The ISEH provided a unique insight into the world of high-performance sport by opening its doors to the SportsAid Fellowship and invited guests in London on Wednesday 8 March. The ISEH, as part of the Fellowship series, allowed attendees to explore the facility and watch SportsAid athlete Will Tidball, a member of British Cycling’s Elite Olympic Development programme, push himself to the limit as he underwent Cardio Pulmonary Exercise Testing on an exercise bike.

Led by Dr Loosemore, Lead Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the ISEH, Lead Sports Physician (South of England) for the English Institute of Sport as well as GB Boxing's Lead Team Doctor, the testing measures an athlete’s anaerobic threshold as well as other activity within the body including the capacity of the lungs and an individual’s electrocardiogram (ECG). Dr Loosemore, who was Team GB’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, explained the benefits of the testing during a Q&A session hosted by Tim Lawler, SportsAid’s Chief Executive, to the Fellows and guests.  

“CPET testing allows you to measure lots of things simultaneously,” said Dr Loosemore – also a member of the Team GB medical set-up at the Beijing and London Olympics. “You put the lungs under full pressure and what we’re doing is a ramp test so it starts easy and then it gets harder, and harder and harder until you can’t go any further. It measures an athlete’s anaerobic threshold, which really matters, as if you train at that level you can improve your performance.

“For athletes this test can be important as we’re pushing them to the extreme. You can look at heart problems and these can sometimes be picked up early doing a test like this. It doesn’t matter what shape they’re in, it’ll often be part of their programme. It can be unpleasant and is not normally something they like, but although it’s horrible and it hurts, the athletes actually value the results they get from it as it can really enhance their training and preparation.”

Will, 16, lives in Exmouth and revealed he has future ambitions on both the track and road while being quizzed by Tim as part of a panel discussion. Crowned National Points Champion in August, Will has been supported by SportsAid through MyLotto24’s Winners of Tomorrow programme. The Fellows and guests cheered on Will as he reached the end of the ramp test and used every last ounce of energy he had left to maximise his physical output.  

“I’m aiming to be Olympic champion on the track,” said Will - who joined Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne and British Athletics sprinter Reuben Arthur as part of the panel. “I’d love to go to Tokyo 2020 but I’ll still be at quite a young age for that as you’re supposed to peak around 28 with cycling. Realistically, the 2024 Olympics is the target and then after that I’ll be looking to switch to the road and want to win the Tour de France.”  

SportsAid ambassador Keri-anne talked to the audience about her experiences across three Olympic Games and how she adjusted her training for each. Having learnt from the Games in London, her preparations for Rio took into account all the potential situations Keri-anne and her team felt could arise during the race. The open water swimmer, who retired in January, also spoke about 'emotional energy' and the importance of being able to deal with the challenges top-level sport throws at you. 

"I had to change things [from London to Rio] as I couldn’t keep doing the same thing," said Keri-anne. "My event’s the 10km swim. It’s hard, it’s brutal and with training you have to do 70,000m in the pool every single week, non-stop. I couldn’t keep doing that as I wasn’t a 16-year-old girl anymore who could sustain that and recover as well. I sat together with my team and we planned what we were going to do and that was a very big learning curve for me as an athlete. 

"I went into the Games in London thinking I was a mature athlete but I hadn’t really planned for everything. Plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D, plan E – I hadn’t done that in London whereas in Rio I had planned all the way from A to triple Z. We knew what all the what ifs were going to be and what any stumbling blocks may be along the way. Basically we set about trying to prepare for all those things, so if I was swum over, or I was hit in the face, I knew what I was going to do.

She continued: "A big part of learning from London was the violence of open water swimming. It sounds ridiculous but there is [violence] and I had to be OK with people hitting me. I thought it would be a great idea if I spent an afternoon with Gemma Gibbons [Olympic silver medalist in judo] just being pinned to the ground! Much of it was about realising how to deal with the emotional energy. When something doesn’t go well, the emotional energies you waste are a big part of the overall performance." 

Reuben, who has represented Great Britain at the IAAF World Youth Championships and European Junior Championships, is currently studying psychology at Goldsmith’s University of London. The 20-year-old, like the vast majority of SportsAid athletes, balances his training and competition timetable with his education and various other commitments. The Fellows and guests heard from Reuben about the need to build a mental toughness and resilience, especially as a sprinter, in order to be ready for competition time. 

“You just know what you have to do," said Reuben. "You have the ability and if you give it absolutely everything you have then you can do something great. When I have those moments when I think ‘I don’t want to do this’, I make sure it gets done. My coach uses Dropbox so we have our sessions three weeks in advance so we know what we’re doing and we can spend time mentally preparing for it. It’s all laid out in front of you and you know this is what you need to do. If I don’t do this, I’m cheating myself. 

“I’m extremely fortunate as my training group are amazing. Every training session is like a race. If you don’t have some form of toughness you’ll get found out, and nobody wants to get found out. We are sprinters and have the most ridiculous egos in the world! If you don’t win, you have to come back to the track and think what am I going to change now, and that constant week in, week out war, essentially prepares you for the race and by the time you get there you just think, ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done this so many times’ - it’s just repetition.”  

Concluding, Will, who is studying for his A Levels, echoed Reuben’s thoughts on training processes, repetition and the value of planning ahead. “Everything is planned out two weeks beforehand by my coach so I know what training I am doing each day,” he said. “Luckily, with my school hours, they can vary so I can be out on the bike for longer or I can do shorter sessions which are more intense. I’m able to look at my homework and make sure it all fits around each other.

“I can see the impact of all the training I’m doing as I’m working with the coaches who work with our Olympic champions – the best in the world. It’s much easier for me as I’m in a sport which is doing so well, I know if I stick to that training I can reach that level. You get used to it as everything is such a process now. It’s like you’re a robot really. You do everything the same each time, it may be a different venue or a different course, but your routine is the same and it really does become second nature.”  

The SportsAid Fellowship is an exclusive club of leading influential individuals supporting the future of British sport. For more information contact Hannah Barrett, SportsAid’s Head of Fundraising, by emailing hannah@sportsaid.org.uk