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What’s My Workout: Kikkan Randall

It’s safe to say that cross-country skiing isn't the most popular sport in the United States. But four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall—with her mega-watt personality, signature pink-streaked hair and unrelenting talent—is out to change that. The Alaska native, who is due to have her first child in April, took up the sport in high school as a promising cross-country runner to stay in shape during the off-season. It was a perfect fit. She went on to become a 17-time U.S. National Champion and the first American woman to crack the top ten at the Olympics. As a soon-to-be parent, she is gaining all-important perspective on her life as an athlete. “Now a bad training day or race won’t feel like the end of the world,” she says. “I can better recognize the bigger and more important things in my life.” From adjusting her 20-plus-hour training weeks to what she hopes to accomplish once the baby comes, Randall shared some of her thoughts with us here.

Q: How have you felt so far during this pregnancy?

A: I have been very fortunate. I was queasy on and off during the second and third months, but just for a few weeks. I never experienced any vomiting, however, and usually felt better once I ate something. My energy definitely took a dive in the first trimester so I napped more. But I only had to turn around and go home during one training session, around week six or seven. I’ve had some heartburn on and off and lately my tummy has just been feeling full. But so far I think being able to train through the pregnancy has helped me feel better.

Q: What does a typical training week look like for you now?

A: My training hasn’t changed that much. My coach and I decided to drop my volume of training by about 25 percent and keep the intervals only at L3 (threshold) pace—only up to 30 to 35 minutes of work. However, the focus of the training has shifted from preparing for a race season to just maintaining my base fitness. I am still strength training twice per week and my strength program is being adjusted to accommodate the pregnancy as it progresses, with less explosive work and more basic strength movements. I have been able to continue all modes of training: classic and skate skiing on snow, running, biking and lifting. I am also adding in a few sessions of stationary upper body training on a SkiErg and Exer-Genie Trainer and will add some swimming in as I get bigger.

Q: Sounds like things are holding pretty steady. Has anything changed?

A: I have noticed that my energy does drop more quickly after a few days of training. So I am being more sensitive to how I feel. And if I need an afternoon or day off I am more apt to take it than I was before I got pregnant.

Q: What has surprised you about working out during pregnancy?

A: I have been pleasantly surprised by how normal training has felt through the first half of this pregnancy. I realize that it’s been a slight reduction from my regular schedule, but I have been able to carry out workouts and remain training with my team in a pretty normal way. The one big difference that I’ve noticed is that instead of improving and getting stronger every week, I almost feel like I’m getting weaker and slower—a very different trend than I’m used to! So I’ve shifted my focus from having to improve to feel successful to being grateful for whatever I am able to achieve each day.

Q: How have you approached what you eat? Any cravings or go-to foods?

A: I have been following the same approach that I use when I’m training and racing: Seeing food as the fuel for the workouts I want to accomplish. I have noticed that my body is craving more food at certain times—I’m guessing the little squirt is going through some growing spurts. As a native Alaskan, I’ve always eaten a lot of wild Alaska salmon to support my training and continue to do so now that I’m pregnant. I turn to for recipe ideas and cooking tips so that I always have something new to try. And I have definitely been craving more of my favorite comfort foods, or “reward foods as I like to call them. I’ve let myself indulge in some of those more than I normally would because I see this pregnancy as a little mental break from the discipline I have to have during competition time.

Q: What have you learned about yourself as an athlete during this experience?

A: Being pregnant and thus sitting out the racing season has really made me reflect on the last few years of my career and how enjoyable and successful those years have been. Watching the races on TV has made me re-energized and excited for racing and I think this year away is only going to do good for my motivation and drive going forward. I am also getting to enjoy the perspective of not being totally immersed in the racing scene minute to minute, which is making me recognize and appreciate all the good things in my life beyond it.

Q: How do you think—or hope!—your high level of fitness will affect your birth and postpartum recovery?

A: I think and hope that my high level of fitness will help make the birth process smoother and less destructive to my body, which in turn I hope will help with a quicker postpartum recovery. I’m definitely keeping a focus on my core strength, which I hope will help deal with the extra weight in the last trimester and also help me push during the birth.

Q: Are you nervous about the birth itself?

A: I think the mental aspect of being a racer and training through the pregnancy will be tremendously helpful during the birth process. Contractions sound very similar to doing intervals and my guess is that the really hard push at the end is going to be like the end of a race when everything hurts and you just coax yourself closer to that finish line with small goals and positive self-talk.

Q: Tell us your pregnancy fitness philosophy in three words.

A: Do your best.

Q: What are your professional goals for after the baby is born?

A: My first goal will be to return to a normal training rhythm safely. I know I will be anxious to get right back to my former levels, but I want to make sure I don’t risk unnecessary injuries by trying to come back too fast. My big goals for ski racing are to be ready to compete for medals at the 2017 World Nordic Ski Championships next February. But I also hope to be in decent enough racing shape to join my team for the start of the 2016–2017 World Cup racing season this November.


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