This is an extended story from ESPN The Magazine's June 9 World Cup Preview Issue. Subscribe today!
MONICA HARGROVE burst onto the professional track scene in 2006 with a silver medal in the 4x400-meter relay at the world indoor championships. Since then, she's been among the nation's best in the 400. Coming off her victory in the women's 4x400 relay at the world indoor championships in Sopot, Poland, in March -- her first international gold medal -- the 31-year-old shows no signs of slowing down. Hargrove began her track career as a high schooler in New Haven, Conn. From there, she moved on to Georgetown and became a three-time All-American, competing in the 200, 400, 500, 4x400, 4x100 sprint medley relay and distance medley relay. Since then, she has been part of a world-record-setting sprint medley relay (2006 Penn Relays) and the winning 4x400 team at the 2009 Penn Relays. As she readies herself to make a run at the Olympic team for 2016, she talked with The Mag about the benefits -- and sweet rewards -- of all that time on the track and in the gym.
Amy Brachmann: What was your body like growing up?
Monica Hargrove: I've always had a pretty muscular build. If there's such a thing as a track "build" -- I've pretty much had that body type since age 13.
Brachmann: How did you start running track?
Hargrove: I didn't start until high school. My coach saw me at a youth event and thought I was already competing in track and field. I went out for cross country first, but I hated it -- long runs and lots of conditioning. I liked the team atmosphere, but my body just wasn't made for the longer distances. I ended up quitting that season, but I came back for the indoor track season.
Brachmann: What body parts are key for your events?
Hargrove: Strong legs and a strong core. It's really key to have a strong core to get your legs up and down -- especially toward the end of the 400 meters. Your core stabilizes your body, it keeps you healthy. It keeps everything moving in the right direction.
Brachmann: What do you do to train?
Hargrove: We train on the track five days a week, Monday through Friday. One day will be over-distance [intervals longer than the 400 meters]. One day will be a sprint day -- maybe 80, 90 or 100 meters. In season I'll have a recovery day, usually Wednesday, and that consists of a long run, which is 20 minutes for me, and a lot of core work, medicine ball work and balance work. On Thursdays, I'll do race modeling: split 400s or repeat 300s, all at race pace. On Fridays, I'll do hills or stadiums, an endurance day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I also lift weights. I do a lot of Olympic lifts: power cleans, smashes, hang cleans, squats, lunges. I don't do tons of upper body. I will do some pullups, but I focus on lower body and core in the weight room. I do a lot of hanging ab work, medicine ball, twists, weighted abs (like a V-sit with a weight on my feet) and side crunches. I add weight most of the time. I try to get up to 1,000 ab reps three times a week. I don't always get there, but that's the goal.
Brachmann: What do you do for maintenance?
Hargrove: I'm fortunate in that my coach is also a chiropractor. So I get adjusted twice a week to keep everything aligned, and that has really made a difference. I also get deep-tissue massages once a week and acupuncture about once a month. I try to take an ice bath a couple of times a week after hard workouts, and once a week -- usually on my Wednesday recovery day -- I do Epsom salt baths. The foam roller is definitely key, both before and after every practice, and I make sure I'm stretching well too.
Brachmann: What are your favorite exercises?
Hargrove: I really enjoy plyometrics -- single-leg hops up the stadium steps, box jumps.
Brachmann: What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any more?
Hargrove: The 400 is a really difficult race, so I'd rather deal with being tired in practice than being tired in a meet and getting beat. I just tell myself that preparation is key, and you have to fight through those days when you're not feeling your best. You might come to a race on a day you're not feeling your best, but you still have to compete. So I try to get myself in the mindset of having to give my best. Plus, I know my competitors are training hard. Also, a lot of times in track I'll surprise myself; on days I'm not feeling well mentally, I can still get over that and have a great workout. In fact, my best race came on a day I was feeling the worst.
Brachmann: How has your training evolved over your career?
Hargrove: The past two years I've focused a lot more on technique, trying to run correctly and hold my form as I start to get tired. My mentality when I first started was, 'If you're in great shape, it doesn't matter how you look, as long as you finish.' In the past couple years, my coach and I have put a lot more emphasis on proper running mechanics. It makes you more efficient and makes everything a little easier, as I've learned.
Brachmann: How important is your diet to your training?
Hargrove: Having a good diet is hard for me. A lot of the time, I think I run so much that I'm going to burn off anything I eat. But I've definitely gotten into healthy eating. I bought myself a juicer and have been using that every day. I've cut down on my carbs, I try to get some good protein every meal and I try to fill my plate with veggies. A typical meal is a piece of fish or chicken, a baked potato or sweet potato, veggies and some fruit for dessert. I do have a sweet tooth, and my treat after races is usually ice cream. Right now, I'm pretty much competing every weekend, so after races I treat myself to ice cream or maybe a brownie or cookie.
Brachmann: What is your must-have training food?
Hargrove: I don't feel right if I don't have a banana. They have good carbs and a lot of potassium to keep me from cramping, especially when it's hot.
Brachmann: What about your body do people comment on most?
Hargrove: My stomach. Usually I get, "I would die for that stomach" or "How can I get abs like that?" I get that all the time.
Brachmann: What do you dislike about your body?
Hargrove: Sometimes I wish my shoulders were a little smaller. I have what I call my in-season wardrobe and my offseason wardrobe. I pull out the tube tops and dresses during the offseason. Just from the weights, I have a lot more muscle mass during the season. In the offseason, I'll take five weeks off from weights, so everything tones down dramatically.
Brachmann: What about your body would surprise readers?
Hargrove: My weight might be surprising. A lot of times when I tell people how much I weigh, people outside of track are like, "There's no way you could weigh that much."
Brachmann: What would you want readers to know about you and your body?
Hargrove: I do track and field and I love it, but my main motivation is to live a healthy lifestyle. I do this to try to inspire people to work out and live healthier lives. I want track to be my platform to reach out to people and get them into living healthy and being active and eating better.