About this episode:
In this week’s episode, we interview the CEO and founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) Chris Carmichael and hear what he’s learned from 40+ years racing and working in cycling.
Chris Carmichael is the founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). Named the US Olympic Committee’s Coach of the Year in 1999, Chris formed CTS in 2000 to make world-class coaching accessible to athletes of all ability levels. Innovation has been a driving force throughout Chris’s career as an athlete, coach, and entrepreneur; he’s played a leading role in advancing the use of power meters, aerodynamic testing, altitude training, online coaching tools, and specific training methods for time-crunched athletes.
- Chris’ time racing as a professional cyclist on Team 7-Eleven
- Working as the National Cycling Team Coach
- Coaching elite athletes including Lance Armstrong
- Pioneering the endurance coaching business
- The future of coaching and how artificial intelligence will impact the industry
- Training tips for time-crunched athletes
- Finding the motivation to train decade after decade
Thanks To This Week’s Sponsors:
This episode of the TrainRight Podcast is brought to you by Stages Cycling, the industry leader in accurate, reliable and proven power meters and training devices.
Stages Cycling offers the widest range of power meter makes and models to fit any bike, any drivetrain and any rider, all manufactured in their Boulder, Colorado facility. They’ve expanded their offerings to include the Stages Dash line of innovative and intuitive GPS cycling computers covering a full range of training and workout-specific features to make your workouts go as smooth as possible.
And for 2020 Stages is applying its decade of indoor cycling studio expertise to the new StagesBike smart trainer. Check out their latest at www.stagescycling.com and use the coupon code CTS20OFF all caps at checkout for 20% off.
Adam Pulford: Welcome to the TrainRight Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Pulford. Our first episode will be slightly different than future episodes because we’re going to hear the story of how one man revolutionized the coaching industry as we know it today. That man happens to be Chris Carmichael, founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems. He’s helped shape the landscape of how endurance athletes train and perform for over three decades and he’s not slowing down any time soon. So let’s hear more of Chris’ story and where he sees the industry going into the future. Welcome to the show, Chris.
Chris Carmichael: Hey Adam. Thanks for having me.
Adam Pulford: Yeah, thank you. Well, before CTS, before you were a coach, before you were a bike racer and olympian, there was simply Chris, a kid from Miami, Florida. I know this story of why that’s so influential on who you are today and everything that you’ve done but can you tell our audience a bit more of why where you grew up was so important to the coach you are today?
Chris Carmichael: I was really fortunate to grow up in South Florida. Mainly because of the Cuban population down there and because of Fidel Castro coming in in the late ’50s, early ’60s, obviously the big immigration to South Florida occurred. I started bike racing when I was nine years old. That was 1969 and the Cubans loved bike racing. I rode for the Cuban Bicycle Club and there were probably 20 kids in my age group, that kind of 10 to 12 age group. We would have training rides that would be every Tuesday and Thursday after school and we’d from from Coconut Grove over to Key Biscayne and back and we had a coach who would follow us in a car and he would teach us how to paceline, how to ride a wheel, how to Echelon, sprints. He would honk the horn and we’d attack and just, there was a really strong infrastructure of cycling in South Florida.
Chris Carmichael: Just about every weekend, there was races and there would be, gosh, 30, 40, 50 kids out there in the 10 to 12 age group that were racing these criteriums. It was just so cool. It’s be usually 10 miles or something for us and I mean, 50 kids out there racing, learning and they had a skill set to be able to ride a small peloton. 50 kids, just the bike handling skills that we learned and that I learned have helped me throughout my whole cycling career. There’s things that I learned then that I still use in my coaching today. I remember this coach, he had a saying. It was in Spanish but it was something translated to, where there was a wheel, there’s a way, and the idea is if you get on a wheel, who knows what could happen.
Chris Carmichael: Always being able to follow a wheel. That’s really the fundamental aspect of bike racing. It doesn’t really matter. I mean, South Florida’s dead flat and obviously wind plays a big role but even in hilly, mountainous terrain, being able to follow a wheel, that’s a great equalizer, is drafting and being able to do it and know that there’s a pocket there and how to kind of negotiate and move through the peloton. I was really fortunate to have that influence upon me at such a young age. Like I said, I still even use some of the sayings and the things that I learned way back in the late ’60s, early ’70s from those days in my coaching now.
Adam Pulford: Yeah, that’s pretty unique. I mean, I would be hard pressed to know of a pocket right now that would even have that great of an opportunity to train for a nine year old to train and race and things like that in the nation right now. That’s pretty huge.
Chris Carmichael: Yeah, I mean, you grew up on Minnesota and just imagine, when you were 10 years old if you wanted to be a bike racer back in the early ’70s, would that happen? I mean there were pockets of New York City, LA, Chicago had a cycling infrastructure but outside of that, you’re pretty much on your own.
Adam Pulford: Yeah, we were just shoveling snow and cutting wood up there. No bikes. But what’s interesting though is how you had that experience and that opportunity at such a young age and then all of a sudden, we’re one of the team members for 7-Eleven, which is the great, historic, American team that really pioneered bike racing into the future century. So tell us a little about reaching on 7-Eleven and what that was like.
