Written by ALP Cycles Coach, Jennifer Sharp
It’s Sunday, October 7, 2018 in Los Angeles at the 2018 Master Track World Championships. I’m about to race the 2 kilometer pursuit gold medal round, which will decide that year’s 40-44 age bracket world champion.
Beep, 50 seconds. My bike is held by the starting gate. I have 40 long seconds to glance down the track, look at Ben for any last minute instructions and savor the experience. From the start gate, I glance down, tuck myself into the aero position momentarily before sitting back up and breathing deeply.
Beep, 10 seconds. No holding back. Here we go. Hips to bars. This is what I’ve been training for. Let’s do this.
Beep, 5. Beep, 4. Beep, 3. Beep, 2. Beep, 1. Beep - GO!
I go out easier from the start than the qualifier. Ben and I discussed that by not going out quite as hard I could save more for the end, especially since this was the first of many races that week. He also told me at the line it’s going to come down to who ever wants it more.
I’m down 1.5 seconds at 500 meters, with 1,500 more to go. I can tell by Ben’s body language that I need to push. I need to summon every last ounce of energy and put it into going fast. I need to put aside any doubt, any fear and push more. So I push. My body responds and I slowly gain back 1.2 seconds. I still have 2 laps to go and I’m not ahead. I ask my body for more. Things start to go blurry. I feel my line wavering, nearly hitting a series of sponges. I’m behind. I hear the bell ring, signaling one lap to go. I push. I plead. Come on legs!!! I give it everything I’ve got. The official’s gun fires and my competitor wins by 0.490 seconds.
0.490 seconds. 0.490 SECONDS!
Not even a full second separated us. Those 0.490 seconds replay in my head all night. They replay when I meet my competitor at the award podium, where she graciously commented, “I don’t understand how this happened.” They replay as I stand on the podium, after accepting my silver medal. And they replay over and over that night: on the drive home, in the shower, at dinner, and several times before I finally fall asleep. I even woke up thinking about those 0.490 seconds.
If all goes well, we can learn the most from our failures. Don’t get me wrong - I love it when everything comes together and you have magic legs, the planets align and everything goes according to plan. But if it doesn’t? If you loose by a mere 0.490 seconds? Then you play the woulda, coulda, shoulda game. And that can drive you crazy.
Why didn’t I go harder from the start?
Could I have eaten better that day?
Why did I feel empty at the start and empty during the warmup?
Did I do too much that day by calling lap splits?
What if I ducked my head a little bit more and threw my bike at the line?
On and on it can go. The thing is, if we’re lucky, we can learn the most from our mistakes. And as Ben pointed out, I won a silver medal at the freaking world championships. I gave it everything I had in that moment. I am forever grateful for my competitors who push me to perform at my best that day, the official and volunteers who show up, the announcers, my support network, my husband and more that allow me to compete at the highest level.
The biggest gift of losing is to take the lessons we learn and apply them to the next time we’re at the starting line. You don’t have to be at a world championship to practice it - you can apply this to every race from local, regional, national to international.
What makes a champion is what they do with mistakes and how they learn and adapt from them. So I challenge you to take your next “failure” and make the most of it and apply it to subsequent efforts. Answer those questions of whether or not you could go harder from the start by going harder from the start, pay attention to the little details of nutrition, of energy expenditure, and of body placement. Address the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s and you’ll know that you brought your best to the starting line that day. And I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than that.