There's a reason Kikkan Randall's nickname is "Kikkanimal."
The spunky Alaskan with pink-tinged blond hair is the fastest cross-country skier in the world – and the most decorated U.S. female cross-country skier in history. And now, after winning the 2013 World Championship, she's poised to capture her first Olympic medal in Sochi in February.
"This started with a dream – when I was 5 years old – to go to the Olympics someday," says Randall, 31, who will be making her fourth trip to the Winter Games. "It's been an incredible journey."
Indeed, Randall is a force to be reckoned with, as 19 World Cup medals and a slew of other awards attest. During an interview with U.S. News, she talked about how she fuels her training and how she's staying healthy in the weeks leading up to Sochi. Her responses have been edited:
When do you head to Russia? What's your daily life like until then?
I head to Russia just a few days before opening ceremonies. We have World Cup racing right up until the last weekend before the Games begin, so we'll head to Munich after the final race to pick up our Team USA gear – and then head directly to Sochi.
Daily life over the next month is focused around staying healthy, fine-tuning our physical shape and staying relaxed as the excitement builds. I'm focusing on optimal training, nutrition, rest and body care. I'm also racing on the World Cup tour each weekend leading up to the Games, which is like dress rehearsals for the events I'll race at the Olympics.
How much are you training every day?
It's come down slightly in hours since the summer and fall, but I'm still training twice a day on most days. I usually ski for a couple hours in the morning and then switch it up in the afternoon with a run, a spin or a strength workout. We'll be training almost every day up until the Olympics, with just a few off days sprinkled in to guarantee that the body is staying healthy.
What's your daily diet like?
Food is our fuel, and it's really important to get the right balance of carbohydrates and protein with each meal – as well as proper timing of meals and snacks to keep energy level consistent through the day. I start off with a hearty breakfast and make sure to have a healthy snack right after training to replenish the energy I just burned. I try to stick to high-quality whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and lean-protein sources like wild Alaskan seafood. When we're racing, especially multiple events in a row, the calorie demand definitely increases, and both carbohydrates and protein are really important.
[Read: What Makes a Healthy Diet?]
Are you taking special steps to remain healthy and injury-free?
You can never predict and protect against everything, but there are some strategies that will help. We have a physical therapist traveling with us who can help manage any little problem that pops up before it turns into a bigger problem. We also focus on regular massage to keep the body fresh and strong. I make sure I get in a solid warm-up before attempting any intense training or strength work. And I'm also staying away from activities that could put me at risk, like alpine skiing and sledding.
What's your routine in the gym like?
I love to exercise! When I'm not training, I do fun outdoor adventures like back-country touring on my alpine skis, mountain and road biking, paddle boarding and kayaking. I also like to do yoga a couple times a week to stretch out and give my mind time to relax.
[Read: 4 Exercises Trainers Hate.]
How important is sleep to your success?
I'm a big sleeper, and proper rest is certainly important in our sport, since we're pushing our bodies so hard. I aim to get around nine hours of sleep each night and usually take a nap in the afternoon. Even if I only manage 20 minutes, that nap makes my second training session more effective. I also travel with my own pillow, earplugs and sleep mask so I can create a quiet sleep environment wherever I am.