Chris Carmichael: Most of the team members on 7-Eleven, we were on the national team together and we raced national team events and raced over in Europe and Jim Ochowicz, the founder of the team… I was selected to the team and there’s always a kind of a culture within the team that it was about winning. It started as American criterium team and guys like Ron Kiefel and Davis Phinney and [inaudible 00:07:00], people like that and there was just a culture of winning races. It didn’t matter whether it was a parking lot criterium where there were 30 guys out there or whether it was a stage in the Tour de France. It was always about winning and that culture was something that really kind of seeped into me because I don’t think there ever a race we did together with 7-Eleven that there wasn’t a discussion on the team strategy session before. It was always about how could we win.
Chris Carmichael: There were mountain stages where there was no way but there was, what could happen? And if everything worked out… Then sometimes we have Andy Hampsten who obviously was a huge talent, won the Giro, won the Tour de Suisse twice, won Alpe d’Huez and fourth in the Tour de France. Just a tremendous… Perhaps one of the best climbers ever. So we had him, we had Raul Acala, greatest cyclist ever from Mexico, won the best young jersey in the Tour de France, won time trial stages, just huge talent. It kind of didn’t really matter what it was. It was always about a plan of how we can win that day and a lot of times, we didn’t. We got out butts kicked but sometimes we did. A lot of the times we did when nobody knew who we were.
Chris Carmichael: When we first got to Europe. We were the bad news bears, you know, like six or seven of us and nobody knew who we were. It was very much a European sport. When I say a European sport, I mean it was, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, a little from Spain. That was primarily it. It wasn’t a global sport like it is now. You had a few riders from the UK and some Australians like Phil Anderson and Alan Piper and a few others but it was very much a Western European dominated sport.
Adam Pulford: So even as the landscape of bike racing was changing in Europe, with team 7-Eleven you were pioneering it from the United States here. Kind of at the height of your bike racing career, you had a massive injury. You broke your leg skiing, right?
Chris Carmichael: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Adam Pulford: What was that like?
Chris Carmichael: Well that sucked. There’s no other way around it. It was just that winter after racing the Tour de France for the first time and me and a couple buddies… I was living in the Bay Area in the winter and we went up to Mount Shasta and we were going to do some back country skiing, some [inaudible 00:10:30] and we went up this jeep trail for about 20 miles and then hiked in for, I don’t know, three or four miles to where there’s this bowl and we were going to do some [inaudible 00:10:44]. It was just after the first heavy snowfall and so there was a lot of exposed ground. Just as I got going, I turned back and I hit a rock and fell over unfortunately. It wasn’t a spectacular crash at all. It was just a fluke, weird accident, and fell and landed kind of all my weight on one leg and with my knee bent at about a 90 degree angle and so I broke the patella in half and then split the femoral condyles and then it compounded further up and right away it was incredibly painful.
Chris Carmichael: At the time it seemed like a great idea but all of a sudden, something like that happens, and this was before cell phones, before obviously the Internet or anything and so one buddy stayed with me and the other had to retrace the route to get back down. Hiking back out, driving back down this bump jeep traily road and to Mount Shasta and there was no search and rescue like Flight for Life or anything.
Chris Carmichael: The EMT had to do the same thing. I was up there for a long time. Something like 14, 15 hours and I really started having difficulty breathing because of fat embolisms that were developing in my lung. When your big bones in your body break, the fat inside can be released and because of the big displacement with the compounding… It was picked up by my bloodstream and it was taking these fat embolisms to my lungs and they were slowly starting to lodge in there and I couldn’t figure out what was going on and why I was having such difficulty after a while breathing. I was really fortunate I didn’t have a white out of the lungs.
Adam Pulford: You were fortunate to be alive.
Chris Carmichael: I was very fortunate to be alive. I had it repaired. Luckily, there was a great orthopedic surgeon who did a great job. Unfortunately, I lose an inch of leg length in my femur. I came back to racing and I signed a contract with 7-Eleven. I renewed my contract with them for two years like literally two days before this accident. I was so fortunate because Jim Ochowicz had health insurance for all the team members. It really would’ve financially crippled me if I had this accident at that age. I think I was 23 or something. I would’ve been done, from a financial standpoint and that’s something with CTS. I remember that. Ever since I started the company and started getting employees, I’ve always been able to provide health insurance to the coaches that are full time at CTS because I remember what happened there and I never wanted something like that to happen to any of the coaches. It was kind of a good lesson to me to learn that. I carried that forth to CTS.
Adam Pulford: Yeah, a good lesson. A hard lesson for sure and I would imagine, much like Taylor Phinney and Chris Froome potentially, knock on wood, you came back and you were never the same. The reason why I bring that up… In bike racing, never the same. Here’s why I bring you up is this event, correct me if I’m wrong but this eventually led you into the coaching pathway, right?
