Ruth Astle on Zwift, staying motivated and off-season fitness

This year Ruth Astle (née Purbrook) turned pro after a phenomenal 2019 season, which saw her crowned the fastest female age-grouper at Kona. 2020 has hardly gone the way she envisaged her first year as a pro going. Here's how she coped with the strangest of seasons

Ruth Astle training at home

How have you managed to stay focussed this year?

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On the whole it hasn’t been hard to stay focussed this year, being my first pro year and knowing how much I have to improve in all three disciplines. It’s also been nice, in some ways, to have a less intense year, and really be able to focus on recovery and do some more fun things, like gravel bike adventures.

Yet it’s been hard at points to remain focussed on training, when races kept getting cancelled and it wasn’t clear if there would be any races, but overall the bigger goals I’m aiming for, like qualifying for Kona as a pro, kept me going.

Have you struggled mentally at all?

There have definitely been some really hard days. Firstly, when Ironman South Africa was cancelled a couple of weeks before the race, I’d just finished my big Ironman block and was about to start tapering, and was really up for a race to see where my form was at after a good winter block. That was quite hard to deal with mentally, especially as it then coincided with lockdown so the ability to socialise and train with friends was also taken away. To cope with the bad days I try and think about the positives, like being able to race a couple of British local races supported by the PTO, or the fact that I was able to keep swimming through lockdown, or just the fact I’ve longer to make improvements before racing! But I think it’s important to also recognise that there will be tough days, and not to feel like you have to be positive all the time.

Has your training suffered?

My swimming was definitely impacted by not being able to swim with a group. I can push myself much harder swimming with a group, and I also found it harder to concentrate on my technique in the open water. Other than that, though, I think there were actually many benefits to doing a few different things, and not having so much intensity for a long period.

Has you managed to use this year to work on any weaknesses?

I’ve been trying really hard to work on my swim, which has definitely been improving through increased volume and focus on technique.

Has there been any good points from 2020?

There’s been lots of good points this year – getting into gravel biking and exploring some amazing parts of the UK. Also finding a new group of training partners around Yorkshire has been great, especially the group of Masters swimmers.

How have you found the journey from age grouper to pro?

Being able to reduce my corporate job to 14 hours a week has been the biggest positive, in terms of giving me time to get decent sleep every night, and having proper recovery time between sessions. It’s also allowed me to increase my training a bit, and not cut out some of the gym sessions, like I often used to.

Yet it’s not been the ideal year to try and become a professional triathlete with all races in the middle six months being cancelled, and therefore no way of trying to get into the PTO ranking to benefit from the financial support they offer. It’s also tough going from being the best [age-grouper] in the world to being very average [as a pro], and also realising how much more my swim needs to improve to compete at a professional level. It’s also been a lot harder to secure sponsorship without having pro race results to show.

How much did the Zwift Academy help you last year?

Zwift Academy played a huge part in my successful Kona race last year, from having all the best equipment to use, to having the most incredible support during Kona week. I also really enjoyed being part of a team, and having other people to follow and support throughout the year and also in Kona. As Zwift has always played quite a large part in my training, particularly as an age grouper, it was nice to see more about how they develop the platform and behind the scenes.

The Academy is 100% worth applying for – whether or not you think you have a reasonable shot of getting onto the team as having some sessions to focus on and people to do them with is really motivational.

[For those who don’t know the Zwift Triathlon Academy began life in 2018 as an offshoot of the Zwift Academy program, which aimed to identify under-the-radar cycling talent using the virtual training environment of Zwift. And the end goal of the Zwift Triathlon Academy? To propel triathletes to success at the pinnacle of multisport: the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

To be in with a chance of selection each Zwifter has to complete six bike workouts, four run workouts, and one bike and one run race to be in contention. The performance data crunched before being paired with swim data and race results. 

The successful applicants will join probably the best-supported age-group triathlon team in history, complete with the greatest gear, racing support and mentors.]

How are you approaching the off season this year?

I’m not sure I’ll have an off-season as such, as I have Ironman Florida in November and Challenge Daytona in December, so it’s going to be a busy couple of months. I’ll probably do a bit of bike touring post-Daytona and a couple of weeks of doing non-structured training. Having had a few weeks of doing different things this year, I don’t feel like I need a huge break.

What sort of shape are you  in?

At the moment I’m in peak fitness for the Ironman, and will feel pretty good going into the off-season.

What advice can you offer age groupers going into the off-season?

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My main advice would be to be kind to yourself and use the time to do some of the things you wouldn’t usually with a jam-packed race season, whether that be different types of training, or spending more time with friends (if possible!).