They told her she was too small to be a cyclist yet she went on to be World and Olympic Champion. No one loves a challenge more than Victoria Pendleton
For Victoria Pendleton, breaking into the cycling world was no easy ride. She was often judged and underestimated by others for being “too small and too weak.” Rather than letting that discourage her, Victoria used it to fuel her drive, pushing her further to become the woman she is today. "I love nothing better than someone throwing down the gauntlet," she says.
Today, she's on a mission to inspire young women to live with the same mindset and to help provide them with more opportunity. Since retiring from cycling, she has taken up riding. Just 12 short months after riding a horse for the first time, Victoria surprised everyone when she competed in the ‘Olympics of jump racing’, the Cheltenham Festival, earlier this year. Many people said it was an impossible feat, but she finished fifth in the Foxhunter Chase.
Not content with that, she's now learning to play polo. “Taking up a new sport at 35 – why not?” she says, simply.
As part part of Clinique’s #DifferenceMaker campaign, Victoria will be hosting the Clinique Run Or Dye 5k race in Kent on Sunday 3rd July. More than 5,000 runners are expected to take part - running, walking, dancing or jogging, while getting covered in paint. The event is in support of the Kiss It Better appeal with Great Ormond Street Hospital. For Victoria, the connection is very personal as her twin brother was treated for cancer there when they were both four.
We caught up with Victoria ahead of the race to find out what drives her as well as how she refuels and relaxes.
GTG: What are you like in the mornings? Snooze button or up and at ’em?
VP: "I never snooze my alarm, ever. I only like to go through the suffering once. I like early mornings before everything gets busy in the world. In summer, quarter to six is a nice time to get out and walk the dogs - all the wildlife is still around and the birds are singing and the sun’s rising and you just think, 'oh heavenly'. I’ve loved being outside since I was a kid. If you take the time and space to stop and look around, you can always find something that’s either beautiful or impresses you - the symmetry in something, or the quietness, or the noise. Having a bit of time and space to do that is important and sets me up for the day."
GTG: What’s the first thing you put on your face?
VP: "Most mornings I don’t have to make myself up or do much with my appearance as I’m going to the yard mostly at the moment. I’ll have a wash, put some sunscreen on, maybe a bit of mascara."
GTG: What’s for breakfast?
VP: "I make a batch of my own muesli once a month, because I found I couldn’t buy anything that had the things I liked. I lightly roast lots of nuts and grind them coarsely, then mix that with oats, pumpkin, sunflower and chia seeds, dried cranberries or apricots, which I have with almond milk and fruit. When I was training, I’d have five or six Weetabix for breakfast, with sugar on. My energy levels are more sustained now. I have taken a lot of sugar out of my diet."
GTG: How has your body changed since you retired from cycling?
VP: "I lost a lot of muscle mass on my legs and back, which is annoying because I actually really liked having muscly legs. Through riding, a bit of it has come back – it’s muscle memory. My arms are as good as they’ve ever been from holding on to the horses. I really like to see girls with muscles because I know how hard they have had to work for them. I’m like, 'Yeah! Good work!'."
GTG: What’s your workout routine now?
VP: "Riding is my main source of exercise. I’m at the yard at seven o’clock and will ride two different horses. I’ll probably spend about 40 minutes on each. Washing them off, carrying tack around and putting them away is a workout in itself. If I’m feeling good, I’ll go for a run. My attention span is tiny, so 5k for me is an enjoyable distance - you can push yourself hard if you want to."
GTG: What's on your running playlist?
VP: "If I’m feeling a bit flat, I like anything by the Foo Fighters or Chase & Status. Something with either a good beat or a bit of aggression definitely helps pick your knees up. But mostly I like to just be aware of the environment."
GTG: How do you wind down?
VP: "My wind down starts when I’m preparing the evening meal. I’ve been doing the Mindful Chef healthy recipe box delivery; everything is gluten free and they do a vegan one (although I’m not a strict vegan). Everything is measured out, ready to go with a recipe card and it’s great in terms of giving you new ideas. The sweet potato nachos with vegetarian chili was really tasty."
GTG: You’ve started reading poetry to relax, we hear…
VP: "Yes! I did English literature in school but that was really the last time I read a poem. Someone recommended Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin: An Anthology by Alan Bennet. You can just dip in, you don’t have to be committed to reading the whole thing. I quite like that with my short attention span."
GTG: Is switching off a challenge for someone as active as you?
