Dame Sarah Storey, 38, rode her way into the history books at this year’s 2016 Paralympics.
Her impressive performance at Rio earned her three gold medals and the title of most decorated female Paralympian in British history. And it would appear that Storey, who has been cycling since her teens, won’t be hanging her helmet up anytime soon.
Here, the athlete chats to us about her gruelling Paralympics training schedule, her hopes for Tokyo 2020 and why having a baby helped her reach peak shape ahead of the games.
What was it like having your family there to support you in Rio?
My family follow me everywhere, they wouldn’t be anywhere else.
It’s been a family affair from the word go. I was a teenager when I started and my parents came with me to races to make sure I was emotionally okay. Now they follow as fans and they’re some of the biggest stalwarts in terms of British team support. In fact, they’re already talking about how they’ve always fancied going to Japan.
What was the atmosphere like on the plane home from Rio?
It was really cool, I’ve never been on a flight quite like that before.
I think I had the best seat on the plane next to my team mate Adam. It was brilliant, we had lots of champagne and got to visit the captain in the cockpit before we took off.
They had decorated the plane with Union Jack flags and we sung the national anthem, it was very patriotic and a great deal of fun.
Let’s talk a bit about training now. Following the birth of your daughter, how much did you have to train to get back on form?
I had a caesarean section because of various issues when I was in labour, so I had to have six weeks of complete rest to allow the scar to heal.
I started training again by doing 20 minutes on my bike, on the rollers or turbo training just to try and find those core muscles again. I did this for six weeks, building up my strength gradually, until I could do as long a ride as possible between Louisa’s feeds.
I did my first race when Louisa was five months old, but I was still about six kilos overweight at that point. I had a lot of weight to lose, which I didn’t really panic about. I just let it come off naturally.
As soon as my core muscles started to feel stronger I did more on the track like standing starts and, when Louisa was six months old and being weaned, I began to do longer rides.
I took part in my first championship when she was nine months old and at that point I was back to my normal waist weight and training routine. I also started racing on the road that year.
Physically I was in the best form I’d ever been because I still had all of the physiological benefits from having a baby, such as the extra blood volume and higher haemoglobin. It’s never a given that you’ll have those benefits, but as an endurance athlete there’s a chance that your body will respond positively.
In the lead up to the event, what did your training consist of?
Training is very specific to the time of year. In the winter months the training involves covering a lot of miles, so in January I did five hours a day for the entire month.
During the summer months I was racing maybe two or three times a week. Racing is ultimately the best form of training.
With about six weeks to go to the games in Rio, I started altitude and heat training which would take place in a 30 degree altitude chamber with 13-14% oxygen and 70% humidity.
On the track I was practising standing starts and focusing on specific efforts for the individual pursuits to be able to cope with the high intensity of the event. Then I was doing long road rides and long-time trial efforts too.
The shortest race I took part in at Rio was 500 metres and the longest was 80km. In some ways it’s like the heptathlon of cycling, you have to be fast, but you also have to have a lot of stamina and be able to climb hills.
For me, the training was all-encompassing and very intense.
What does your diet consist of?
I consider my diet to be pretty normal, but perhaps that’s because I’ve always been an athlete. I try and manipulate the construction of my diet according to my goals – so there’ll be some days where I’m having a great deal more protein than I am carbohydrates. Then there’ll be other days when I’m having more carbs because I have a greater energy demand.
I eat lots of lean protein, fruit and vegetables (including lots of berries), fish and nuts. I like getting as many different colours on my plate as possible really, it’s a real varied diet and within that there are things that people would refer to as ‘treats’ (like chocolate) but I just consider them to be part of what you need.
There’s often a lot of emphasis on being strict with what you eat, but it’s a very subjective measurement, so provided your weight is stable and your body fat composition is at the right level, then being normal is absolutely fine.
How do you balance training and family time?
Louisa comes everywhere with me, so everyday we have plenty of time together. I think we’re very fortunate because we all work in the same role, my husband is in charge of the team we run, we have my parents travelling with us to help look after Louisa when we’re both involved with a race, we just work as a team. Louisa is involved in our lives so she knows about the mechanics and what we do.
What’s life like for you now the games are over? Do you have time to relax, or do you have to get straight back into training?
I’m generally a fit and active person so I’ll be riding my bike every now and then but I won’t be formally training just yet.
Instead I’ll be working, doing motivational speeches, attending awards nights, visiting schools and catching up with family. Then I’m going away in November and I’ve got a short holiday booked in December, too.
By the time Christmas comes around I’ll have more of a set plan for 2017 with regards to my own career. Louisa starts school next September, so when I’m looking at the competition schedule I’ll be looking at it with a view of how it affects her.
Will you be taking part in the 2020 games?
It looks most likely that I’ll take part, however I haven’t yet made a final decision and we haven’t got a plan in place.
I’m going to be looking towards making that plan over the next six months or so and if I do enter, the first couple of years of training can be quite relaxed as long as I maintain my fitness levels.
I can look towards the games a bit later than some of the younger athletes, who have less experience of how a four-year cycle can work.
Finally, what advice do you have for young athletes?
Be extraordinary – you don’t need to be ordinary, you can do that little bit extra.
It’s not about doing what someone else has done before, it’s about learning from what other people have done and adding your own slant to that – working out how you can go that extra mile (or centimetre).
It’s important to leave no stone unturned and always look to improve.
Dame Sarah Storey rides in the Evil Eye Evo Pro by adidas Sport Eyewear.