Our recent interview with Alexi Pappas, Greek-American runner, filmmaker, actor, writer and mental health advocate. Pappas sits down with HANAH to talk all things Olympics, training, self-care, and making mental health a priority.
Q: Tell us about your experience training for the Olympics? How much time did you spend focusing on the physical aspects of your training vs the mental aspects?
A: I have found that the mental aspects of training are just as important as the physical aspects, and in fact should never really be differentiated. For example, if I am dealing with mental anxiety and that impacts my sleep, my run the next day will be affected. So I have been focusing on health as a priority, in all meanings of the word—because health comes first, and then fitness can follow!
Q: Describe what your day-to-day training looked like in preparation for the 2016 games?
A: In the immediate few weeks before the Games, I followed my coach's plan and he was very careful to make sure that we never over-trained. At that stage, I was "peaked" in terms of my fitness, and the goal was really to be healthy on the start line. So many athletes end up having suboptimal Olympic experiences because by the time they actually toe the line, they are burned out from what it took to get there.
Q: What was your greatest learning experience before/during/after the Olympics?
A: Honestly, my greatest learning experience came after the Games, when I battled my post-Olympic depression. I learned that recovery is truly key to long-term health and performance, and that because I never took time to properly recover and absorb the incredible experience I had at the Games (I felt pressure to keep training and not "lose momentum"), I ended up burning out and becoming injured and ultimately depressed.
Q: What is one thing you wish you would have known before the Olympics?
A: I wish I had known that it is okay and good to press "pause" after such a huge event and take time down to recover—and in fact, the time I take to rest will pay itself back many times over. The body and mind will have their say one way or another, and it's far better to take time off to recover than it is to take time off because you are injured.
Q: In your opinion, how much or how little should athletes be focused on their mental health?
A: As I said in my New York Times op-doc video, I believe that the brain is a body part—it can get injured like any other body part, and it can recover like any other body part. Athletes should be just as focused on their minds as they are on their hamstrings, their knees, or any other high-use body part that must be treated with attention and care.
Q: How do you take care of yourself? What does self-care look like to you?
A: For me, the overarching principle of self care means that I pay attention to my mind just as carefully as I pay attention to my body, and I prioritize health over fitness at every turn. Because in the long term, you cannot have fitness without health.
A: What does being healthy mean to you?
Q: Being healthy means feeling like I am thriving every day. Even if a day is hard, if I am healthy, I can see challenging days in a wider perspective as one step along the path to chasing my goals.
Q: Favorite quote or mantra?
A: The Brain Is A Body Part! I tell myself this every day, and it helps me remember to be as kind to myself as I am hard on myself.
Q: What are your favorite HANAH products and why do you love them?
A: I love the Ashwagandha+, Turmeric+ and Coffee Boost. They are all part of my daily pre-training prep and post-training recovery routines. It's very easy for me to travel with these, they feel like my sidekicks and I really notice the benefits of Ashwagandha+ and Turmeric+ especially.
Q: Any go-to HANAH recipes?
A: I love using HANAH ONE drizzled on sliced plumbs with a splash of vinegar, hemp seeds, and mint for a refreshing dessert.