It's not everyday that you find yourself sharing canapés with an Olympic gold medalist and it certainly isn't everyday that you meet someone as inspirational as Victoria Pendleton. Despite having only just landed in Switzerland for an overnight whistle stop tour halfway through moving house, Pendleton was full of energy and positivity about everything from her Olympic experience to encouraging women into sport. Victoria Pendleton has become a household name in the last year. Since being a poster girl of the Olympics and storming the dance floor in Strictly Come Dancing, the gold medalist has certainly had a dramatic year. We caught up with her over dinner, then she put us through our paces on a very wet morning run around the city of Lucern. Here's what she had to say on some key topics (to me).
I am a vego these days. As an athlete it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t allowed to be vegetarian - there were a couple of athletes on the program who were, but I knew full well that maintaining my body mass would be difficult. When you’re travelling all over the world you have to eat what you’re given, if you’ve got a race the next day you can't be fussy with the protein. And for me maintaining that weight was a real struggle. The nutritional supplements, all the protein and how much I had to eat was ridiculous.
The nutritionist actually invented a new drink supplement by combining a regular 30g protein shake to make it 600 calories, so I’d have two of those in between my regular meals. I was a sprint athlete so most of it’s post-exercise nutrition, so I’d probably consume about 3000 calories I reckon, which doesn’t sound alot, but if you think I was only a 62 kilo female, then it’s quite a lot.
Since I’ve stopped weight training, the weight has just dropped off. I’m 7 ½ kilos lighter. I went straight into strictly and obviously I wasn’t doing any weight training during that time I was just standing up all day. Eating when you’re doing a program like that is really hard. You seem to eat on the run the whole time and I’m someone who needs to sit down to eat my food. I feel like I don’t properly digest my food or take it in otherwise, I’m eating for no reason almost, so I just lost it. It was really depressing, I felt really emotional about it. I’d spent so long in the gym – probably longer in the gym than anyone else on the team struggling to put on body mass because it’s not my natural shape and someone would say ‘wow Vic your quads are looking bigger’ and I’m like ‘really?! I’m so pleased’ or they’d say ‘you’ve put on 3mm’ and I’m like, ‘Yes!’. A lot of hard work goes into it and I’m not someone who gains muscle easily so every millimeter was important. I was measured a lot to make sure I was on track, my lean muscle mass generally correlated directly with my power. Naturally I have a lot of leg speed and I’ve got that fast twitch ability but I needed more power so it’s all about trying to get more muscly but staying aerodynamic at the same time.
Pre-Olympics I was 14% body fat, which is insane for a woman, in fact they said that the interstitial fat was very low the way I trained – I’m really fat now in comparison. I was pretty vascularized, I had veins on legs and arms and things which I was really pleased about. For a woman to be 20% body fat is really low for it’s good for really fit women. Anything less than that is quite hard to achieve as female but it’s easy for men to be 10% or lower. It was never a struggle and it was just something that happened because of the way my body responds to training. So I was very lucky in that respect. I’m probably at a healthier percentage now, I dread to think what it is, I keep saying I’m going to have my skin folds done to find out.
I’m doing very sporadic training at the moment. I’ve had a lot on: we’re moving house and I have just been super busy but also I’ve just kind of had some time out. It’s taken a year for me to actually have time to spend with my family. It sounds crazy but it was probably not until June that I had time to sit down with my mum and help her out in the garden and do all the things I said I was going to do ages ago. So I’ve just enjoyed doing that. When I say ‘my God I’ve got to get fit I need to get fit,’ Scott [Gardener, Victoria's husband] and my mum are just like ‘Vic give yourself a break.’ 12 months off fitness is not going to kill me and it’s not as if I’ve stopped.
I’ve been running quite a lot, which is really fun, I’m really enjoying it. I started off very steady, no more than about 3K. I did a lot of work with Steve Peters on the track, as it’s a bit kinder on the knees. The biggest problem being a cyclist was being used to no impact and risk of getting tendonitis so I did quite a lot of stuff on the track and really enjoyed it. It’s kind of good for me because when I ride my bike it’s still fresh in my mind what it could feel like, and what it did feel like as an elite athlete and how fast I should be going. So I feel a bit like this feels really slow and that I’ve lost all my power as I’m still relating it back to six hours training a day, which is ridiculous, but I think it will just take me time to readjust. With running though, I’ve got nothing to compare it to. Everyday running a little bit further or quicker is a great achievement so I’m not at a stage where I’m too competitive about how it feels and what my body should feel like competitively and it’s still enjoyable.