Chris Carmichael: Absolutely, yeah. I raced a few more years and went back to Europe with team 7-Eleven and then my last year, I was with Schwinn Wheaties and I got a call from Jiri Manus, who was the national coaching director of the USCF, United States Cycling Federation. That was before US Cycling and he was a famous cyclist from the Eastern Bloc. He was from Czechoslovakia and he won a lot of big… He asked me to get involved and if I’d come out and work some development camps. These were for athletes who were coming up from the junior ranks into the senior ranks and that’s how they were categorized at that time. They were the best from the junior ranks and they would go into… There was the national team program but it was divided up. There was an A team, a B team and these young riders would come into the B team and he wanted to see if I’d come out and work some of these development camps. Work meaning coach them.
Chris Carmichael: I didn’t really have any thought about that but I remember asking my dad what he thought and he didn’t know much about bike racing but he said, “It seems like you have a PhD in bike racing and it’s be good to give something back to the sport, which has been pretty good to you.” So I did it and really enjoyed it and felt like I had an aptitude for coaching.
Adam Pulford: It seemed like it would be a good fit but what would be interesting is having that perspective because coming straight from the pro ranks, I mean the very highest level of the sport, you probably had some unique views, opinions and insights on what needed to change for Team USA, for the national team. As a coach, what were some of those things that you implemented right away?
Chris Carmichael: Well the national team program was kind of the dark ages. In ’84 and the years leading up to 1984, the Olympics in Los Angeles, the head coach was Eddie Borysewicz or Eddie B. Kind of the founder, in essence, of the national team program. He was a really good coach and he worked with me and when he first came in, I was on the junior worlds team and Ron Kiefel was on that team, myself, Greg LeMond, Jeff Bradley and Eddie really kind of focused on the young athletes instead of the established ones. He focused on my generation and this generation I was part of. There was a lot going into the Olympic Games in ’84. There was a lot of technology that was driven by the people that Eddie recruited into the national team program like Dr. Chuck Kyle, Dr. Ed Burke, many others.
Chris Carmichael: They pioneered skin suits. They pioneered disc wheels, bullhorn handlebars, all kinds of things that had never been really used before in cycling. Then Eddie left after… I think before the Olympics in ’88 and the national team program kind of went into this dark period where the only people in it really didn’t have much of a background in cycling, at least not at the elite level and they lost the trust of the athletes in the program. That was really one of the things I, when I came in, was building trust back in the program, credibility back in the program and also wanting to create a team environment because it would have very much become so individualized and that the national team, there was no team, there was just individuals grouped together going out and doing their own thing. Those were the things that I focused on just as I started.
Adam Pulford: It’s interesting. How did, let’s just say, winning as a priority or that winning culture from team 7-Eleven and early on in your racing career, how did that apply to you as a coach when you came on board as national team coach?
Chris Carmichael: Yeah, it was important. I mean, like I said, the fact of my background coming from racing the pro tour over in Europe, racing for team 7-Eleven, I had credibility with athletes right away. I knew that was almost the easy part but you’ve got to do something with it. That alone isn’t going to be enough. So creating a team environment was important because that’s the first step is just like, you’ve got to be bigger than just ourselves and that’s what a team allows you to do is make it kind of bigger than just you. You could have discussions and you could have… What were the goals for this event? What were the goals for this race? I would push them. I remember initially it was like, “Well let’s just hope we can finish everybody.” Or, “Let’s hope we get somebody in the top 20.” I would push them. “Really? Is that what we’re going to be satisfied with? Is to finish? We’re the national team. We’re the US cycling team. Are we just going to be satisfied getting us all to the finish line? Don’t we want to achieve something more?” Slowly I pushed them to higher and higher levels of achievement. When we did it as a team, it mattered so much more because it wasn’t just about how you could do it.
Chris Carmichael: It was like, “Okay it’s not just about me, it’s about, maybe there’s one of my teammates that can do this. How am I going to help them?” So once you start getting that, everybody rises to a higher level, once you start getting some success at a level. And we had such great athletes. The talent then was just tremendous. You really didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the level of talent in that generation. I mean there was George Hincapie, Bobby Julich, Lance Armstrong, Darren Baker, Chann McRae. I mean these guys were really good. We were really fortunate. I was fortunate to be able to work with these but we needed to build that sense of team and that there was a greater purpose and that when you rode for the national team it meant something more than riding for your trade team.
Chris Carmichael: So those were the things that I focused on and bringing this winning culture in and that ultimately we should be talking about how we’re going to win the race versus how we’re going to finish. So I think that culture slowly started to develop. It’s not just talking about it. You have to mentally… All of your actions have to show that so we established me as the coach of the team, I wasn’t going anywhere. Had a soigneur, before they would have soigneurs and mechanics would rotate in and out with athletes. They never really got a sense of getting to know and work with the athletes and know their individual needs so we established a mechanic soigneur. We didn’t trade him out and they went with us to all the events. So slowly that was the team. It built from there. This culture could start getting nurtured and working and growing within each individual. When we talked about a team it slowly became not about one, it became about how could we win? How could the team win?
Chris Carmichael: Going with the Olympics in 92, the men’s road team, we had perhaps one of the best national teams in the world with [inaudible 00:24:53], whether it was Lance or Darren or Jonas Carney. Jonas Carney, we were leading him out for stage finishes and he was beating people like Erik Zabel in the sprints. Our team was a real force to be reckoned with.
