"Friesians are known for a brisk, high-stepping trot. The Friesian is considered willing, active, and energetic, but also gentle and docile. A Friesian tends to have great presence and to carry itself with elegance" (Wikipedia).
As an Exercise Scientist I spend a great deal of time researching the Golden Mean between sporting performance on the one hand and general health and wellbeing on the other.
Bodily fitness being a key component of both performance and wellbeing, a great deal can be gleaned from the elite athlete as to what exactly wellness is.
Most of us can admire the champion of champions; their outer extremes of bodily speed, power, and endurance combined with an inner calmness and poise that enables them to excel at the times when the pressures is the greatest.
The following extract from PLAY magazine (August 2006) describing a point between Rodger Federer and Andre Agassi in the 2005 United States Open final well illustrates this point:
". . . and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi . . . it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi’s side, a winner. Federer’s still dancing backward as it lands. And there’s that familiar little second of shocked silence from the New York crowd before it erupts, and John McEnroe with his color man’s headset on TV says (mostly to himself, it sounds like),
“How do you hit a winner from that position?”
On occasion I've fantasized about being that glorious sporting champ adored by thousands.
Surely most petty issues that I struggle with so much would evaporate into thin air?
More importantly, following a relatively ‘short’ sporting career I would be able to put my powerful body and focused mind to very productive use.
I had my own particular success story mapped out in my mind while busy with my PhD. My plan was to pursue 5 years of postdoctoral studies in Holland and at the same time compete in the European triathlon circuit. My vision was to then go on to compete, and hopefully eventually win, the Hawaii Ironman after years of honing my body in training and racing on the European triathlon circuit.
I was well aware that to be consistent at the Hawaii Ironman your body needs to be carefully built up and refined over a number of years via dedicated training, correct diet and peaking at exactly the right time.
My inspiration came from Mark Allan who had won the Hawaii Ironman for a record equalling 6th time at the ripe old age of 37 in 1995. In my late twenties at the time I figured that 5 good years in Europe would give me a great springboard for going the distance in Hawaii. Mark Alan had also won all 10 Nice triathlons he took part in.
Up to then I had never pushed myself hard in training. Able to be competitive, and even win the odd race, off the minimal of training, I had always given my studies precedence. When I started closing in on my thirties, though, all that changed.
I wanted to see what I was capable of, what peaks my body could reach.
Nevertheless I did not want to push my body too hard; exploring that golden mean became all important.
Clearly, if speed, power and endurance on race day was the only consideration my body would be nothing more than a F1 racing car. All focus dedicated to acceleration out the corners and power to weight ratios; none whatsoever on longevity of the car.
If building a new car for every race added enough of a performance boost, that would be the focus rather than making the car last the season.
Friesian horses are equally bred for performance, the big difference being that Friesians first undergo extensive training before they become competitive in the arena. Performances that continually gets better as they compete through the season. Pushing horses too hard will hurt rather than help performance.
Athletes similarly have to consider how much wear and tear their bodies can withstand and also to pay very close attention to their diets.
This is what Mark Alan - pictured left on his way to winning his first Hawaii Ironman race after working up to this moment for 7 years - had to say on diet.
"I ate based on my internal cravings and fed myself foods that targeted what I seemed to need rather than trying to follow any given structure.
Eating by feel enabled me to get the mix of carbs, fats and proteins that I needed each day to service what my body required to repair and replenish itself.
And part of the reason I could do that is that I wasn’t afraid of any food, so if that internal voice said load on the carbs, that is what I would do.
If it was calling out for fats, it got foods with more fats. If I was really tired and knew I couldn’t handle a hard to digest form of anything I’d search for an easy to digest source.
And with all of that my body’s needs were met."