Zwift Academy is a community of fun-loving, competitive women from all corners of the globe. They are moms, daughters, doctors, lawyers, caretakers, entrepreneurs, bosses, and more who remarkably balance training with all of life's responsibilities.
Each week, we'll tell one rider's story to uncover a little bit more of the motivations and personalities behind this inspiring group of women.
Sonia Whiteman just got a road bike last November. Here's her story...
Why did you join Zwift Academy?
I only started cycling at the end of November ’15, when my husband, a keen cyclist, bought me a road bike on Black Friday as an early Christmas present.
I had never ridden a road bike before. Well, I tried it once before on my husband’s too big old bike with his too big clip in shoes. I was pretty scared - it felt like being strapped by the feet onto a skinny-twitchy-ice-skate-thing. I wasn't convinced I wanted to pursue it as a sport from that first experience! But, as apparently this was “an amazing deal”, I thought maybe I should give it a proper go, especially as a really good friend and neighbor is a keen road cyclist and she had been nagging me to start. So I agreed to my early Christmas present and set out to overcome my fear, try something new and stop my husband from using the money to buy yet more “vital” bike upgrades and Lycra all for himself :)
I started using my bike over the British winter on the turbo trainer to get used to it and build some fitness. I’d already seen my husband doing really well with the turbo over the winter so knew it was a good training tool. I tried the free trials of a few different software options and Zwift was by far my favorite.
I love the graphics and data, but for me Zwift Academy is more than that – the motivation provided by being part of a community and the ability to compete against other riders are fantastic features.
I am apparently quite competitive (so everyone tells me!) and must admit I did immediately love racing against other people.
How has the training impacted your life so far?
Well, even after such a short time owning a bike I now consider myself a cyclist and have been accepted into the village Lycra gang! I really love riding with a group of other riders, especially when they clearly know what they are doing and I can learn from them.
But we all have busy lives with kids, dogs and jobs so the flexibility of having a turbo and Zwift when I have a spare hour or it’s raining outside (most days in England!) is perfect for me. In a short space of time in the “pain cave” I feel that I have made really good progress thanks to Zwift. In a normal week now I do one long and one short jog, squeeze in one swimming session a week, do some core training like planking and push ups (when I remember!), and the rest of the week gets filled with the fun stuff - ZA training.
It has definitely changed my life for the better. Until last year I had only really jogged up to 5km, with just one very painful and slow attempt at a half marathon (I finished, but boy did it hurt!). Since starting turbo training I can just feel that my legs are stronger.
My confidence with cycling is growing all the time and I feel that I can actually “do it”. After a bit of bike training on the turbo with ZA in April I ended up signing up for the Winchester Triathlon on 2nd May ’16 (400m swim, 25km bike then 5km run). I did much better than I expected, especially in the cycling leg. So far so good, and now I have signed for my next one, the Andover Triathlon, which is slightly longer (440m swim, 30km bike and 8.3km run). I think I'll also do a half marathon in September and hopefully enjoy this one! Who knows, maybe a half Ironman is on the cards for me next year?
The way I keep on getting stronger, and fitter…. anything seems possible.
What do you do when you're not riding your bike?
I run my own business from home making bespoke handmade soft furnishings, with blinds and curtains my specialties. This keeps me busy with work that I love and I am lucky enough that I get plenty of referrals, so a nice steady stream of clients. I also like to keep myself fit in other ways with running, hiking, swimming and skiing in the French Alps as often as possible.
I live in a 17th century thatched cottage in a lovely rural village in the Test Valley, Hampshire with country walks on the doorstep so try to get out into the fresh air often. The village is a friendly close-knit community and I also get involved in helping with village and school events and activities. I am originally from the Czech Republic and try to get back there to visit my family when time allows.
Do you have kids or pets? How do they feel about your Zwift station?
We have two children, Saskia aged 9 and Alexander aged 7. We also have a bonkers 1 year old Springer Spaniel named Benton. The kids are very supportive of my turbo training on Zwift and often poke their heads into the little office where it is set up to say “Go on mummy, keep going!”. I think that they regard either mummy or daddy being on the turbo as just part of daily life. They like looking at the Zwift graphics and asking which one is mummy when I am in a peloton. The dog is a bit less sure - he is not too keen on the noise from the turbo so tends to hide himself away in his bed.
Cyclists have to replace a lot of calories. What's your favorite post-ride treat?
If my training is in the morning, normally straight after I have a chocolate protein recovery milk shake. For lunch, I love poached eggs on wholemeal toast with avocado and chili flakes on top.
Mid afternoon I have a banana and a handful of salted cashew nuts (they are also my post-ride treat). I also love a Snickers bar, but I would take this usually on a long ride.
What's one of your most memorable moments on a bike?
So far its competing in the Winchester triathlon after only having had the bike a few weeks and coming 11th out of 72 women overall. However, I am still in my first year of cycling and making memories all the time.
In July my parents-in-law have offered to take our children for a week so my husband and I are going for a cycling holiday in Provence where we will climb Mount Ventoux and cycle the Gorges de la Nesque. We're also taking our road bikes to the French Alps on our family holiday in August where we will do some training and climbs. We are driving to the Alps and are actually going to take the turbo and laptop too so that I can still Zwift if the weather is not appealing!
I am also looking at doing my first Sportive in late August or early September. So I am expecting to create some great cycling memories during my first summer of cycling and hoping that my Zwift training helps me to get up Mount Ventoux without tears!
Where has your bike taken you, physically and/or mentally?
So far my riding has all been on the turbo or local rides around the beautiful countryside of the Test Valley. Our turbo trainer is in a little office on the side of our house. Although our pain cave does have a thatched roof and old walls which helps keep the temperature down somewhat, I have certainly suffered during some of the longer Zwift rides! Outdoors I enjoy cycling with other keen cycling ladies in my village or with my husband. My husband knows all of the best local routes and hills and all I have to do is follow (and keep up!). Just this week he had a day off and the weather was fine so we went out for a 50-mile ride which included Combe Gibbet, ranked in the top 100 UK climbs. That was the biggest hill I have done so far and as my husband had warned me, I had to remind my legs that it would soon be over!
I think I am pretty tough mentally as I was always competitive and pretty good at training for sports as a kid. A Czech upbringing under communism was not exactly luxurious so also teaches you a bit of mental toughness.
However, you had better ask me this question again after I have tried to climb Mount Ventoux!
Describe Zwift in 5 words
A fun global cycling community.