Adam Pulford: Well clearly it was working. Creating a team environment, coaching them into this winning mindset but then also developing the talent ID programs and things like that, it was working. You were winning. You mentioned the ’92 Olympic Games but also up to the 96 Olympic Games where this Project ’96 came into play. Tell us a little bit more of those elements in 96, because you were also then at the cusp of some revolutionary stuff in cycling.
Chris Carmichael: I was asked to take over the national coaching director’s position. That was going into the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. We put together this project, it was called Project 96. It was putting the best prepared physically mentally and technically athlete on the fastest equipment for the Atlanta Olympic Games. So we recruited, we got great sponsors involved. We got EDS. They were sponsor of the US cycling team, sponsor of Project ’96. Technology company. They owned General Motors at the time so we were able to use their wind tunnel at GM to hone down the bikes, the equipment, from an aerodynamic standpoint. I got a lot of great sports scientists involved. I got Dr. Ed Burke back involved, Chuck Kyle, numerous others involved. I got GT Bikes. At that time, GT Bikes was a BMX mountain bike brand and knew nothing about track cycling or even building road bikes.
Chris Carmichael: But they had a great founder, Richard Long, who had a vision for GT and unfortunately Richard was killed in a motorcycle accident. But they built some incredible bikes. We looked at everything. I mean the bikes were revolutionary but not only that, from a physiological sense we did some really cool things. We worked with Dr. Jim Stray-Gundersen, Ben Levine and they were sort of pioneers of the sleep high, train low method of training. Sleep at high altitude and train at low altitude. The high altitude you get the blood volume changes. Train at lower altitude to get the higher intensity forms of training, to get the physiological adaptations. So we did things like we would be sleeping in Woodland Park with the endurance track team.
Adam Pulford: Woodland Park being like 8,500 feet above sea level right?
Chris Carmichael: Yes. 8,500 feet. And then we’d go down to Colorado Springs, it’s about 6,000 feet, and we worked with USA Swimming, which had this flume, this swimming flume. You could change the amount of oxygen in that flume and so we would have the endurance track team with their bikes set up on trainers and we’d be training about 300 or 400 feet below sea level. This really rich oxygen that they’d be breathing in. So power levels they’d be producing during these VO2 intervals were really massive. So the thought was they would get more physiological adaptation because of this higher power output. We did stuff like that. We did work with glycerin, adding glycerins to a sports drink with the thought that this was going to hold more water in the cell so help with hydration because with the games being in July in Atlanta we knew keeping core temperature down was important.
Chris Carmichael: We did things like that. We did all kinds of cool… We worked with Don Lamson from D2 Shoes and Richard Byrne from Speedplay pedals, incorporated a shoe pedal that was more aerodynamic. We didn’t actually end up using that but we just… Nothing was off limits from a sense of how could we get the athletes on the fastest equipment possible.
Adam Pulford: What I want our audience members to realize here is, some of you might even have altitude tents where you sleep in the tent or even a room for your own training and it’s fairly common now. But what you were doing at the time Chris was revolutionary but it was also risky. No one else was doing it. So I mean what if you were wrong?
Chris Carmichael: We were wrong a lot. You learn that way. You learn from doing things right and you learn from mistakes. There’s a lot of those mistakes and corrections and things like that. I mean there were things that we did that, from that hypoxic training we realized how much training stress was on the athletes and that they needed much more recovery in order to adapt. That form of training is still being used today and has been managed more effectively than how we were doing it initially but it was a step along the way. We did a lot with power meters at that time. [inaudible 00:32:01] power meter was SRM. We collected all kinds of data from stage races, from training. We went out in test events on the Atlanta mountain bike course with the athletes going into the Atlanta games. The test events and looking at the power profile from the mountain bike course. That had never been done before.
Chris Carmichael: So we were on the early stage of all that, not really knowing all the answers. As you kind of got one answer, there were so many other questions that came up. That’s the way it should be. We pioneered a lot. Made some mistakes for sure. But I think it was the first step of getting the US cycling team back to a high level like it needed to be. We can see where it is now. The team did incredibly well at the world championships in England this last year. I think that it’s all these sort of incremental steps that each person plays a role and then they step away, somebody else picks it up, looks at it and says, “Oh, Carmichael and his group, they did this, this and this right. But they made these mistakes. We’re going to make it better by doing X, Y and Z.” They keep going. Then the baton gets handed off to somebody else. They just keep raising it.
Chris Carmichael: But it’s that critical eye, how you can improve performance is what’s important. We gave that critical eye back to the US cycling team.
Adam Pulford: Yeah and it’s interesting to hear… You mentioned you had a lot of firepower in that squad at the time, that generation being brought up through the ranks. And that they had some raw talent but they also needed the coaching and the development. One of which was Lance Armstrong. What was a young Lance like when you first met him? Transitioning from triathlon to bike racing?
