Project Sub-4: ‘Just execute’ – The numbers and the aftermath of a world record

The final chapter, in which a hayseed who trains in a Montana barn takes on the world record of Filippo Ganna, the best time trial racer in the world.

Photo: Kit Karzen

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Editor’s note: This is the final part 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. 

“Just execute.”

On Monday, I failed at my first attempt at a world record. Tuesday, weirdly, felt exactly like the day before. I woke up, made coffee, eggs on toast, and a recovery drink, and got the kit ready. Christina hustled me around to get to the track. The plan was to do openers early, then come back to the apartment to power-save before the attempt.

So there were small changes, but also, some BIG changes from the previous day. Namely, a set time, a live broadcast, and a very public attempt at something that I had failed at less than 24 hours before.

Christina livestreamed my second effort on Zipp’s Instagram account. No pressure. (Photo: Kit Karzen)

But some things were unchanged: Sweaty hands reminded me to pack chalk for the track efforts.

Just focus on pacing the second kilometer, and staying on the line. Don’t focus on the time, just execute those things, and that’s a win today.

I did not use a power meter or a heart rate monitor for the attempt. The only measurement that mattered was done by the clock. But based on my training, the power would be around 900-1,000w for the first 15 seconds, and then around 460w after that. I have a very high heart rate, and usually hit 205bpm by the end of the effort! I did some activation squats of 300lbs on Sunday, and had been deadlifting 355lbs earlier in the week.

As for other numbers, I had a 64×15 gear, for around 115 gear inches, which is similar to a 52×12.

Just hug the black line, and pace the second kilometer. (Photo: Kit Karzen)

There hasn’t been a day yet where I don’t wake up and just wonder “What the fuck just happened? How did I even do that?” The warm-up was about the same as every other one I’ve done for years. I pulled on the same kit as the day before, and walked over to the same starting line. The gate was level, so that was something different. My legs felt good. I looked over at Christina in centerfield before the countdown started.

And then I was off.

I’ve watched the video a couple of times, and it always feels weird. When I went off, I knew the start was good. Honestly, I usually skip watching the first 2-3k, because not much happens. But the last kilometer, that’s always where the race is lost or won. I peek up to see 6 laps to go, and know that now is the time to dig in.

The clock doesn’t care, as usual.

I can visually see the slowdown on the last lap, as I manually push and pull each leg for the last 15 seconds. The scattered cheers as I come around the last corner to the finish line all just… stop. There is this incredible pause, where the whole velodrome goes silent while the echo from the finish line cheers just reverberate and fade.

Unknown to me, the official gives an emphatic thumbs up, signaling…  something good? I have no idea what he thinks that means, but I decide to give a wave to the crowd. As I roll to a stop, long-time trackie Brian Abers grabs my seatpost, since my legs decided to just stop working for a bit. He leans in and says “you did it man, amazing.”

What just happened? (Photo: Kit Karzen)

Still no clue what I did, my last three brain cells fighting to figure out what I did. Between gasps I managed to ask what the time was, and Christina leaned in, “you did it Lambs, it was 3:59.93.” That was when I knew what just happened.

I had surpassed world time trial champion Filippo Ganna’s mark of 4:01.934 to set a new world record.

The rest of the day was about as hectic as you could imagine. I had my first impromptu champagne podium (a weird bucket list item for me), had doping control, and ate some cricket salt at a restaurant for dinner later. We had about a 1hr nap before our 3:30 flight back to the states. We landed in Lincoln that evening, completely dazed from the week. Again, what just happened?

The gravel community of my hometown was as grounding and supportive as I could’ve ever hoped for. Knowing that I inspired so many people, and having so many people share their experiences watching me race was incredible and humbling. I caught up with people I grew up racing with, and Christina even got to hear some embarrassing tales of some of the few crits I’ve ever raced (I am pretty bad at crits).

We had absolutely perfect weather for the 75 mile distance at Gravel Worlds, rolled in somewhere at mid-pack, and had an absolute blast. We watched local legend John Borstelmann out-sprint Colin Strickland while we finished up some recovery beers, en route to home in Montana the next day. And it was back to having a different type of fun on the bike.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Honestly, I think I’m still unpacking it. It’s even tougher with the world championships on the horizon. I always think I could’ve gone a little faster, or changed something in the training or equipment. But I always want to keep inspiring people. Even a hayseed that trains in a barn in Montana can get an amazing partner, sponsors, and crew around him, and take on one of the best time trialists to ever ride a bike. Win or lose, I’m stoked to do it again soon.

(Photo: Kit Karzen)

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