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Speaker Spotlight: Dr Dan Gordon

Former GB Paralympic cyclist Dr Dan Gordon, Anglia Ruskin University, explores the connections between our responses to exercise and the Rubik's Cube and Pyramids during his talk, Rubik's Cubes and Pyramids – how to crack the codes of getting fit (6 April, in person).

Cambridge Festival: How does your experience as a former GB Paralympic cyclist inform your work on keeping fit?

DG: As athletes, we are pushing boundaries trying to find that small ‘marginal gain’, this is no different to the idea of getting fit. We are trying to take small steps to see changes in our fitness.  Many of the approaches that we used as athletes have come into my work, such as the use of structured non-receptive training to prevent boredom but optimise fitness gains. The use of interval training to develop larger gains was something we used a lot and has been a focus of some of my work trying to establish how this fits into the ‘fitness routine’.

Cambridge Festival: You’ve held a world record yourself and helped others to all kinds of achievements including swimming the Channel – what makes a successful athlete at the top level?

DG: This is a great question.  We cannot ignore the genetic factors, both the genotype and the phenotype.  Without ‘good’ genes it is almost impossible to succeed at the highest levels. The genetics are critically linked to the physiological status of the athlete and the degree to which they adapt to training. Then there is the mindset, to be a successful athlete you must have the desire to want to do more, go beyond what you perceive possible. Then of course there is luck!

Cambridge Festival: There are probably not many events in the world much tougher than the Death Valley ultra-marathon that you observed, what was that like?

DG: Extraordinary.  It is an incredible race, that pits humans against the elements.  This is an extreme ultra-endurance event with temperatures during the day exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, covering more than 135 miles and ascending from 85m below sea level to around 1700m up Mt, Whitney.  The ‘endurance’ running rules do not apply here. This is about coping with real extremes, heat exposure, dehydration, foot swelling (feet can swell from a size 4 to around a size 10) whilst trying to maintain a constant running cycle. 

Cambridge Festival: How much of athletic achievement is in the mind?

DG: An awful lot.  Training and getting fit can at times be painful and uncomfortable. This requires us to have to combat the negative thoughts that are associated with these situations. When competing, the differences at an elite level are almost always associated with the psychology of the athlete.  Who can cope with the stress of the situation and control their emotions best. 

Cambridge Festival: Without giving too much away before the event, can you provide a bit of a spoiler about how the Rubik’s Cube and the Pyramids link to keeping fit?

DG: Keeping fit is about building platforms or levels like a pyramid, whilst understanding that what affects one component affects another.