Thank you to Sanya Richards-Ross, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and Zondervan for the opportunity to share this excerpt from Sanya’s newly released book, Chasing Grace.
What The Quarter Mile Has Taught Me About God And Life
by Sanya Richards-Ross
Buy on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2FEvlSU
As my professional career took shape, I felt like it was time to break records, and the American record was the first on my list. In 2006, I had no pressure. There wasn’t a bull’s-eye on my back. Even though I finished 2005 in a flurry and was ranked No. 1 in the world, I was still an unknown commodity on the circuit.
Standing between me and the record was its present holder, Valerie Brisco-Hooks, who ran 48.83 in 1984. By August 2005, I was within 1 percent of my goal after running 48.92 in the 400 meters in Zurich. Coach Hart was right: if I could improve just 1 percent, I could be the best American quarter-miler ever.
The 2006 season became all about chasing the American record.
We structured our training so I’d run two or three early meets, just to get races in my legs, and then by late May or June, my times would significantly drop as I pulled back the volume and intensity of my training sessions and really focused on racing.
I was light and free in every race. No one expected anything of me yet. I was running these fast times, and people kept watching, disbelieving that I would be able to follow up one emphatic victory with another. But I did.
My fastest races felt like my easiest races. I would be able to go out hard, maintain my momentum, and distribute my speed evenly around the track. During these races, the 400 felt like a pure sprint. Minimal deceleration and the sensation that I was running my fastest at the end.
As I got closer to dropping below 49 seconds and breaking the record, I’d always look at the clock during the last few meters. I’d call Dad after each race, and he’d say, “Sanya, if you don’t look at the clock, you’ll run the time. The clock is slowing you down.”
Dad watched my races on fuzzy, live Internet feeds on his computer, but he was able to track my eyes and see how they moved away from the finish line and to the clock in the last few meters.
What happened when I looked at the clock? My muscles tightened, tensed up, and slowed down. The body goes where the eyes go, right? So, as opposed to everything going forward, I would be shifted slightly off course because my eyes moved from the finish line, and then everything else goes a little bit slower. And because runners anticipate the line early, probably happy that the race is almost over, sometimes I’d dip my shoulder and lean before the line. But without full extension, you also lose momentum. Those subtle movements may not be easily discernible. But add them up, and it’s half a second—and that’s what was between me and the record.
The race inside the Olympic Stadium in Athens was the last of my season. My fitness was supreme. I held the fastest time in the world, 49.05, but I actually drew lane 7, making me the hunted instead of the hunter. My biggest competitors could set their pace off mine leaving me to run blind. It’s a funny system at the World Cup, because lane assignments had nothing to do with times or rankings, but rather with country affiliation. For some reason, Team USA drew lane 7.
I considered that a disadvantage, but over the phone, my ever-optimistic father encouraged me to find a different perspective.
On a nine-lane track, I had just two competitors in front of me, so Dad urged me, “Pick them up early, and don’t look back.” “OK,” I said, and then I promised him I wouldn’t look at the clock. I didn’t really believe it was slowing me down that much. I enjoyed looking at the clock. I was running so well that in most of my races I was far ahead of my competition, and the clock was my only adversary. I enjoyed staring it down, demanding that it stop before 49 seconds.
Dad begged me to try something different. “What do you have to lose? We’ve done it your way all season. Let’s try mine.”
Before I settled into the blocks I told myself one last time, No clock, all finish line, all faith.
I’ll forever remember that race. It was the most amazing feeling. I felt no fatigue, and I was sprinting the entire time. Within 10 seconds, I had passed the runners to my right, and the rest of the race was between me and my mind. Was I strong enough to eliminate distractions and stay focused?
In lane 7, I was not used to the dimensions of the track. I rarely ran in that lane. From lane 4, I know exactly my sight lines at 100 meters, 200—all the way around. But in lane 7, I was never sure exactly where I was until I came into the final 100. I was just running free, running from feel, instinct, and power.
As I sprinted down the homestretch, I maintained my promise. I was relaxed and ran through the line. Then, finally, I looked. The clock read 48.70. A new American record.
My eyes darted around the stadium and spectator stands. I was so accustomed to having my immediate family, extended family, and friends at my biggest meets when I accomplish great things. My mom was the only one who made it to Athens, and I had no idea where she was sitting. The World Cup was a smaller championship meet, not as well attended as most.
I remember looking into the stands, no friendly eyes to connect with, and thinking, Do you all know what I just accomplished? I’m the fastest American to ever run the 400 meters.
The race that chose me gave me the greatest gift—my name etched in the record books alongside the greats like Flo-Jo, Michael Johnson, and Jackie Joyner Kersee.