Survival of the Fit: How to Win When the Odds Are Stacked Against You



This has been a very special week. We brought the entire coaching staff of CTS to Colorado Springs for a coaching education summit and to celebrate the company’s 15th Anniversary. We concluded on Tuesday night with a party and invited a lot of the people who played significant roles in the company’s history. As I reflected over the long and winding road CTS has traveled over the past 15 years, it occurred to me: a lot of things should have killed us.

CTS started in 2000, at the height of the dot-com boom. We were one of the first large-scale endurance coaching companies and pioneered the use of the internet to deliver personal coaching remotely. We developed one of the first – if not the first – online coaching tool that enabled coaches and athletes to create training schedules, share training data, and communicate electronically. Interestingly, Trainingpeaks started about the same time and a few years later we decided to focus on coaching and they decided to focus on software. In the years since, we vastly improved the quality of CTS coaching and TrainingPeaks vastly improved upon the training software from that period.

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In 2000-2001 we experienced the dot-com bust. Then there were the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We had training camps scheduled that fall, but had to scramble to reschedule. As a young business we also tripped over our own feet. We had employees who stole from the company, we tried business ventures that failed spectacularly and expensively, and for a while we took our eye off the ball and sacrificed quality in pursuit of growth. We got all that fixed, and then the Great Recession started in 2008. As much as I would argue that exercise and training are essential, when faced with layoffs, foreclosures, and bankruptcies, some athletes had to redirect their focus and finances to other priorities.

We learned a lot during those 15 years, and we continue to evolve and learn today. One thing I know is that our journey was not uncommon. When I talk to business owners about our story they all have a similar list of triumphs and stumbles. It’s not unlike sport: progress is never linear, it’s a series of achievements and setbacks and you learn and get better every step of the way.

While it’s one thing to look back and reflect on the past, it’s another to think about the reasons CTS continues to thrive and grow. I think it boils down to four things, and that these four things also fundamentally impact how to win as an athlete, a person, and a career professional.

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One of the biggest strengths of CTS is our people. The vast majority of the people who have worked and currently work for CTS are athletes, and they bring their passion for performance to their work as coaches, managers, customer service representatives, and accountants. I think athletes also have a great sense for the concept of work and recovery. In business that translates to an environment where work is managed in a healthy manner; our people give their all when a project calls for it and those efforts are recognized and balanced with lighter periods. Athletes and coaches also understand the value of support and teamwork, and just as in sport, at home, or in any other business, we can accomplish more together than any one of us can accomplish alone.


Before developing our first online coaching tool we delivered training schedules by fax, and athletes faxed back printouts of training data! But even though we have far better communication and data analysis tools now, technology is only a small part of the innovation that has helped CTS thrive. We created an education and mentoring process that develops incredible coaches, many of whom are still with CTS and some of whom have gone on to elite-level coaching and sports science jobs in a wide range of organizations. To ensure we deliver world-class customer service we created an Athlete Services department and a coaching quality assurance program. And we continue to innovate with new ideas like the Endurance Bucket List, the “Time-Crunched Athlete” series of books, and next spring with our first book from CTS Coach Jason Koop, entitled “Training Essentials for Ultrarunning”. Overall, my view is that innovation isn’t necessarily driven by the need to fix something that’s broken, but rather the desire to create something new and build upon prior success instead of resting on your laurels. If it ain’t broke, it can still be improved.

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I don’t quit, ever. If there was one thing I learned in bike racing it was that a race is never lost until you drop out. Even if you get dropped, crash, or get a flat, you keep going because you don’t know and can’t control what’s going on ahead of you. The race might come back together. You might ride yourself back into a position where you can achieve a great result or help a teammate. But none of that can happen if you quit. Setbacks happen in training all the time, to everybody. Business plans get hit by recessions or changes in technology. But you have to take the hits and keep moving forward, keep solving problems one at a time, and you’ll ride yourself back into contention for the win. No one can guarantee success, but quitting is a guaranteed way to fail.


I know it probably sounds corny, and I’ve searched for a different way to express it, but ‘love’ is the best I can come up with. The Beatles wrote, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” It’s a two-way street and the more you give the more you receive in return. We sell a coaching service but I teach our coaches that we must deliver more than a training schedule and file analysis. We have to inspire athletes to exceed their expectations, to do more than they believe they’re capable of doing. And when you can do that with an athlete the energy and fulfillment that comes back the other way is what we live for. The joy and fulfillment we receive as you accomplish your goals is what keeps us coming back day after day and year after year.

More than any other reason, CTS reached our 15th Anniversary because of you. Our athletes improve. If that wasn’t true, if the service at the heart of the business didn’t work, nothing else would matter and nothing else could make the business work. A proven coaching methodology, based on solid sports science, and delivered by passionate and professional coaches, improves performance. And not just some of the time, but predictably and reliably time and time again. Thank you to the more than 15,000 athletes who have worked with a CTS Coach, the thousands who have joined us at training camps, and the many more who have read our books and blogs, and used our training videos. I appreciate your support and look forward to another 15 years helping athletes achieve their goals.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 4

  1. Congratulations! Keeping business alive and growing for 15 years is an real endurance challenge!!!

    Keep on the good work!

    Cheers from Brazil.


  2. Congratulations on the 15 years of seeing, believing and bringing your dream alive. Your first book with Lance inspired me in developing my own business. I also attended a climbing camp in ’06 at which you introduced to me the concept of training with power, which transformed my business.

    Thanks for always staying on the cutting edge and your great integrity.


  3. A great read Chris.
    It’s always about the journey, the dream, the people … and the no-compromise leader that figures out a way to keep that dream alive.

    Congrats on 15 years.


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