It's been a difficult year for everyone to now. Some people totally immersed themselves into training and the virtual cycling world that is Zwift. Others used the last twelve months to take some extended time away from the bike and not put themselves under unnecessary pressure to perform. I think though, we are all extremely happy to be able to get back out on our bikes in group rides again and the prospect of racing very shortly as well. While this scenario is accurate for most of us, we caught up with Elite Irish Cyclist Kelly Murphy recently and got her take on the last year. Coping with the lockdown restrictions, competing and recovering after her recent injury.
Q: With it being just over a year on, how have you been dealing with the pandemic and lockdown restrictions?
It's funny because aside from racing and training camp cancellations, the actual day to day of my life has barely changed. You wake, train, rest and repeat. Apart from the gym maybe, there's no real need for me to venture any further than a supermarket. It can be quite a solitary life, and it's funny to watch and see how the rest of the world copes changing and adapting to a life that mimics yours. You need to have a certain personality to do sport at a serious level. You absolutely have to be content in your own company and I think something that's difficult to truly appreciate until you try it. Saying that, Zwift and WhatsApp especially have been saving graces for making me feel a part of a wider community during lockdown. My track teammates and I are best friends and we talk almost everyday, mostly random crap which sounds trivial but it's good and definitely does something to feed the soul. Like anyone though, you hit low points but I think I've generally come out of it relatively well. For example, last summer with the race season having been cancelled in the UK, I hired a van and hopped over to Ireland for three months. I spent the majority of my time up mountains in counties Down and Wicklow, but I rode my bike in every province at some point. I went on loads of different club rides, took part in every club TT I could find and actually had a grand old time getting my head kicked in racing A1/2/3 with the boys! I just had a great time touring around in the van, spending time with family and getting to know the land and cycling scene a bit better. I can hand on heart say it was an irreplaceable summer and I'd jump at the chance to do it all over again. I still generally feel frustrations at the way the pandemic throws life into the dichotomy of boredom and chaos, but then I remind myself of things like that summer and it recalibrates me to know that under normal circumstances, they couldn't have happened.
Q: Have you found it difficult to remain motivated to train and what motivates you most to get up on the bike and get the work done?
Yes and no. Alongside plying the trade on the road, I harbour my own private little obsessions with timed events such as the team and individual pursuits on the track and TT's. A hallmark for these is a love of training. You need to be the kind of person who enjoys setting fire to their insides everyday for your ego to remain intact. You see, all the cliches are true; against the clock there are no shortcuts, and random chances only pop up on a rare day, so 95% of the time you get out what you put in, which can't always be said about bunch racing (contrarily, for these you have to primarily enjoy setting fire to others!). I am almost always acutely aware of that and so the drive to train generally stays high. Saying that, I've probably only ridden outside on less than 15 occasions this year, as like most of the world probably, I've been on the turbo nearly everyday. I didn't have access to a road worthy bike for almost two months post Christmas, but I had enough for an indoor setup and so I was pretty much chained to it. The first handful of 3+ hour rides you do inside are kind of cool because you feel like you're doing something crazy and so you can really psych yourself up. After 10, 20, 30 times however, the novelty wears thin. I'm back inside again now for a while because when I finally got to Belgium for the road season, I got caught in the middle of a huge crash and landed pretty hard. Ordinarily I would really enjoy the turbo because I love nailing clean intervals as an aid to riding well outside, only lately it's become the main event. Thankfully, my coach loves indoor training and his enthusiasm for it can quickly spill over right at the moments I need some help. I've been out over a month so far and probably will be for a month more at least, so it's reasonable to say that my confidence for riding a bike that isn't anchored to the ground has been shaken. Throw covid related flight and race cancellations into the mix and motivation can wilt. However, I'm living with my team pursuit teammates in Belgium currently (as we all ride for the same road team). TP is a discipline whereby your results are only as good as the sum of yourselves so being around them is my daily reminder to keep turning up. My motivation is normally focused on my more long term outcomes - race results or whatever, but for the time being I can only concentrate on taking care of what's on my plate each day as it comes, and it's now honed daily by the people I have around me. It's not ideal but I am also okay with it - it's just part of the nature of being injured, I know one day I will need to call upon the groundwork I'm putting now and motivation and confidence will return when my legs and shoulder do too!
Q: Going back to your roots a bit more. How did you first get into cycling and when did you realise cycling was the thing for you to pursue?
I started with a commute into work. I was 25 and had just moved back to my home city for work. My trip to the office was about 10km away, yet with the walk to the train station, waiting on the platform, delays, catching the train and walking to my office, my commute was easily taking an hour and a half - one way! Go home again and I was spending nearly 3 hours every day on a 20km round trip. My hobby was running at the time, and my marathon (42km) time on foot was 3 hours, so the bike was obviously a feasible middle ground. I habitually wear a Casio digital watch and I timed myself on it - when I saw I could dodge the traffic and get to work quicker than I could drive, that was it, game on. Racing myself on the commute became my favourite part of my day. I was time trialling twice a day without knowing it was a thing. I joined a cycling group after a few months of that and from there, it was the guys in there who encouraged me to race - it was one of those times where you just happen to meet the right people at the right time. After finishing one local race, my name was passed around. My second ever race was the Ras na mBan, my third was the Tour de Yorkshire! I basically TT'd my way around everything, if I wasn't off the front, I was off the back because I was terrified of the bunch. Yet somehow finishing races this way was enough to impress people. Running I find meditative, but it was just something I did and as a wider sport, I wasn't really into it. Cycling on the other hand is so intricate and tactical that it was really something I could sink my teeth into, and I quickly became and still am very much a big fan of the sport. So the rest is history!