Chris Carmichael: Man. He was just so talented. You could see it. I mean same thing when I was an athlete, Greg LeMond, training for the Junior World Championships. We’d go out and train and then everybody would come back from a hard training ride and be wrecked and Eddie B would take Greg out for another hour or so, motor pacing while the rest of us just slept. Lance was kind of the same way. He didn’t know how to race his bike. He was a triathlete, didn’t understand the dynamics of drafting. He would take off and win solo or he’d get caught and then nothing. So he needed to really learn how to race his bike and the dynamics of bike racing and the importance of letting the wind, the terrain, the distance slowly weaken up your opponents instead of you kind of by brute force taking over. So it was initially teaching him you know?
Chris Carmichael: Like a good example is the first World Championships we went to in Utsunomiya, Japan in 1990. He did everything that I told him not to do in the race. He took off in the first lap, solo. And he led. He had three, maybe even four minutes after that half way point and this was when there was the East Germans, the Soviets, the whole Eastern Bloc. They were the strongest. Then they started realizing, “This guy’s going to potentially ride away and win the World Championships.” They got organized and split everything up and Lance ended up I think finishing, maybe 11th or something, or 10th. I don’t know. Something like that. He probably could have won. He probably could have won the Worlds if he’d just had ridden a little smarter. But that was sort of the initial step that I used as an opportunity to have him start to believe that, what he could do in cycling and his power, how it needed to be harnessed and channeled. Then you’d really be unstoppable.
Adam Pulford: Well I mean it seemed to have worked pretty well. I mean, he was winning at a pretty high level really, really quickly along with his teammates. But as a coach, what was it like to work with that talent and see the success just growing and growing?
Chris Carmichael: Lance, obviously, he’s smart. He’s a fast learner. He’s got a lot of really competitive street smarts that, it doesn’t take long. You know? He’ll get beat but he’ll learn from that and the next time it won’t happen again. The great thing about Lance is he grew the talent of everybody else, or the expectation of everybody else. Because he started having success, then everybody started realizing on the National Team Program, “Well if he can do it, he puts on his pants one leg at a time just like me. I can do it too.” So it was Lance, Bobby Julich, George Hincapie, Jonas Carney. Everybody started pushing that ceiling up and that’s what’s great when you have one diamond, they raise everybody else up.
Adam Pulford: Iron sharpens iron so to speak. But just to dive in, like straight to it. I mean the other questions around Lance Armstrong, dope. We know his story today. It’s all out there in the open now. But what’s your story?
Chris Carmichael: Well, you know. Unfortunately cycling has a rich history of doping. It didn’t start with Lance. I don’t work at that level anymore in cycling. I’m pretty sure it didn’t end with Lance. It’s just been part of the culture for many years. I think, yeah, we all know the story. Lance was doping for his Tour de France wins. There was really no way, when you… You got to really look at it and just say, doping’s wrong. It is. It’s just wrong. Nobody should do it. It’s just wrong. It gets more complex when the infrastructure isn’t there to support sort of racing clean. At that time period, the infrastructure really wasn’t there to support that. That’s where this question becomes more complex. Because you had a drug, the first drug. Erythropoietin. That really answered the fundamental aspect for performing better for endurance sports and that was undetectable for many years. You also had no independent agency managing enforcement like you do now with WADA. So it just, it became so corrosive.
Chris Carmichael: That’s the reason why it went on for so long is, everybody else. Yeah Lance was doped up but all his other opponents were as well. Nobody could raise their hand and say, “I should be the winner of the 1999 or 2000 or 2001 Tour de France.” Because they couldn’t take the scrutiny. I mean they were doping just like him. And that shouldn’t happen. It’s wrong and it should not happen. Now I think we’re in a day and age… The fall of Lance, hopefully the good side of it is that this isn’t happening like it was and I imagine it doesn’t feel too good for Lance to go through all that. But I know for myself, reputationally, I was hurt by it. My company was hurt by it. But it’s really, it’s worth it if it made the sport cleaner and created an infrastructure that made it much more challenging for doping to become so ingrained in the sport.
Chris Carmichael: So that when there’s another Lance Armstrong, he’s not wondering, “Oh this is just the way the game’s played. We’re not going home. I’m going to beat these guys and if that’s the way I got to do it that’s what I’m going to do.” If that can take away that from the sport, so it doesn’t exist. Or at least not the way it did for many years, then from my perspective it was worth it. It seems like it sort of, it took the fall of perhaps the greatest… Well the greatest cyclists, one of the best athletes ever, it took his fall to be able to make the sport cleaner. I’m hoping that that’s the case. I believe it is and much more so than it was. So if it took the fall of that type of athlete, then I think it was worth it. I will say that I can’t… In my view Lance won those seven Tours. If there wasn’t doping, I think he would have been a Tour de France champion for sure. Whether he would have won seven or what, I’m sure he would have won the Tour.
Chris Carmichael: I told him he was going to win the Tour when he won the Settimana Bergamasca in 1991. I think I was the first person to tell him that. I also told him he shouldn’t come back. When he retired I think I was the only one who said, “You shouldn’t come back.” Anyway.
