After a great breakthrough that saw her claim an individual world junior silver medal, hurdler Shona Richards spoke to AW about her training

In taking world junior 400m hurdles silver this year, Shona Richards also broke the British junior 400m hurdles record with a classy 56.16 seconds.

The 19-year-old credits a strong group along with a fun and enjoyable training environment for her major success this year. Part of Marina Armstrong’s training group, which includes four other one-lap hurdlers ranked in the top 10 of their respective age groups, the Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow AC athlete does most of her training at the Sutton Arena.

Richards says: “I love my group. The atmosphere at training is brilliant, purely because we support each other and we are really good friends. This helps training, as we cheer each other on and we work together to make the session smooth.”

The teenager is also full of praise for her coach and adds: “I’ve been with Marina for years, so we have a brilliant relationship. She knows an incredible amount about the event and we always follow a regular pattern, gradually increasing intensity as the year goes by.”

It was also Armstrong who first encouraged Richards to try the 400m hurdles after the talented youngster had started out in multi-events and won a bronze over 200m as an under-15 at the English Schools Championships.

Richards explains: “When she realised I had potential over the long hurdles, she was the one who put my abilities from the pentathlon into the 400m hurdles.”

Richards trains five to six times a week, including intensive running sessions, weights and recovery sessions. On Mondays, the emphasis is on speed and hurdle technique, Tuesdays incorporate tempo work such as 10x200m with two minutes recovery, Fridays are over-distance training such as 3x800m with 10min rest, Saturdays are fartlek or hills and Sundays are a longer run. Running sessions are complemented with weights on a Wednesday and conditioning at the end of each session.

“I don’t like to be too serious. I feel that you perform at your best when you’re enjoying yourself. In Eugene we all supported each other and there was a very good vibe in the team”

Richards says: “We work on stride pattern training all year, starting from November. First, we will be doing four hurdles with four strides in between. At the end of the winter, we will run on the flat and add the last three hurdles into our run and then finally run the first 200m without hurdles and the last 200m over five hurdles.”

Richards lists her favourite sessions as the ones which work on stride pattern for the second half of the race, starting at hurdle four and then running hurdles five to ten (210m), with jog-back recovery (60 seconds) x three and two sets.

She says: “I really enjoy it as it brings about confidence for my race and develops the correct stride pattern when under fatigue.”

Her least favourite session is fast-split 700m x 3, where she runs 400m, takes one minute recovery and then does 300m with eight minutes of recovery in between. “I’m always on the floor at the end,” she jokes.

It seems, however, that there are no secrets to Richards running faster than any other British under-20 400m hurdler in history. The talented youngster reveals: “My coach told me last season that I had the ability to run 56 seconds this season. My main target was the world junior final and after getting the qualifying time, my coach started preparing me mentally and physically for a medal. I was running much faster during the winter and this made a huge impact on my indoors and outdoors. There were no dramatic changes – just faster training and a stronger mental attitude.”

Another silver medal was clinched in the 4x400m at the World Juniors and Richards tried to take her relaxed attitude from training into those championships so the pressure did not get to her. She says: “I don’t like to be too serious. I feel that you perform at your best when you’re enjoying yourself. In Eugene we all supported each other and there was a very good vibe in the team.”

Taking each day as it comes, Richards may be unsure what she wants to do outside of athletics after claiming A, A and B in her A-Levels – aside from working part-time in Nandos! Within the sport she wants to continue to improve and go to the Olympics and World Championships. She is keen to credit many others: “I’d like to thank my group, coach, family and sponsors Nike, Oil Recruitment, GLL and SportsAid, Ron Pickering and TASS. My family have been with me every step of the way.”

TYPICAL WINTER TRAINING WEEK

Monday: Focus mainly on speed work: 30m starts and drives x4. Hurdles technical work, including hurdle walkovers (four types x3 x10 hurdles), then four hurdles x3 and 2 sets (four strides apart).

Tuesday: Tempo work: 10x200m with 2min recovery in 35sec or 7x300m with 3min recovery in 53sec.

Wednesday: Weights: Not lifting heavy weights yet but just learning how to lift correctly. Includes: cleans, deadlifts, squats, squat jumps and snatch-reps – tend to be 3 sets of 3 reps at various weights.

Thursday: Rest day.

Friday: Over-distance endurance work, 800m x 3 with 10min recovery – around 2min 35sec.

Saturday: Fartlek (1min on, 1min off x 3 and 3 sets – general circuit during recovery) or long hill runs (150m x 8 walk or jog back recovery).

Sunday: 45min run.

Conditioning: Conditioning circuits are spread throughout the week at the end of most sessions and different groups of muscles are addressed: Monday – glute circuit; Tuesday – hamstrings and resistance exercises; Wednesday – ab circuit; Saturday – general conditioning continuous circuits.

» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes