Barbells and blades: Staying on track

AP Photo/Michael Sohn

When Heather Richardson moved to Salt Lake City just out of high school in 2006 and traded the four wheels of her inline skates for the blades of long-track speed skates, the transition was difficult.

"I called my mom and told her I wasn't sure I could do this," remembered Richardson, now 24. "I really just wanted to go home." She had a rocky couple of weeks, but quickly caught on, thanks to help from Olympian Derek Parra, who had also made the wheels-to-blades transition.

Richardson made the World Cup team two months after her move. A 2010 Olympian, she is also a 15-time World Cup medalist in the 1,000 meters and an 11-time medalist in the 500 meters. She has won the 2013 World Sprint Championships, among other honors.

Looking toward the U.S. Olympic trials and Sochi, her goal is simple and focused: "I want to bring home a gold medal." Here's a glimpse into her training:

Training cycles

My training varies with the season. We just got back from Europe, so it's an easy, light week. But on Monday, we'll gear back up for the Olympic trials, which are going to be held on our home ice in Salt Lake City from Dec. 27 to Jan. 1. We'll do a lot more intervals to get speed back into our legs, and head back into the weight room. We don't stay on the ice more than 90 minutes a session, but it takes about an hour to warm up -- we'll jog around the oval or ride a bike, stretch, do a little dry skating off the ice -- and then we cool down.

Get snappy

I really like strength training; our weight coach is so awesome. We focus on our whole body, but two of our primary exercises are squats and power cleans. We do cleans to keep our muscles quick and snappy, and squats to build strength in our legs, then end each session with exercises for our core and arms.

Soccer on ice

In the summer, our team plays bandy, which is kind of like soccer on ice, for cross training. It's really fun. We wear hockey skates, and running/skating quickly after the ball really helps with hip flexor strength.

Routine eating

My go-to breakfast is a bowl of Wheaties, vanilla almond milk and strawberries, and I always have something with protein -- a bar or a drink -- after a training session. My go-to dinner before a race is miso soup with rice since we're not sure what kind of food will be available in Sochi. Better to have my body used to the basics so I don't have to worry about it at the Games. And I love anything sweet, especially chocolate; in Berlin on this last European trip, I bought about 20 Ritter Sport bars.

More oxygen, less glide

Skating at sea level -- like we will be in Sochi -- is different than skating at 4,330 feet in Salt Lake. You get less glide at sea level than you do at altitude, so you can't get lazy or you'll lose speed. That said, we had the 2013 Single Distance Championships in Sochi, and it's a great, clean oval. And at the end of the day, everybody has to skate on the same ice.

The middle

Although I'm going to try to qualify for all three race distances -- 500, 1,000, and 1,500 meters -- my favorite distance is the 1,000 meters. The start isn't as important as it is in the 500, and I don't have to go the extra lap, as I do in the 1,500. It's the perfect in-between.

1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2

During long-track speedskating, we race against the clock, so you don't know where you are compared to your competition until everybody crosses the finish line. During a race, you see your lap times and can use them to gauge how you're skating, but it's so important to stay mentally tough. The last lap is always the most important: You're either going to lose speed or make up time. I really try to concentrate on my breathing on the last lap, and count "1, 2" with my feet so I keep them at the same speed I've had them at all race.

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