I’m probably not running very much at the moment though as I’ve been so busy moving this week and things, but on my honeymoon in Cornwall I did a good 10K coastal run. It was good fun. To be honest I really enjoy running up to about 10K. I enjoy that sort of distance and I think any more than that for me right now would be too much and I’m not ready for it.
There’s been talk of a marathon and someone asked actually if I want to do it next year but I’m not going to be ready realistically and I want to enjoy the process if I do it, so the year after maybe. A half marathon is definitely an option.
I do get competitive and I like to run fast, this is the problem. I’m just doing all kinds of stuff, I haven’t got much structure. I like to do what I feel like. For example I really like running five or six K’s and trying to do it as quickly as possible. When I did that anniversary run, which was five miles, I think I did 36 minutes so that’s just over 7 minute miles and I think I can run faster than that now - I know I can. I’ve been really learning to run properly, I mean I couldn’t run 10K that fast, but I really enjoy it.
There’s freedom in running after cycling especially off road. I really enjoy doing stuff off road for example doing that coastal run was stunning. The weather was miserable but it was beautiful, the terrain is challenging and before you know it an hour has passed and you’re like ‘wow’. I love that, I love the escape, you’re not thinking about anything in life – packing boxes for the move etc you can just take it all in – it’s simple and so rewarding. And I hate to sound like a bit of a hippy but I usually do, if you’re running through somewhere that’s really beautiful like a forest area I feel it gives you a lot more energy. I feel like you can get a lot more out of yourself in that environment. It gives a lot back.
ON THE OLYMPICS
Being a poster girl for the Olympics I knew that there would always be pressure; it’s my own fault for being so good going into it! But I wouldn’t give my success away for anything. It was hard to manage at times, I’m not going to lie and I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone like Jess doing a key sport in the Olympics. For me, although there was no going under the radar, I wanted so well to get it right, but you can’t guarantee you’re going to. You can do everything you can to the best of your ability but you can’t guarantee it and it’s terrifying because you want it so badly.
I feel really emotional when I think about last year but in a good way. I mean it was such an amazing experience, look a me now [wells up] I’m welling up just thinking about it. I feel so blessed just to have been part of it and I’ll never forget how hard it was going in, trying to balance commercial things and other commitments then all the training and trying to be as good as you can be. Plus getting older with everyone saying you’re too old. I think it is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do but also the most rewarding at the same time, those things always come hand-in-hand. I wouldn’t change it for the world and I couldn’t ask for more, it was one of the reasons I decided to retire because nothing else could quite live up to it. Nothing for me can compare to that.
ON WOMEN'S CYCLING
I’d feel very honored to have been part of the increase in female cycling participation. When I ride my bike now I see a lot more women than I ever did. When I was younger and out cycling with my dad on a Sunday morning, if we saw a lady cycling it was like ‘oh my God, there’s a lady on a bicycle.’ But now I see several. I see groups of women out, which I love, and have never seen it before. It’s a really positive thing. The only thing I really wish is that cycling could support women in the same way it supports men from an elite level right the way through because at the top it’s worlds apart. I’m lucky coming from an Olympic level, there’s loads of support but it makes me very frustrated. And I know it’s a cultural change and it’s going to take time but I would love to see competitive female road racing role models out there for young girls to aspire to because I think it would make a real difference. I’ve always been of the mentality anything you can do I can do better. It seems like in this day and age it should be more equal.
Brisk and wet morning run around Lucern. We were in Switzerland with Victoria Pendleton with the Switzerland Tourist board and Human Race.
Photos: Switzerland Tourism by Thomas Lüthi
Human Race, the UK's largest sport events company recommends Switzerland as a great training destination for triathlon, running, cycling and open water swimming. www.humanrace.co.uk/switzerland