, gym and track should do the trick," she confides. Overall, she has learned to pay more attention to her body's signals and be more precise in her preparation.
So, what's next? That's an easy one. Recovery in the very short term, but Katie already has her eyes on another marathon. Seville in February? London in October? Next year's Boston? The world is your oyster when you know what you're doing and you trust in your abilities. She recounts: "I shifted away from road running because I didn't like it. I didn't like the time pressure, I didn't like the boring courses, I didn't like lack of 'adventure'. But this whole experience has been a re-education for me. Clearly, there is an untapped ability within me that I have just been taught to access, and that is hugely exciting."