Adam Pulford: No it’s interesting to hear those stories. I mean those are, the early 2000s was the dark periods of doping but also Lance was winning. You were traveling a crap-ton. With all the travel, with all the victories, with all the success, you were still a husband. You were a father. You had this crazy idea to start a coaching company. How the hell did you do that?
Chris Carmichael: Yeah. Well I was younger. I had a lot more energy. I realized when I left the US Cycling Team, the only coaches that were making a living at it were the national team coaches. There was like six of us, seven of us. That was it. Those were the only coaches that were making a living as a full time bike racing coach. And that basically, the cycling market was all geared around elite athletes. There was not much dissemination of training information, nutrition, anything for that recreational or enthusiast market. The guy or gal who’s mid 40s, career, family, wants to do well in a century ride or maybe win their district or state championships. Nothing was in place to help them.
Chris Carmichael: It was always about like, elite cyclists. And so, I believe that we all like being carpenters. We all like building things. So I had this idea to build this coaching company and really because coaching feels so good. It just… You’re helping people, you’re transforming people. You’re helping them reach the goals that maybe they didn’t ever think that they could reach. Ultimately, it always feels better to give than to take. If you break down coaching to its purest sense, is that’s what it’s about. It’s about giving and not taking. Really that’s why I started CTS.
Adam Pulford: Yeah, I mean coaching, obviously I’ve been doing it for quite some time as well. What keeps on bringing me back to it is that impact that you have on helping somebody better their life. Better their lifestyle. Helping to improve their performance. You did so in a factor that multiplied that effect out. It’s pretty incredible. But I want to go back to the start of the company because the technology you were working with at the time, I remember a story of you saying, “Yeah we were faxing George’s heart rate files back and forth. I think I can do this for the amateur athlete.” What was the company like then versus now?
Chris Carmichael: Man. It’s changed a lot. The technology has changed. We started and that’s how initially we did it. We would fax. I mean, you could also do clip art of heart rate files and some SRM power files. But there was… This is remotely. So we developed our own web coaching platform, it was called the blue tool, then it became the white tool, then became the clear tool and the red tool. Each generation and then we realized that TrainingPeaks was better and we needed to go to their platform. So we dropped what we were doing and went to their platform. Now how you can slice up device data and look at it and see it and be able to recognize where improvements can be made is so much more powerful and perhaps one of the greatest technological achievements is the power in the software now for looking at data.
Chris Carmichael: And looking at device data and athletes and be able to see how a coach can manipulate this and make their athletes better. It takes a lot of the guesswork out. And like any good technology is, it answers one question. There’s many new questions that come up. You kind of keep ticking those off. So companies continue to change but the core remains the same is, we’re a coaching company. It’s all about the relationship between the athlete and the coach. Initially it was, we had coaches come in and they’d do a six month residency program. That was a little bit too long so to speak. So we condensed it and had our own internal coaching college but we look for coaches, a profile of coaches. Young, fresh, out of college with a degree in exercise science. And then we teach them our methods. We teach them our practices and CTSize them. That hasn’t changed.
Adam Pulford: I like to call it Carmichaelizing them. Of which, “I was a little rough around the edges when I came in but the Carmichaelized process really knocked those rough edges off.”
Chris Carmichael: Yeah. I mean you’re the perfect example. Coach Adam is… You came with a background in exercise science, fresh out of school. Not a cycling background. But you were a wrestler and physical education and all that. You had all the right stuff. That’s what we look for. We don’t look for an established existing coach. We want to be able to make sure we’re educating our coaches in the way we wanted things done. There’s many ways from point A to point B. We’re not saying ours is the only way but we know it works. So that’s what we focus on.
Adam Pulford: You mentioned… You know we talked about the technology then versus now, but where do you see the technology going? Because it’s going at a rapid rate but with your experience, I mean over really four decades of racing and coaching, where do you see things like artificial intelligence? Things like-
Chris Carmichael: That’s a great question. You know AI is starting to migrate and move into cycling. I think in time it’s going to be part of the tool set that a good coach uses in working with their athletes. If you’ve got robots now doing surgery with artificial intelligence, to think that artificial intelligence isn’t going to be able to develop training programs and analyze the data and manipulate it would be… It’s happening. But, the coach isn’t replaceable. That relationship between the coach and the athlete is not going to be replaced by artificial intelligence. I think the coaching industry, it’s important that… It’s early age. The coaching industry kind of needs to come together I think to make sure that there is a consistent, consolidated voice that the coach is not replaceable by artificial intelligence. Because there’s going to be more and more pressure from an economics standpoint to cut the coach out. Why pay a coach $300 a month or whatever that coaching fee is, when hey, it can all be done with the device and the AI and the device.
Chris Carmichael: Device manufacturers, they recognize this. The coaching industry, AI could be a threat or it can be a great opportunity. I think it’s an opportunity but we also need to make sure that we understand that that voice is consistent, that the coach is not replaceable. You don’t need a coach when everything’s going great and you’re winning and all that is going great. You need a coach when it isn’t going well. You know? So that they can pick you up, take you by the hand, give you that tailwind that you need to get back on the bike and get moving. They can see the forest through the trees. They’re that steady consistent hand that can calm an athlete, when they don’t know which way is up. That’s not going to come from the black box. There’s no black box out there. No artificial intelligence that’s going to give what a coach can do when that athlete is challenged to their core, not knowing where to turn, whether it’s, I got cancer, you had a bad injury, you’re just for whatever reason you can’t get out of your own way.
