Cyclist Annette Edmondson on Training for The Olympics with Exercise-Induced Asthma

Olympic track medallist, and World, National and Commonwealth track champion, Annette Edmondson is a force to be reckoned with in the cycling world. Yet it was never an easy road for the Adelaide-born Aussie – ever since she started cycling at the age of 12, asthma has been a prevalent factor in her life. “The high-intensity nature of the sport uncovered my chronic breathing issues, and I soon required an inhaler to make it through my sessions. It’s effect over the years, in combination with my hayfever, has even forced me to pull out of a few races – namely the National Criterium in 2017,” she explained to Women’s Health.

Here, we speak to her about how she overcomes her asthma every day, and what a cyclists training schedule actually looks like.            

How does your exercise-induced asthma affect your training?

To manage my exercise-induced asthma, I use daily preventers, along with an inhaler before or during my rides. One of the key management factors for my exercise-induced asthma is awareness. By being able to recognise the symptoms, calm my breathing – and in some cases, knowing when to stop, I have been able to limit the effects of my asthma as much as possible.

This is why I was so stoked to be part of Dyson’s wearable air monitoring technology project – any way that I can make simple daily changes to reduce my exposure to harmful pollutants is a win for me! I’d always thought about how air pollution could affect me, particularly when out riding on the road as part of my training – for example, when a bus would pull out in front of us, or we’re in heavy peak hour traffic. Seeing spikes in pollutants like PM2.5 (microscopic particles like smoke), and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) in my results when I was riding in traffic around Adelaide really made the invisible visible, and I was able to understand just what I was being exposed to. 

Also, I’d never really thought about the quality of the air inside my own home – this was really the most shocking part of the whole project! It was crazy to see both the data results, and my Dyson formaldehyde purifier, picking up harmful pollutants and gases while doing normal everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning, or even unpacking new furniture.

What does your training look like in the lead up to July?

In the lead up to July, things have really amped up for me. I’ve gone interstate to train with the team in Queensland, and have been spending more and more time in the velodrome in preparation for the biggest competition of the year. We completed a big road cycling and gym block back in Adelaide over the last few months, so now it is all about speed; short, sharp efforts on the track, with the aim of going fast.

In addition to the physical aspects, there are many elements that make up my training regime- like ensuring I eat healthy, and get enough sleep at night. Something that I’ve recently thought more about is how the quality of the air I am breathing might affect me, and I’ve recently partnered with Dyson for a global study into how air quality can have the potential to affect my wellbeing and performance.

As part of the study, I’ve been wearing Dyson’s specially engineered prototype air quality backpack that is fitted out with air monitoring sensors and a GPS to track my personal exposure to air pollution as I go about my day. Honestly, I’ve been pretty shocked at the levels of pollutants in the air around me, especially when I was in my own home – things like cooking and cleaning set the sensors off just as much as riding down the main streets of my hometown Adelaide!

What does a typical session at the gym look like?

Our gym sessions vary depending on the timing of the preparation. At the start of a block, we generally spend three sessions per week in the gym, each one lasting up to two hours. We do medium-weights at the start of the block, and try to do a lot of ‘reps’ to build a solid base. As we get closer to a competition, we reduce the number of reps and increase the weights, with more recovery between sets, in order to get faster on the track. We tend to focus on two leg exercises, i.e. deadlifts/leg press/squats per session and six core exercises.

What about your diet?

As an athlete, having a healthy lifestyle is incredibly important, and diet is a really key part of this – when you’re training heavily, it’s important to refuel and keep your energy up! We focus on ensuring we have a lot of carbs before intense sessions, and make sure we get a minimum of 20g of protein immediately post sessions for recovery. 

As we lead up to competitions, our training volume is reduced, which means we are burning less calories, so we need to start reducing our ‘naughty’ treats. My weakness is chocolate, so that’s the main habit to eliminate in an attempt to get as lean as possible before competition. 

My motto is ‘everything in moderation’ for the majority of training, and ‘listen to your body’ when it comes to how much and when to eat. Your body will tell you what it needs!

How are you preparing mentally?

As we haven’t been able to race internationally for 18 months, I am watching race videos to get in the right mindset. While watching these videos, I take down race notes and plan strategies for races.  

We are also lucky to have access to a sport psychologist, so I’m ensuring I check in with her to make sure everything is in check,, as well as regular ‘check ins’ with my support network.

Life’s about balance, so it’s important not to get too ‘intense’ or ‘overwhelmed’ too far out from competition. Allocating space and time for downtime is very important. I ensure a minimum of an hour a day is spent ‘switching off’ by taking a walk outside in fresh air, reading or watching a movie.

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