Sept. 4 was the last big day in a long summer of big days for American sprinter Allyson Felix. On Tuesday morning, Felix was named a finalist for the Women's Sports Foundation's Sportswoman of the Year award, along with tennis star Serena Williams, swimmer Missy Franklin, gymnast Gabrielle Douglas and skier Lindsey Vonn. On Tuesday afternoon, she won her final 200-meter race of the season, running a meet-record 22.35 seconds at the IAAF World Challenge in Zagreb, Croatia, to defeat Jamaica's Aleen Bailey and fellow American Charonda Williams.
All this following the 26-year-old's standout performance at the London Olympics, where she finished as the Games' most decorated women's track and field athlete, with golds in the 200, the 4x100 relay and the 4x400 relay.
When Felix returns home to Los Angeles from Croatia, she will begin a full month away from training. It is a well-earned respite that Felix looks forward to at the end of each season.
"Once our season is over, there is a month where I totally stay away from the track and the gym," she said. "I might ride my bike by the beach or play tennis or Rollerblade, but I do nothing sport-specific and no weights for a whole month."
To understand why Felix is so excited about lying low, you have to understand how hard she works during the other 11 months of the year. "Normally, I spend five hours a day training," said Felix, who works out primarily at UCLA. "An hour of warm-up, then two hours of speed or endurance work on the track, then a break before going into the gym for the last two hours."
On the track, her workouts are specific to her goals. With the Olympics in the rearview mirror, her focus will be on the world championships, and she will be targeting specific times. Felix is also focused on winning world titles in the 100 and 400 races, which she has yet to do.
"My career has been a lot about being a versatile sprinter," Felix said. "While we always work from a base of conditioning, training for the 100-meter focuses on speed, and training for the 400-meter focuses on endurance. I just want to run faster and continue to progress."
Felix also works toward those goals in the gym. She is particularly fond of plyometrics (explosive movements, such as box jumps, used to increase speed, quickness and power) and the Olympic lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk). Felix gets two days "off" per week; on Wednesdays, for example, she does a 30-minute run to boost recovery.
In season, Felix is also a stickler for good nutrition, eating primarily lean protein, fruits and vegetables, good fats, and slow-burning carbohydrates. On the road, she always keeps healthy snacks handy.
"I travel with lots of pistachios, cashews and granola, because it's easy to go for the bad stuff when the good stuff isn't available," she said. "But I also have my splurge foods on hand, like yogurt-covered pretzels and Twizzlers."
When her strict workout schedule and diet become hard to maintain, Felix has found ways to keep herself motivated. She thinks about her role model, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and her never-say-die attitude. She thinks about her opponents and how hard they must be working. And she thinks about her goals and what she needs to do to achieve them.
"When I don't want to get out of bed, I think about what I'm trying to accomplish," Felix said.
Most people aren't going to be world-class sprinters like Felix, but she said everyone can accomplish their fitness goals. Here are Felix's tips for a successful fitness regimen:
"The biggest thing is you have to be consistent and make exercise a priority. You have to set time aside in your schedule that will be spent in the gym or exercising. And it doesn't have to be a lot of time. An hour is plenty."
"Work out with friends. It's great to have someone to keep you accountable, because you're less likely to flake on someone else. And exercising with friends, or even just one friend, makes it fun to work out."
"You don't need a gym to work out. There are so many exercises that can be done with just a few different balls and bands, or even your own body weight, like pushups, pullups, planks, walking lunges, squats and step-ups, that can be done anywhere. So there's no excuse not to do them."
"Keep your diet balanced and know what your choices are ahead of time so you can be prepared. Snack throughout the day on foods that are good for you, like nuts and fruits and granolas, and carry them with you so you don't just settle for whatever is around."