There is something about the dedication and discipline of professional athletes that leaves me in a degree of awe. For me, looking to these sporting idols plays a valuable role in motivating my training and, by extension, enhance my performance.
At club level, I’ve always picked out players or team mates I aspire to match, while in competitive events I like to find my nemesis, who I hope to eventually overcome. Reading sporting autobiographies, such as ‘Born to Run’, ‘Just a Little Run Around the World’, ‘Feet in the Clouds’ and ‘Running with the Kenyans’, (all of which I strongly recommend), I find myself inspired to push myself to run further and faster. Olympiads inspire a similar degree of admiration, and last weekend I was able to attend an ‘in conversation’ event with one such athlete.
Despite the queue for entry and finding ourselves sat on the floor of a packed-out room, I was pleased to be able to see Victoria Pendleton speak at Be:Fit London, and was won over by her straight away. Her declaration that she felt ‘more comfortable in leggings and a vest top in the gym than in many other social occasions’ was a sentiment that I could more than relate to.
Now in retirement from cycling (at the ripe old age of 33) Victoria is training to become a personal trainer, using a combination of her own experience as an athlete and her degree in sports and exercise science:
‘I hope my knowledge and experience would be useful to someone in a personal training environment’.
For her, being a personal trainer is about finding what works for her clients:
‘With sport you have to search out the enjoyment of it for yourself…because if you don’t you’re limiting what it is you can achieve…When it’s really working in the gym for you, there’s no better feeling’!
Modestly, she questioned whether anyone would want to be trained by her, and of course, everyone in the room declared that they would.
Her eventual aspiration is to have her own gym, offering health and fitness advise and ‘maybe some food’.
And, as we saw in the celebrity bake off, she knows something about cooking and nutrition.
However, her diet has undergone some dramatic changes since retiring:
‘I went vegetarian when I retired, it was something I always wanted to do but couldn’t as an athlete…retaining muscle mass was really difficult…I was always eating what I needed to eat rather than what I wanted to eat’.
On top of which she was consuming a few 600 calorie shakes a day just to keep up her muscle mass. Now, by contrast, she enjoys cooking and, as for culinary inspiration, ‘it’s all about Yotom Ottolenghi’s Plenty!’ A woman after my own heart indeed!
On snacking, she recommends having something that ticks all the boxes and then move on, rather than trying to satisfy a chocolate craving with twice as many calories in ‘healthy’ alternatives.
Her kitchen staples include grains, wild and brown rice, coconut water and almond butter and although she tries to get most of her vitamins and minerals through food, if she feels rundown, fatigued or is dealing with jet lag she will top up on vitamin c, zinc and Manuka honey.
When it comes to exercise, while she is still cycling, she is now making the most of opportunities to do a wider variety of sports, including running, which as a cyclist she was unable to do because of the competing muscle groups involved and a desire to keep up her muscle mass.
‘I usually run about 5k every morning with my dogs…I like to do Pilates, kettle bells…I like to try any sport given the chance’.
Victoria also promotes a positive, healthy and realistic outlook on body image. As someone who has battled with body image and insecurity issues (although I am coming to terms with my sizeable bottom!) it was really good to hear a top athlete extolling the virtues of bigger thighs. For her it is about being strong, lean and powerful, rather than being skinny.
‘I think that’s one of the great things about cycling, you don’t have to worry too much about your body shape…I really like the feeling of having muscle…I like feeling powerful and capable…surprising people with what you can do’.
When asked what her objectives were in terms of her physical appearance she was clear:
‘Bigger thighs all round. Solid thighs! …If someone said ‘your thighs look bigger’ I’d be pleased with that!’
She was also keen to promote this positive attitude towards healthy female bodies in the public eye:
‘I think there should be a variety of body shapes in the media…Jess Ennis is so ripped and incredible…it’s dedication and hard work and should be revered’.
I couldn’t agree more.