In the midst of my daily Instagram scrolling, wedged between adorable puppies and Taylor Swift stan accounts, a headline caught my eye. Mikaela Shiffrin is now the winningest world cup skier in history. In a sport defined by breakneck speeds and a whisker’s width between first and second place, it’s a remarkable accomplishment.
Turns out Shiffrin has won approximately 35% of her races. In any individual sport like skiing (or running), your odds of coming in first place more than a handful of times are slim, so a 35% win rate is astronomical.
Leave it to me—a naturally glass half-empty gal—to flip the equation on its head and note 65% of the time she didn’t win.
In other words, despite her GOAT status, a majority of the time she didn’t meet her goals. Like the rest of us mere mortals, she has to push through discouragement when she doesn’t get the results she wants; she still has to dig deep despite setbacks; she still has to get up every day and put in the work.
My guess is that not winning 65% of the time is what makes the 35% so sweet.
I have no idea what it feels like to have the body and DNA of an elite athlete, but I can say with certainty that I do know how it feels to be disappointed. I’ve missed the mark on goals I set for myself (ahem, a lot!) and I have a bachelor’s degree in making mistakes. (Anyone else transfer too quickly to a zero-drop shoe and get plantar fasciitis for a year or was that just me?)
That said, I love that I can jog my memory for the 35% that’s gone really well and celebrate those moments. I whisper, “Good job, Cathy!” when I finish a hard workout and carry that with me throughout the day. Focusing on my wins feels like a booster shot against discouragement and, worse, fear of failure, which is something I continue to struggle with despite the fact that absolutely no one else cares about my fitness goals.
Mikaela leads by example on black diamonds, but I like my inclines a little more gentle, so as I often do when I need inspiration, I go to my holy trinity of women’s running: Lauren Fleshman, Kara Goucher, and Shalane Flanagan. (If I ever get a tattoo, it will probably be one of these quotes.)
“Acknowledge all of your small victories. They will eventually add up to something great.” Kara Goucher
If I really study my training deets, it becomes quite clear that at least 35% of my workouts are excellent. How do I define excellent these days? It’s not about my splits, but more in the small details. Like when I don’t have to stop and pee 3 minutes after starting. Or the trail I chose is not crowded with people playing music on speakers. Or when my body shifts into “the zone” and it just feels so good. I wish it happened more often, but I shouldn’t expect everything to go well or feel good 100% of the time. But those small wins do add up. (Kara said it so it must be true!)
“When you realize failing doesn’t make you a failure, you get to try all sorts of things.” Lauren Fleshman.
If I had to wait until I felt qualified (or confident) enough to set a goal, I never would. This year, despite my complete lack of experience, I’m throwing my hat in the ring of a fall bike race. Right now it feels doable, but as each month ticks by I’m sure I’ll suffer panic attacks, flat tires, imposter syndrome, spaghetti legs, and all manner of issues that will make me want to withdraw.
If I can keep Lauren’s perspective, I’ll remember that my self-worth isn’t tied up in this goal. It’s just a bike race. If it turns out to be a crap-fest or I come in dead last, oh well. Failing doesn’t make me a failure, but never trying is a limiting way to live—and it’s definitely not winning.
“If you have the courage to fail, then you have the courage to succeed.” Shalane Flanagan
I wouldn’t call myself a courageous person, but I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today if I didn’t have some bits of courage coursing through my veins. It takes courage to register for a race, to go for big goals, to try a new sport, to ask a stranger to be your BRF. It’s not the level of courage you need to fight cancer or endure a military deployment, but it’s the kind of courage that’s easily squandered if you don’t nurture it. By showing up every day, even if it means some failures, I’m guaranteed at least some wins. (I’ll take those odds any day!)
Mikaela Shiffrin will still fail. I will fail. But neither one of us is failing 100% of the time. We’re both doing the right things that bring both big successes and daily wins. I 100% choose to focus on that.
Just do what you are happy doing…like you said, no one cares about what you are doing. I have probably chalked up more than 35% of winning my age group at races (tris and running) but no one remembers those times but me- and honestly the things that are remembered and the times I completed hard stuff all by myself, with no one watching. I still have some lofty goals but they are fewer and farther between. Keep moving. You will be 70 (like I almost am) before you know it and then the memories are more important!