Failure is Just a Steppingstone

In the 1984 Olympic Women’s Marathon, the first ever held for women, Lorraine Moller (#292) finished 5th.

Finishing 5th in her first Olympics naturally set up the expectation that four years later, she’d get a medal, maybe even a gold medal.  This was certainly Lorraine’s expectation and that of everyone in her native New Zealand, especially given their rich history in athletics.

She trained hard for the 1988 Games. Maybe a little too hard. Instead of working within the natural evolution of training and fitness that had been working to get her to the world-class level, she forced it.

The Lydiard method, from which her training was derived, is all about a purposeful build of the body, mind and soul year by year. Lorraine wanted it so badly that she got out of accord with her best self and tried too hard. (I think we’ve all done that from time to time.)

It also didn’t help that her track and field federation (and indeed her eager country itself) were applying loads of pressure and expectation in addition to the incredible pressure of the Olympic Games. Having coached athletes in the Olympic Games, I can tell you firsthand that it’s always tough for athletes to handle. Looking back now, going into the Games all was not right for Moller.

In 1988, she came 33rd. She was devastated. She felt the disappointment of her country and the repercussions from her federation for not living up to the promise from 1984.

After some down time, Moller had to regroup. She had to review what had worked and what had not. She had to get training back in balance.  And that’s exactly what she did.

This regrouping was especially important given the next Olympic Games were in Barcelona and the marathon would include her three nemeses – heat, humidity and hills. But not only did she train smarter – more in balance with what led her to success in 1984 – but she thought smarter as well.

Recognizing the stress and pressure from 1988 played a big role in her disappointing race, she created a solution for the 1992 Games – the magic bubble.

She visualized that she existed inside a magic bubble with a membrane that only let in positivity. Negativity would simply bounce off the bubble and never affect her.

Pressure from her federation? Bounced right off. When someone made a comment that could otherwise negatively affect her confidence? Not even a concern. It never got in. All negativity was simply deflected and only the positive got in.  Can you imagine existing in a world of only positivity as your big race approached?

The magic bubble worked wonders, particularly in the pressure-packed environment of the Olympic Games. Lorraine achieve a calmness and peace of mind like never before. She was calm before the race. She was calm during the race. She didn’t feel the heat. She didn’t feel the humidity. She even stormed up the final hill into the Olympic stadium.

She flew On The Wings of Mercury (the title of her biography, highly recommended) to a bronze medal.

33rd in 1988 to 3rd in 1992.

 

She reached the Olympic podium. She stood there with arms raised in victory. It was not just a race well run, but a victory over the tendency we all have to get pulled off center.

Lorraine’s experience in Barcelona teaches a few important lessons:

First, failure is just a stepping stone. 1988 was devastating, but it was a springboard to enlightenment and the bronze medal in 1992. Could there have been the success of 1992 without the heartbreak of 1988?

Second, control of the mind is powerful and more under our own power than we often realize. She created her magic bubble. She controlled how she engaged with the world around her. She set how she wanted to be and made it a reality.

Third, training in accord with your body and mind leads to the best success. Forcing training, getting out of sync with the natural stress/rest cycle of the mind and body doesn’t work, at least not for long. You must listen to your inner GPS, your inner coach. When you force it, you always break. When you train smart, you grow stronger and set yourself up for success.

I’ve heard Lorraine tell the story of the 1992 Olympic Marathon several times. I’ve watched the race over and over. I’ve held her bronze medal. I’ve even run up that hill to the Olympic stadium in Barcelona.  I think part of what makes her story so impactful to me is that it’s a shared story.  You and I are Lorraine.

We may not be competing in the Olympic Games, but we each have our own “Olympic Games.” We have our goals and challenges. Our failures, wait, I mean stepping stones.  We all have them.

Ultimately, we are Lorraine. And just like Lorraine, we can regroup at any time we choose. We can use her lessons to finally get our medal too.

Train smart, build your magic bubble and let’s go make it happen!


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