VP: "No, I’ve never had trouble sleeping and relaxing. I could fall asleep in the back of a car. If I feel tired in the middle of the day and if there is time for a power nap I will have one, and I’ll still sleep at night. I’ve always been a good sleeper, I think because I’ve always had physical activity in my day. The hardest time I had sleeping-wise, was heading into a big competition. It’s a time when you’re nervous and your training has reduced massively because you’re trying to prepare. Your body’s not tired but your mind is very active. You have to be very disciplined with your sleep hygiene - being in a quiet environment, not having the television on in the bedroom unless it’s something low key."
GTG: How would you calm your mind?
VP: "I used to take time out, mindful time, to try to put everything in its place. If you don’t address some of the concerns in your head, or even speak them through with someone, they can just go round like a hamster in a wheel. If something was troubling me, I would write it down, even if I didn’t switch the light on. It’s more of a process of ‘downloading’ than actually what you write. Having a notebook and a pen on your bedside table is always a good shout."
GTG: As an athlete, what can you tell us about motivation?
VP: "I hate the word motivation, I don't use it. It sounds like it’s in control of you if you say, 'it’s not me it’s my motivation'. But if you replace it with the word ‘commitment’, then you have a very different scenario. If you think, 'I’m not really feeling that motivated' and change it to, 'I’m not really feeling that committed', suddenly you feel very differently about it - 'I am in control of this and I’m not accepting it'."
GTG: How do you get yourself out there on a rainy day?
VP: "I thoroughly enjoy cycling in the rain or running in bad weather, because you think to yourself, 'how many other people are out today?' It just makes you feel a bit smug. Rain is a good excuse to buy some waterproof socks and a nice jacket. New waterproof kit - always exciting!"
GTG: What else is on your kit list?
VP: "I really like Stella McCartney for Adidas and Teeki leggings (they are made from recycled bottles). I have a Pilates reformer in my garage, which is like a mini gym. When I retired, I realised how much I missed the gym. I trained as a personal trainer but didn’t get round to doing my final exam. In the last year the horse racing took over. Now I’m learning polo."
GTG: What’s in your makeup bag?
VP: "I’ve always really loved makeup because it was something I could do that was fun and different from my daily routine of wearing a tracksuit. I love having my makeup done professionally because you learn so much, like the importance of prepping the skin, spending time working products in to create a base before you even apply your makeup. I love the Chubby Stick collection by Clinique for lips/cheeks/eyes and now foundation too. My makeup kit is full of these chunky crayons, they are so quick and easy to apply and the texture looks so natural and feels nourishing. I also love the Even Better Dark Spot Defense SPF45, £26. It is great if you are outdoors and need sun protection, but adds a little colour too."
GTG: You’ve broken barriers for women in sport – what work is there still to do on that front?
VP: "I’d like to see equal representation across all sports - the opportunity for women to participate in sport at all levels because we’re far off that."
GTG: What’s stopping women from participating?
VP: "A million and one sponsorships, the size of the field; if there are no opportunities women aren’t going to pursue it, and if they won’t pursue it there will never be a big field, and if there isn’t a big field there won’t be big sponsors and if there aren’t big sponsors, women can’t afford to do it. So it’s a vicious circle."
GTG: How do we step in and make that happen across more sports?
VP: "Good question! Be avid supporters of other women in sport, watch the matches, buy the T-shirt, demand to know the results. If there are enough spectators, it would have to be done, because it’s entertainment at the end of the day. You need to have an audience - and an audience that wants and needs to know."
GTG: Do we need more women in coaching?
VP: "We need a lot more women in leadership roles full stop. It needs to change from the top down. There need to be more women in roles with major decision-making powers not just token board members, which is what most sports organisations have - which is rubbish. We need women in charge making the right decisions to offer opportunities.
GTG: Great Ormond Street Hospital is a cause close to your heart. How did that come about?
VP: "My twin brother Alex was diagnosed with leukaemia when we were four years old. He was diagnosed very swiftly by the family general practitioner and received his treatment, which included chemotherapy and radiotherapy at Great Ormond Street Hospital. He was lucky to soon be in remission after receiving state-of-the art care. I have a huge amount of appreciation for the work they do and give support at events such as Run or Dye whenever I can."
Clinque Run Or Dye with Victoria Pendleton on July 3rd 2016, supports the Kiss It Better appeal with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. It was set up by Carmel Allen (ex Beauty Editor of Vogue), whose daughter Josephine was treated at the hospital for neuroblastoma. Carmel will join the event with her daughter Jojo. Victoria is a #DifferenceMaker for Clinique. See her inspiring video and meet the other five global Difference Makers here.