Imagine making it to the Olympics once. Now imagine doing it four times over — solidifying 16 years of, well, total domination on the track. And yet, four-time Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross, 31, puts on no airs about her undeniable talent or success. In the lead-up to what she hopes will be her fourth Olympics in Rio, the formula is simple: Patience, discipline and oh…1,000 sit-ups a day.
Meet Olympic Sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross
How does your training now compare to your training for the 2012 Olympic Games in London?
I started running when I was 7, and I’m 31 now. So things have definitely changed for me as I’ve evolved as an athlete. For London, I was just going, going, going hard and really putting in a lot of hours. This year it’s more about tempering my training to be ready when it counts. This season I’ll be competing a little less, but training harder, training smarter, and really ramping up to peak in June and July for our Olympic trials, and then August for the Olympics.
How does strength training play into your training?
Strength training is a huge part of my training regimen. Early on in the season I do a lot of functional training — preparing my muscles for heavy lifting. Then [in the winter] it’s more about heavy lifting and Olympic lifts: power snatches, power cleans, squats. We do a lot of dynamic stuff in the gym, too — jumping, bounding for explosion. I do some upper body but mainly focus on my legs and core for the kind of strength and endurance I need to run the 400. So that’s four days a week in the gym in the early season and then that cuts down to three days a week when I get closer to competition.
When I go to the Games I’m there for two and half weeks before I start competing. I’m not lifting as heavy, but I do have intense workouts that I need to accomplish. It’s more about going back to the functional stuff — light and fast and getting ready to run fast. With Technogym there in the Olympic Village I’ll be able to use the SKILLMILL to meet two of my needs — conditioning and power — so I can be more efficient as opposed to having to go back and forth between the track and gym.
By now, we all know you’re ridiculously fast. What’s the one exercise you’re freakishly good at, too?
I do a lot of core. I mean, I do about 1,000 sit-ups every day. So that’s something I think I’m really good at! I’m probably one of the few people who, after I get to like 300 or 400, just stop burning and can go all day. I guess most people don’t get to that threshold so they don’t even know if they could do that! [laughs]
And the one exercise you really hate?
I hate dips and pull-ups — upper body stuff is not my favorite thing to do. I’ll do it, but it’s definitely not my favorite.
What’s the biggest mistake you see beginner runners make?
Underestimating how tough it is to go for a run, and setting too lofty goals. Going for a 15-minute run is not as easy as it sounds, and that’s OK. Start by setting realistic goals instead. Maybe yes, you go out for 15 minutes of activity, but you run for five, and walk or skip for 10. And then you just continue to ramp it up until you can run for 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes straight. If you start out easy on yourself, you’ll keep getting better and better.
What’s your favorite running workout right now?
I do repeat 200s. It’s kind of specific to my event. But I’ll do eight 200s on the track with two minutes of rest in between. I’ll run them at about 30 seconds or less. And for me, that workout has always been an indicator of my fitness. Plus, it’s one of my favorite workouts because it’s not too long. [Afterwards], my body feels really good. I feel like I’m getting really fit. What can I say — I’m a short sprinter at heart!
Is there a lesson you wish you knew before you started out?
For me, running always came very naturally — and I started winning my competitions at an early age. But the thing for me was really learning to be patient throughout my career. A lot of times when I didn’t have success on the track it was because I was trying to force something, or I was the best 400 meter runner in the world but I wanted to be the best in the 100, 200 — everything. The one thing I wish I would have known then is that’s it’s going to all come eventually, and to just let it happen. Things kind of work out better that way.
The 400 meters — that’s an incredibly tough race. What goes through your head as you’re racing?
My coach and I — our strategy for the race is the 4 Ps: Push, pace, position, pray. Well the last one is really “poise,” but we always joke and say “pray” because it’s just so tough and grueling at that point. For me, I really try to focus on executing my race. Just like everyone else in the 400, sometimes I struggle in the last 100. That can be my weak point in the race if I go out really hard and then kind of fade. But for me it’s just about trusting the process and giving my best every single time. One of the things that helps me in the last 100 is really focusing on the finish line and not getting distracted by either what I’m feeling or what’s happening around me.
What do you say to yourself as you’re rounding that last bend?
The mantra I always say to myself during the race is “I refuse to lose, I refuse to lose.” That helps to propel me to the finish line.
400 individual vs. 400 relay — which race are you more excited for?
In the past I’ve always been more excited about the individual race, but this season I feel equally excited for both. When I look over my career, the 4×4 relay has really been a point of great joy and a lot of success for me. If we win that again it will be the 4th consecutive Olympics. If you think about that, that’s 16 years of excellence and I’ve been on all those teams. So that’s a great honor to be a part of that. But if I win the 400, I’d be only the second woman ever to do that. So that’s also a daunting task. Both are exciting but for different reasons.
This is your fourth Olympic appearance, which is a feat in and of itself. What’s different about your outlook this year?
This year I have a different perspective. I feel very grateful and appreciative for all I’ve achieved in my career. So this year I feel like I’m really training from a place of love. Also hope and anticipation. It’s really fueling my training and I think it’s going to help me have my best performance ever…
As an athlete sometimes you want everything to happen right now. But I think for me when I just focus on what I can do today and give my best every single day that has really helped me to perform at my best. So yeah, every Olympics has been different for me but this year just feels right. It just feels great. And I really hope this will be my swan’s song and I’ll be able to leave this sport on a really high note.