Here is the transcript of the interview
Victor: Hi, this is Victor Jimenez from BicycleLab.com. In today’s interview, I have a really special guest. His name is Chris Carmichael. Most of you probably know who he is. If you don’t, he is a famous coach. He was Lance Armstrong’s coach through all of his Tour de France victories.
Today I’m going to talk to Chris about everyday riders and doing centuries and charity events like the Tour de Cure. Have a listen. Please leave a comment. Let me know what you think. If you have an idea for an interview for me, please send an email to info@BicycleLab.com.
For people who don’t know who Chris Carmichael is, Chris is a cycling coach, mostly for endurance athletes. Why don’t you tell us who you are, who you’ve coached and a quick synopsis of your career?
Chris: I got into bicycle racing when I was 9 years old. I’m 51 years old now. I grew up in south Florida. I was a member of the ’84 Olympic team, and then a broken leg got me out of cycling as an athlete. I was a member of the 7-Eleven team and the first American team to race at the Tour de France.
I got into coaching after my injury and worked my way up from Men’s Road national coach to national coaching director. Then I started my own coaching company, Carmichael Training Systems.
I’ve worked with all kinds of elite athletes, like Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Bobby Julich, Peter Reid, Craig Alexander and all kinds of elite athletes in cycling. Also, we at Carmichael Training Systems work with athletes in all sports from NASCAR to motorcycles. You name it. If they’re an athlete, we probably work with them.
Victor: That’s a big list of athletes in different areas.
In North Carolina and nationwide, we have the Tour de Cure, which is a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. What is your involvement in that?
Chris: I’m a spokesperson for the Tour de Cure. I got involved with the Tour de Cure for two reasons. One is that Carmichael Training Systems is a fitness nutrition company. Type 2 diabetes can really be controlled and managed many times by exercise and diet.
That fits nicely with what we do at Carmichael Training Systems, so we feel like we can make an impact on people who are struggling with Type 2 diabetes and maybe don’t have an active lifestyle or aren’t eating properly. It’s important that we feel like we can take an active role.
Another reason is a personal one. My oldest daughter, who’s 18 now, has had a childhood friend since kindergarten who has had diabetes for a long time. I’ve watched her struggle with managing diabetes, and I’ve seen the impact it has on her and her family, and obviously my daughter and our family. Ultimately, we want to win this battle and stop it.
Victor: It seems like it’s one of the big diseases of our time. Some of it is genetic, and some of it is preventable. I think we can manage it, and that’s where the exercise comes in.
Chris: And eating properly.
Victor: Absolutely. I know you live in Colorado now. Have you ridden in North Carolina, and what do you think of the riding here?
Chris: I’ve ridden throughout the state of North Carolina. The riding is great. We have a training in Brevard, North Carolina. Riding in the mountains from Brevard to Asheville is wonderful, and throughout the state of North Carolina. I used to train a lot out of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. There are some great roads.
I used to race up Pilot Mountain not far from Winston-Salem. Hanging Rock was another one. There were a lot of roads with very little traffic. It was easy to get out in the country.
Victor: We have a lot of nice country roads. We have a lot of events in the summer, and the local Tour de Cure we have is going to be in June. I’m sure it’s going to be pretty hot and humid, like it usually is in North Carolina in June. That might be a little bit of a struggle for some athletes.
Chris: Absolutely. The heat and humidity in the southeast can always be challenging. It’s pretty widespread now that if you’re riding in hot, humid conditions, hydrate early and often. It’s best to hydrate with a sports drink that has electrolytes, sodium and preferably citrate in it. It doesn’t seem to cause as many GI problems as sodium chloride.
A good rule is that if it is really hot and humid, you want to get out early and start hydrating early so you’re not have to play catch-up. The problem is that once you get behind, it’s virtually impossible to catch up. A 2% drop in body weight because of fluid loss can equate to about a 10% drop in performance for an athlete.
A 2% drop in body weight is not that much during hot, humid rides. You have to stay focused on it. That means that within the first 10 or 15 minutes, you have to start drinking.
Victor: It’s so easy, even for myself, having ridden in south Florida as well for years and years, and now in North Carolina.
