Chris Hoy has won almost as many gongs as The Artist, and they’re not all for pedalling fast, with a knighthood in 2009 to go alongside his four Olympic golds (in 2004 and 2008) and one silver (in 2000). We talk to him about the training methods that can propel you to the Palace.
What keeps you motivated?
Motivation comes from knowing that what you do every day is a small piece of the whole thing. You don’t have to worry about the bigger picture, all you do is the session you’re doing that day. If you hit every single session to the best of your ability, then you perform to your best.
What’s the toughest thing about training?
It’s the pain. The pain, the sickness, the nausea you get in certain sessions. It’s putting yourself through that every day.
What sort of session makes you sick?
I find that the worst events are the sprint competitions that last a bit longer, like the Keirin or the kilometre time trial. You have to be good at dealing with the lactic acid that builds up in your legs. The training you do for that is typically interval-based in short intense bursts with restricted recovery. Your body isn’t flushing out any lactic acid between each effort, and each effort brings more and more fatigue — by the last effort it’s just horrendous, your whole body is shutting down. You crash out on the floor and curl up in a little ball and it gets worse for about 15 minutes. Quite often you’re sick, but it makes the biggest difference to your overall performance.
Do you have any cheat days?
Not so much at this time of the year, but I do in the off-season. I love my wife’s banana bread. I’ll buy some bananas, hide them, let them go off for a little bit and then tell her she’ll have to make some banana bread now. In the off-season you can relax and have a few beers, a bottle of wine — you don’t have many opportunities in an Olympic year. It’s almost become routine now. It was eight months before the 2000 Games in Sydney when I decided to not have a single beer until the Games. I’m sure one beer wouldn’t hurt, but I thought, “If I don’t win, I can say I’ve done the best I can,” and wouldn’t look back and think, “I wish I had changed that.”
Do you incorporate other sports into your training?
No, because the training we do is so specific. We don’t do a lot of gym work. The only thing you don’t do on the bike is weight-lifting, and even then it’s purely muscles that you use on the bike. We don’t do any running at all.
What advice would you give to people starting out?
Don’t think too far ahead, because people can psych themselves out. If you’re training for a marathon eight months away, try to run a mile or two miles. If people are barely able to finish the mile, they think, “How the hell am I going to do 26 miles?” Don’t look at the top of the mountain, literally and figuratively, just take one step at a time and you won’t be overwhelmed.
What’s the best way to recover?
Make sure you warm down at the end of the session. Do some of the stuff you do when you warm up. Winding down with very low intensity helps to flush out the toxins in your legs. Often, maybe twice a week, I get a massage, which isn’t a pleasant experience — it’s not all candlelight and scented oil, it’s elbows right in and a lot of pain, a lot of grabbing of the table, but it helps the muscles.
Do you have anything waxed to help the aerodynamics?
I just shave my legs. We have full-length skin suits, so you don’t have to do your arms. I’ll trim my hand hair for the Olympics — you have to keep little things up your sleeve for the big one [laughs]. You can’t underestimate the importance of the kit, skin suits and bike. Everything we do is about reducing aerodynamic drag. Little wrinkles are picked up when you’re testing. The body is the part that’s pushing the air, so the kit has to be efficient.
Do you do any mental preparation?
Yes, a lot: visualising the perfect race in your head, visualising the things that could go wrong, so they don’t throw you. You don’t want to be anxious, but you want to use the adrenaline, so there’s a fine line.