Chris Carmichael: You were killing it two months before. Now you’re dead flat. The coach is going to be the one that raises that athlete up, gets that athlete back on the bike and gives the athlete the tailwind they need to find their way.
Adam Pulford: I completely agree with that but I will kind of echo some of your sentiments of, the modern day coach will either be enhanced by the technology, meaning they’ll be able to help the athlete excel and do things that we do now perhaps more efficiently or even quicker, or will get left in the dust. I think that all of us coaches are at that point right now. So CTS is celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2020. It’s an exciting time period. But it’s also, because of those challenges with the technology, it also can be a volatile time period. So where do you see, Chris, where do you see CTS going in five years, 10 years or another 20 years?
Chris Carmichael: We plan to keep marching forward. I’m trying to position the company so we’ll be here in 20 years. I may not be part of that. I plan to-
Adam Pulford: Might be the weird guy in the corner, I think.
Chris Carmichael: I might be the old guy they point at and make fun of or whatever. But I’ll be 80 then, in 20 years. I think the need for coaching is going to continue to grow because that contact, that human contact, that one on one between the athlete and coach, as I say, that’s only going to grow. With AI in the toolbox of a good coach, they only get better. They’re only going to be able to help the athlete perform better. They’re only going to help them be able to rise to new levels that they basically couldn’t reach before. So I think the future’s bright and we’re going to see so much more come from the enhanced technology and allowing a good coach to coach great.
Adam Pulford: As I’m sitting here thinking about what we’re talking about during the future, we’re talking 20 years in the future, you’ve already been around CTS for 20. When you started the company did you think about leaving a legacy? Did you think that you would be impacting this many coaches or this many athletes?
Chris Carmichael: You know, no. Absolutely not. But I think that’s one of the great things is that we develop great coaches and it spreads. We’ve developed hundreds of coaches and many of those coaches remain at CTS and some have gone on and continue to coach great. But we played a great role in developing those coaches. That feels good. That’s what I like. Jess Pierce, who works for the US Cycling Team, is kind of head of US Cycling Team, he told me a story where he was talking to Gary Sutton, who’s their endurance track coach.
Chris Carmichael: I don’t know Gary very well but he said, “Jeff, we were teammates on 7-Eleven and my house and we’re neighbors and he was coming over for a glass of wine and he said, hey, you know I was just going to go have a glass of wine with Chris Carmichael, and he said to Jeff, “Wow. That guy’s developed a lot of coaches.” Jeff shared that with me and it really made me feel good because to be sort of recognized by your peers always feels good. That was nice. We have developed a lot of great coaches and helped many athletes along the way, thousands of athletes, and reached goals that they never thought they would hit or even capable or even thinking of. As I said, really ultimately when you’re coaching you’re giving. As I like to say, it always feels so much better to give than to take.
Adam Pulford: No I like that. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this Chris but I was… This goes in hand with the legacy aspect. But I was at a USAC conference, USA Cycling level 2 coaching conference I believe. The education director at the time, who I knew, I knew he wasn’t a big Chris Carmichael fan-
Chris Carmichael: Imagine that.
Adam Pulford: Imagine that. Imagine that. There’s one or two out there. But what he said, and I was a young coach so it impacted me quite well, and it affirmed what I was doing and where I was at the time, but he was [inaudible 01:00:33] maybe 200, 50, 300 coaches, and he said, “Like him or not, you all have one man to thank for being here to help you coach the way you do and that’s Chris Carmichael.” For me, I was just like, as a coach I was like, “Okay. I’m part of something bigger here than I thought.” I think in terms of that legacy, I mean you didn’t even have a thought of it when you did start the company but, it’s there. We’re talking about where it’s going now so, for what it’s worth, thanks for starting the company.
Chris Carmichael: Well you know Adam, you’re the prime example coach. You’ve been with us for many years now and you’ve helped thousands of athletes and you’re what it’s about. The fact that we can help develop a coach like you and you make a living at this now and you’re helping hundreds of athletes reach their goals. Thank you Adam for trusting in CTS and for being part of this. You’re a prime example of what we’re about.
Adam Pulford: Thanks Chris. It’s been a wild ride. Lots of ups and downs but like you said, you’re giving so much as a coach and that not only feels good but you know it’s right while you’re doing it. It’s been great. All right Chris well we covered a lot today and you’ve covered a lot in your life. I mean, bike racing since age nine all the way to being at the highest level of the sport as an athlete and as a coach, starting your own company and now here at age 60 we’re talking to the coach of coaches, Chris Carmichael. What I’d love to do now for our audience is to ask three questions. Basically three take aways that they can start implementing into their training in their life to help themselves achieve their goals. So if you’re ready for it Chris?
Chris Carmichael: Let’s do it.