Q: Were you into any other sports growing up?
As a child I spent a couple of years Irish dancing, then as a teenager I played Netball and I was pretty good at both. I'm a bit of a restless and fidgety person by nature so sport has always been something I just take too quickly. Saying that, I'm a solid and unchangeable diesel engine on the bike which always blows my mind considering a very large part of my life was spent prancing and leaping around.
Q: Do you have a favourite cycling memory or anything that sticks in your mind?
I have a small catalogue of stand out moments that cover all kinds of events and contexts, so it's hard to pick just one. I am also aware that the life I happen to live is a hotbed for more stand out moments to happen. I will be a little old lady reminiscing to my grandkids on good bike times yet to be had that's for sure. I dunno, I think back fondly on late summer chain gangs, coffee stops, and fun anecdotes from hanging around with everyone in Mallorca. We have millions from the track, it's a surreal life but one I count my stars to have ever become a part of. Like the summer of 2018, I had just moved to Mallorca, my friendship circle exploded, the world cup was on - it's a summer that is hard to beat, bar the one I had touring in Ireland! My best individual days on a bike though easily were racing the TT at the road Worlds in Yorkshire, followed a few weeks later by the day I broke the IP national record and was in the bronze medal ride off at track Euros in the Netherlands. It was a halcyon period where my form was just golden and everything you could realistically want from yourself came together. I didn't do anything outstanding to a stranger looking at a results sheet, but both days I realised I am within touching distance of what my idols do, and as an athlete those moments are so unbelievably precious. I still daydream about those days as I hack away long hours on Zwift. Ironically though, the times me and my teammates talk about the most recurrently is probably the Cycling Ireland awards dinner that same year. I say ironic because it's the only cycling related event I can barely remember! I definitely enjoyed it, that's for certain...but maybe a little too much.
Thank you and to be entirely honest, I have already missed a very large part of the season. It was supposed to be my first season racing the spring classics for an Irish pro-continental team in Belgium, but in the first race I did, the bunch was incredibly nervous and twitchy - a lot of shouting and brakes being pulled. I was rolling along right in the heart of the peloton, where you just have to be content with brushing shoulders and knuckles, peoples brakes poking your arse - that kind of thing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a girl from an Italian team two in front of me wobble from touching wheels, I knew instantly I was going to hit the deck because you are completely at the mercy of the peloton. As soon as it registered, I could see blue sky and my ankles flying through the air, and I landed pretty hard on my back. I separated my right shoulder blade, and the ligaments joining it to my collarbone yanked down, and so breaking that as well on top of a few ribs and a shoulder dislocation. It was a huge pile up and I wasn't the only one with broken bones in the ambulance. There's nothing you can do about dislocations if bones are broken, so after 5 days of them wobbling around when I moved, I finally had everything wired and plated back together. However, my surgeon happened to be the same guy who operated on Cadel Evans and Greg van Avermaet's collarbones when they broke theirs. They have won stages in the Tour de France and became Olympic champion respectively just weeks after their surgeries, so it's a weird brag but I truly had the best in the business. A surgical palmares like that leaves little excuse to stay soft. Saying that, recovery has still been slow and painful, it's been over a month and because the wires holding my shoulder together can't bear weight, I'm only just now able to hold my handlebars, or anything as heavy as a cup of tea. It also isn't any fun knowing you have nothing to show for the season so far, nor watching your friends go off and do things you wanted to do while staying home. At the same time, this is also part of the game, and so I will have to exercise a little patience to stop from feeling too sorry for myself and hope I am a fast learner next time the spring classics roll around. As far as the rest of the season goes, I can't predict what will happen regarding covid, or recovery, it's going to have to be a day-by-day approach. My first goal though is to be able to tie my hair back, it's the only thing I can't currently do with one hand. On the bright side though, I hear "chicks dig scars", so I've everything crossed that boys do too because this one is pretty cool!
Q: Cycling has boomed in the last 12 months, is there any advice you would give to someone new to the sport?
Don't be intimidated. Cycling for me is pretty fun in that part of the game is knowing the gear, the history and etiquette - that sort of thing and I love that it has such a strong culture. However, if you're green to that, it's very easy for all these things to make you feel as if you're out of your depth, or like everyone knows something you don't but it's all an illusion. I've never known a world quite as sociable as cycling and I am so glad I ever found it, even if it was relatively late in the day! So that is something I would tell my 25/26 year old self - you deserve to be an equal on the group ride, or on the start line as much as anyone else. What I did do right from the start though, was jump into cycling with both feet. It's a rich world and immersing yourself in it is the best way to get the most out of it!
Since writing this piece, we are happy to say that Kelly has been recovering really well and has been out on her bike building the legs again. We don't quite know if she has managed to tie her own hair up though - LOL.