Did the most successful ancient Olympian eat a full grown bull in a single sitting and was his trainer a devout vegan? What did other ancient Greek athletes eat? The interaction between diet and exercise were of great importance to them, just as it is to us now.
Blog - Lessons from athletics
As a self-coached athlete, I put a lot of thought into my training – why do I need to do a certain session? why am I even doing it in the first place? I believe that sport (and anything we do) should be accompanied by some sort of philosophy or at least a reason. I am always wary of being influenced by habit or groupthink. However, sometimes I am guilty of over-thought and perhaps I ought to spend less energy worrying about my training and just focus on doing it. And is it necessary for us to know why we are doing it? Do our reasons and motivations affect the benefits we gain from exercise?
When talking to non-endurance athletes, I am often questioned about the mental capacity to keep going for 4 hours or more. In particular, the technical demands of race walking make it a serious mental challenge as well as an obviously physical one. How do you stay focussed? How do you not get bored? Are you tempted to stop/break into a run? Well, the mind can be trained just as we can train the muscles and energy systems.
It is often the case that the greatest athletes – those who genuinely make history – achieve much beyond their athletic feats. Their sport might have brought them fame, but their worthiest contributions come from elsewhere. For example, a while ago, I wrote about Roger Bannister, who considered his neurological research to be more significant than his four-minute mile. For these individuals, their training and competition has helped them to develop and showcase their virtues, but their virtues transcend it.
When exercising, it is important to be aware of pain and its implications. It can manifest itself variously and its causes and ramifications can be diverse. Therefore, while it might seem sensible to abort exercise at any sign of pain, sometimes it is beneficial to persist. That being said, severe pain is rarely positive and if you are not certain about it, advice from a medic or physiotherapist is crucial.
Good, healthy behaviours like exercise are often easy to talk about doing and many are quite easy to practise. However, when people set about trying to do something, they often come across an invisible wall and get held up. Studies of exercise uptake often show a big difference between the number of people who want to exercise and the number of people who actually do it. This is sometimes known as the ‘intention-behaviour gap’.