Adam Pulford: Our listeners are addicted to improving themselves and increasing their endurance performance. So Chris, the first question is more or less on training philosophy but specifically about adaptation. So we all know that adapting to training stress is crucial for the athlete’s success. What can our listeners do in their training, in their life, to more quickly adapt?
Chris Carmichael: Recovery. When you have a hard workout, allow yourself to recover. That’s where you adapt. It’s all in the recovery is where your body adapts. What is adaption? To break it down as simple as you get faster, you get more powerful. Those are the things that you want from adaptation. So you finish a hard workout, make sure you get off your legs. If you’ve got compression boots put those on. Make sure you’ve got a good carbohydrate drink in you as quick as you can. Replenish those carbohydrates that you burned when you were out there training hard. Make sure that you’re sleeping as much good quality sleep as you can have. It’s going to be important for recovery. But it’s all about recovery. After hard training, you want to make sure you’re recovering, that’s what it’s about.
Adam Pulford: Can’t be any more clear than that. Love it. Okay so speaking of those hard training days, on intensity, here’s the second question. If an athlete is crunched on time, what recommendations do you have to get the most out of their training session?
Chris Carmichael: If an athlete’s crunched on time, really throw away the idea that you’re going to have training volume that’s going to give you any adaptation. Basically if you’re training eight hours or less, training volume is… A long training ride for you is two hours. That’s not going to give you much. You’ve already adapted to that. That’s part of progression. You’ve already adapted to that level of training. If you were untrained, fine. Focus on intensity. Because that’s where you’re going to get all your speed from. On that is doing short intense intervals, three minutes to 90 seconds, as hard as you can go. That’s going to improve VO2 max with a limited amount of recovery. You’re [inaudible 01:05:38] your VO2 system, that’s the rate in which you’re delivering oxygen to your muscles. It’s a trainable metric. So doing VO2 intervals then doing longer, more sustained efforts, not quite as intense. Roll back the intensity. But doing repeated bouts like that, that’s going to focus on improving your power at lactate threshold on all kinds of all different, now, ideas about what threshold is. But keep it simple.
Chris Carmichael: It’s about as hard as you can go for 20 minutes and then doing repeated bouts of that. That’s going to improve your power at lactate threshold. If you improve your VO2 max, if you improve your power at lactate threshold, you’re going to ride better.
Adam Pulford: Perfect. So high intensity intervals. Got it.
Chris Carmichael: If you’re time crunched, that’s what you need to be doing.
Adam Pulford: Roger. All right so last question for you Chris. I think this is very fitting. On motivation. So you started racing bikes in 1969. It’s now 2020. What’s kept you motivated for over 50 years, both on the bike and off the bike and how can our audience utilize some of that motivation from Chris Carmichael into their life?
Chris Carmichael: You know, I think you always got to be putting things out there. You always got to be putting goals out there. As an athlete, that’s easy to do. As a coach it’s looking at how you’re going to help your athletes. What are the things that help them achieve their goals? As a business owner it’s where are we taking the company? We achieve a goal, take some time to recognize and if you do reach a goal, allow yourself time to enjoy it. Relish when you reach a goal. If you too quickly set another goal it’s like you’re always thirsty. It doesn’t mean much. If you set a goal it should be something that… You should wonder if you can actually do it. That should be… That’s sort of my witness test for it is like, “Wow, I don’t think I can really do it.” Well then you’ve probably set it at the right level. For myself, you know, there’s always bucket list things that I’m putting out there. I want to ride Divide and that’s from Banff, Canada down to Antelope Springs, New Mexico, 2775 miles or something like that. It’s self supported mountian bike race down the continental divide.
Chris Carmichael: I don’t know if I can do it. I wonder whether I can do it. I’m going to do that when I’m 60 and that’s the right sort of motivation for me. I know I’ve got it set right when I’m going, “Wow I don’t know I can actually do that.” So I think that… Keep putting goals out there that test you and test you physically, test you emotionally, test you spiritually. Those are the things I think that motivate me. I think the other thing is to not necessarily look back. As we get older, I don’t look back at what I did in my 20s when I was in the ’80s. I mean it feels like another lifetime ago. But I don’t even look back to what I was doing in 2008 or something. You have to compare yourself to where you are right now and not back then and look for improvements and things that you want to do and have that own self motivation for reaching those little internal goals that you set for yourself.
Adam Pulford: So tune in to your passions. Set aggressive but realistic goals. Don’t look back.
Chris Carmichael: Yeah.
Adam Pulford: I like it. Well great Chris, this has been a lot of fun, getting to hear more about your story even though I’ve known you for 15 years. I know I learned a lot. I think our audience members learned a lot and I look forward to seeing where CTS goes in the next 20 years.
Chris Carmichael: Absolutely. Thank you Coach Adam. I’m excited to work with you, see where you take the TrainRight podcast and where you take your coaching and the rest of our coaches and where US cycling and where cycling is going globally. I’m just happy to be part of it.
Adam Pulford: It’s going to be a fun ride. Thank you Chris and thanks to you. Thank you for being our first guest today on the TrainRight podcast.
Chris Carmichael: Thanks Coach Adam.