Last week, I had the huge, overwhelming privilege of meeting the one and only Jessica Ennis-Hill – Olympic gold medallist, world champion athlete, and one of my personal heroes, not just for her incredible feats of athletic performance, but her all-round excellent attitude to body confidence and womanhood.
So when I was invited along to the launch of their Vitality Run Series – which, by the way, looks awesome – and offered me the chance to interview the woman herself, I couldn’t quite believe my own luck. Me… And an Olympian. Having a chat. This was big.
But I had a lil’ bit of the fear, too. I wanted to ask Jess about her attitude to eating and exercise, and to find out how, exactly, one gets to be an Olympian… Or something like it. But that came with some doubts. What if she said something I couldn’t possibly do? What if she suggested one of the diets I’m wholeheartedly against? What if she told me something that goes contrary to all the stuff I’ve said previously?
‘Cause, y’know, I’ll argue with most people – but an Olympian?
You’ve gotta respect the gold, y’all.
Fortunately, though, there was no need – because she was, genuinely, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And she gave me some damn sage advice on all things health and fitness.
Also, we had the same shoes on, making us Official BFFs. Probably.
So, without further ado… Here’s how you, too, can be an athlete just by taking your first steps out of the door:
What advice would you give to people who are new to sport, looking to get into fitness?
“It’s good to have a goal, something to work towards, like a running distance – because I think it’s harder to stay motivated when you’re just “training for nothing.” If you’ve got a goal, you’ve got to progress your training, and know that you can’t just expect to jump in and run a 5k or something – but that you’ve got to build it up and find ways to make it enjoyable.
When you do that, lots of little things can motivate you – it’s about finding things that are enjoyable, and a bit different, and mixing it up so that you get the best out of it. So, classes, running by yourself, training with a friend or family member, having good music – that’s a big one for me. I’m definitely going to have a good playlist when I get back into training (hip-hop, if you’re wondering!)”
What about food? What does an Olympic-gold-medal-winning heptathlete eat?
“I don’t really have a strict diet when I’m training – I see a nutritionist, and we’ll monitor my body fat and things like that to see how that changes through training and competition seasons. You’re really conscious of what you’re putting in your body.
I do have days where I’m like “I’m going to eat whatever I want” – but I try to eat as much healthy stuff as possible to keep the baby healthy. That said, I love sweets, and I have them when I compete – it’s a good burst of energy when you’re out competing for two days. Personally, I love Jelly Babies – that’s my sweet of choice!
Generally, though, I just eat a balanced diet, and have recovery drinks and protein shakes after training – and now, I’m probably healthier than I’ve ever been.”
And do you take any supplements, anything like that?
“I try to get as much as I can from the foods that I eat, and I don’t like to take too many supplements. Sometimes when I’m training I take some supplements, because you’re really hammering your body so you need something extra – so I’ve had to sometimes take Vitamin D, and also when I had stress fractures in my foot I’d take extra supplements for bone health, calcium and things like that. But really, you can get most of what you need from your foods, and that’s the best way to do it.”
What’s been your toughest moment – and how did you come back from it?
“I’ve been lucky not to have lots of injuries, but there’ve been a few big ones. The worst one was before the Beijing Olympics – that was the hardest. It’s a big challenge as an athlete when you have an injury like that, because people kind of write you off. They hear about the kind of injury you’ve got, and they say “she’s going to struggle to get back from that.” – and then you doubt yourself, and you worry, but then it does give you that drive to prove people wrong, and show that you can come back stronger – and thankfully, I did.
It wasn’t easy, though. I had days where I thought “this is not going to happen, my career is over,” things like that – but I had a really great coach, and a good physio, and doctor, and they put a programme together for me so I could go back into training. I didn’t rush it, I took it really slowly, and they all had faith in me – so I was able to come back and win the World Championships in the summer that year. That was the most amazing feeling – definitely one of the highlights of my career.”
The attention you received around the Olympics was huge, too – not just for your achievements, but for your body, too. How did you feel about that?
“It was strange because I didn’t really expect it – I’d never been to an Olympics or been part of a home Olympics, and suddenly I was like the “face of the games,” which I didn’t expect at all. I didn’t really feel self-conscious – I mean, everyone’s a bit self-conscious about certain parts of their body, but I was just so wrapped up in my event and wanted to make the most of this amazing opportunity – so I was stressing too much about that to be worrying about my body!”
Finally – while I don’t think all that many of my readers are planning to train for the Olympics, what benefits can people new to exercise expect to see?
“You just generally feel better – I mean, I’m not training as much at the moment, but even going out for a walk, or doing some low-level training on a bike, I know I just feel much better afterwards – you’ve got that energy and release of endorphins, and then it keeps you focused. So you can go off and do whatever else you’ve got to do with your day – whether it’s work, or something that you’re dreading, or whatever – it just gives you a bit of a boost.
The thing is, though, it’s all about just trying to change your lifestyle – being healthy, being active – I’d always encourage women to get more involved in sport. You don’t have to be amazing at it, but just to be active and live a healthy life – just to be able to train a bit more than you could yesterday.”
So, to summarise – this woman is the very best in the world at her sport. The whole world.
And her tips? A healthy balanced diet, gradual training, and enjoying exercise by aiming to be better than you were the day before.
Told you we were besties.
(And if you fancy signing up for the Vitality Run Series – find out how, here. Thanks to PruHealth for the invitation!)