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Project Sub-4: Everything came together to break the world record, but I failed. I was devastated

I booked two days at the Aguascalientes track with UCI officials to try and set an individual pursuit world record. Day one did not go as hoped.

Editor’s note: This is part four of Project Sub-4, a column by Ashton Lambie detailing his preparation for his attempt to set a world record in the 4km individual pursuit by going under four minutes. Spoiler alert: He did. Enjoy this account, and stay tuned for the final installment of Project Sub-4. 

While Iceland was relaxing on the surface, there was a turbulent undercurrent of emails and logistical hurdles constantly requiring effort to make the sub-4 attempt into a reality. It was something that I’d been working on, but not publicly. A couple of days before The Rift gravel race, I finally got the green light from the FMC (Mexican cycling federation), and it was time to make the official announcement. Tickets were booked, and I landed in Aguascalientes on August 7th, a quick 10 days before the attempt.

Walking into the track at 11 p.m. the night I landed, the soft glow of the canvas track covering made the air feel like it was buzzing with potential and excitement. The track was holding its breath.

Aguascalientes is a small, yet incredibly lively town. I found myself with a fantastic support crew from the moment I landed. I had my track bike dropped at the velodrome and the local shop, Republica No. 1, set me up with a Specialized e-bike so I could cruise around town!

Juan, Lemus, Charlie, and Arturo would be invaluable for the ground support, covering everything from gym use to butcher shop recommendations. It was the perfect timing for the taper that would get me into race shape for the attempt.

The Middle Distance Running training I’d been doing up to this point also included a taper. If you’ve never done it before, a taper is often the most difficult part of getting ready for a race; nerves are often higher close to race day, and you’re just expected to relax and stay off your feet all day!

I would do a few track and gym workouts on the first few days after I got there, but otherwise the goal was to keep intensity as high as possible but the volume low.

Most of the days in Mexico went as follows: breakfast, track, explore town and find lunch, work in the afternoon, and make a nice leisurely dinner of rice, veggies, queso fresco, and some sort of cooked protein. Fortunately, a rice mess is my favorite meal, so I was set for race day!

Gallery: Ashton Lambie’s world-record day at the track

Part of the record attempt and track rental structure down there was an opportunity to race on August 17th or the 18th, a Tuesday and a Wednesday, respectively. We had track time for several days prior to get reacquainted with the track and the conditions, and the commissaires would be there on both days for attempts.

We booked UCI officials for two days. We needed that second day. Photo: Kit Karzen

After Monday’s openers, I was feeling the pressure. I don’t usually call my shots so far in advance, and having people waiting for — expecting — me to ride sub-4 made me uncomfortable.

We had an Instagram livestream arranged for Tuesday through Zipp, but my dream plan was to ride a sub-4 on Tuesday, without the livestream, so that my partner Christina Birch and I could be relaxing with margaritas during the “official livestream” time.

Unfortunately, the margaritas had to wait.

On Tuesday, I went for it. Gave it the beans. But even after months of pure dedicated MDR training, I only managed a 4:02. I was absolutely devastated to be so far from the goal of a sub-4, and over half a second outside of the world record.

I was crushed. I was nearly in tears.

(Photo: Kit Karzen)

All I could think of after being carried back to the bench was how I couldn’t do that to myself again. Christina — who is an amazing bike racer in several other arenas, and understood exactly the feelings I was going through — managed to talk me out of that deep hole. She kept me focused in the present, on the small actionable chunks I could actually do something about.

“Don’t think about tomorrow, just spin on the rollers until I get back with your recovery drink.”

My legs were absolutely empty, and I had ridden the last three laps on momentum alone.

“Just have another biscuit, you’ll feel better with some sugar.”

I could walk away right now with a new national record and a personal best, have a nice recovery ride tomorrow, and I wouldn’t have to go through the pain of another pursuit at altitude.

“All we’ve got to do right now is relax the rest of the evening.”

I mean, I wasn’t even close.

(Photo: Kit Karzen)

“There are just two things I think we need to focus on for tomorrow.”

Over two seconds is roughly 0.1-0.2 seconds per lap, which might as well be a mile as far as I was concerned.

“Don’t worry about the time, let’s just focus on doing the right recovery right now.”

Yeah, I guess there were a few things I could work on. And maybe I’d feel like trying again tomorrow? I didn’t right now.

I finished my cool-down spin on the e-bike on the way back to the BnB. We spent the evening with Netflix and Normatecs, while we both wrestled with the enormity of the ride tomorrow.

We had a clear plan of what needed to change to execute a better ride, and making those small corrections was my only goal.