Victoria Pendleton knows a thing or two about achieving goals.
Winning gold at London 2012, her personal best was best in the world and to most; the track cyclist achieved the unachievable.
However, ask her and the 36-year-old says her achievements are not down talent, nor is her success a ‘gift’: instead her ability to achieve goals is down to a mindset of hard work, repetition and practice – that anyone can apply to anything.
“If you did a load of physical measurements then you’d see that I’m not special, I have nothing,” Victoria tells Yahoo Style UK. “The only thing I do have is a lot of tenacity and if you say I can’t do it then I want to prove you wrong.”
The true talent lies in this tenacity, the mental drive to succeed.
“You don’t have to be born in a certain way,” she says. “Being an athlete is about mindset. I think it’s a personality trait. My dad was tough, and that’s what I wanted to be.”
Rather than hop on a bike and find it easy, in fact, Victoria says even from her first race she would ‘make herself sick with effort’.
“Cycling never seemed easy to me, when I was eleven years old I used to make myself sick with my effort. I also could never sleep after a race because I’d worked so hard,” she says.
Athletes are taught to focus on their own performance rather than that of her competitors and Victoria agrees that this is definitely a skill anyone can apply to their everyday lives and goals.
“You are taught strategies only to focus on your performance, you don’t think about your competitors,” she says. “You need to be aware of them, and what they can do, however, it should be nothing more than a measuring point.”
“If you do everything you can for your own personal journey the result of the race becomes irrelevant. If you go in the best prepared you can be then you come out with what you deserve.”
However, all that came to an end, or so it seemed, when the gold medalist retired from the sport in 2013, aged 34.
“Retiring from sport is a mourning of sorts. You give so much to that goal, you sacrifice so much that you can’t possibly not feel a sense of loss.”
“I’ve been racing since I was nine years old I didn’t have one season off from 1989 to 2012 and then suddenly it’s gone. And that takes a lot of getting used to,” she says.
“Now I’ll take my mountain bike out, or my bike with a basket with all my shopping hanging out. Sometimes I do find myself getting a bit low in front of the basket, and remind myself to relax!”
Since retiring, Victoria hasn’t really slowed down - not by the average person’s standards, anyway. She still works out six times a week, self-training in her home gym where she lives with her husband, Scott Gardiner, who she married in 2013.
“I lift weights and do HIIT training,” she explains. “I personally think that is the best way to train. It keeps your attention and the knock on effect to your metabolism and the hormonal release keeps everything running on high all the time.
“Our sofas haven’t arrived yet in our new house so at the moment I’ve also got a pilates reformer in the living room which Scott loves!”
To occupy her time, exhausted from London 2012, Victoria signed up for Strictly Come Dancing, an experience she has mixed feelings about.
“With Strictly, it wasn’t just the dancing. It was the events that you have to go to, the appearances you have to make, all the other things you have to do – the showbizzy stuff – you’re just performing the whole time and I think I underestimated just how exhausting that is,” she says. “You have to be your full volume version all the time, which is tough to maintain.”
Missing the training, the schedule and the structure, it inevitably wasn’t long before Victoria threw herself into a challenge: horse riding. And she’s excelled at that, too. Going from novice jockey to competing at Cheltenham within a year.
Say she can’t do it and she’ll prove you wrong.
“Very early on in my career I got defined as incapable, physically and mentally, of being an athlete,” says Victoria. “I was told I was too small and didn’t have the right mentality to be a champion by a coach and a sports psychologist. I didn’t believe them but I did stop and wonder if they were right.”
“But you can’t let someone else limit what you can achieve. No one else can measure your drive and ambition so don’t be put off following your dreams by someone else’s opinion. Because that’s all it is – an opinion.”
“If you give everything you’ve got that will always be enough and you will achieve. Practice, repetition will lead to you becoming more skilled, capable and achieve more. It doesn’t matter if you are last, first, World Champion, fun run winner – who cares. It’s more about how you approach tasks.”
And that’s life advice we can all put to good use.
Victoria Pendleton is currently working with Activia, sharing her story of striving to achieve her personal best, aiming to inspire women to Live InSync.