You have worked with a lot of elite athletes. A lot of people that do normal events are just regular people. We’re not elite. We have jobs, families and all kinds of commitments. How does that tie in? How can we train effectively to be able to do 100-mile rides a couple of times a year and other events, and still be healthy?
Chris: I’m going to make some assumptions. How can people who aren’t elite athletes and really don’t have a lot of time to train, train effectively? I can say a couple of things.
First, focus on consistency. Make sure you’re getting out as often as you can. That’s important because a lot of times people who don’t have a lot of time to ride basically get out on the weekends. That’s a lot of time to pass between workouts. If you have 45 minutes, you have time to get an effective workout in.
Try to look at increasing the consistency so you’re getting out three or four times a week. They don’t have to be long rides, but make sure you’re getting out, getting on the bike, and getting the workout in.
Second, increase the intensity of your workout. Make sure you’re focusing on improving your power, which is a sustainable intensity if you’re riding, and have perceived exertion that’s at an intensity you can maintain for about an hour.
If you went as hard as you could for one hour, break that up into intervals. If you only have 45 minutes, you may want to do three 10-minute intervals with five minutes between each one of those as a break. Those 10 minutes should be done at a pace you think you can sustain for an hour as hard as you can go.
I would also say to make sure you have ample recovery between your workouts. A lot of people who are time crunched think that because they don’t have a lot of time, every workout needs to be as hard as they can go.
The problem is that sometimes they don’t allow themselves enough recovery before they do the next intense workout, even though it might be very short. Subsequently, they can actually get recovery that is not ample.
Victor: The recovery is probably what it’s really all about. That’s when you get better. That’s what I always say. Isn’t that right?
Chris: I wouldn’t say it’s what it’s all about because you have to make sure you have a proper training in the first place. You have to make sure you apply enough training load and then give yourself enough time to recover. That’s where you adapt. It’s not when you’re training hard. During the recovery time is when your body adapts. That means it gets stronger, faster and more powerful.
Victor: Let’s say we have a typical person who has a high-stress job. Stress is a factor, too, isn’t it?
I think Chris is not immune to this himself. You have a pretty big job and family, and you like to ride your bike.
Chris: Sure. Stress affects us in many ways. Most of the ways are negative. There are some aspects to stress that can be beneficial as well, but by and large it hampers recovery. Many times you’re not able to stay focused in your workout.
There are a lot of things stress does. It raises the cortisol level. Consequently, you’re not going to get the most intensity out of your workout. You can’t discount stress from work or your personal life and how that affects your training.
Victor: How can we better manage the stress? If I had a stressful day and a training ride that I’m supposed to do in the evening but I’m not very motivated for it, do you have any tips on helping us stay motivated on that?
Chris: I’ve found that it varies from individual to individual. Some athletes will have a stressful day at work and want to get on the bike and do a structured, high-intensity workout. That helps them alleviate the stress. For other athletes, that’s the last thing they want to do. They want to get on their bike and simply ride. They don’t want to have a lot of structure. They want to ride at a much easier pace.
You have to make sure it’s individualized. Have a plan for alleviating the stress and know that it will differ from athlete to athlete.
A lot of times what I’ve seen for people who are handling workplace stress is that it comes in waves, meaning it’s usually not everyday stress. There are periods of a lot of stress and anxiety from the workplace. Then there are periods where it drops away and is not as bad.
What I tend to do is lighten up the training roster in the high-stress periods. During the low-stress periods, I increase the training load. I find athletes tend to adapt a little quicker when they don’t have as much stress from the workplace affecting them.
Victor: I wonder if that is another reason for, depending on someone who is serious, getting into a structured training plan and even possibly hiring a coach. Then each day they have a definitive task to do, whatever that might be.
Chris: We find that many athletes just want to execute on the training. They don’t want to design it, develop the workouts, monitor it or analyze it. They just want to execute on the training and know that someone else is monitoring the workout, analyzing the power files and changing the training based upon the progress the athlete is undergoing. That’s usually when they want to hire coaches.
Victor: Speaking to the audience, it’s a lot of work. Even if we have the knowledge to develop our own training plan and monitor it, sometimes it feels like we’re too close to our own stuff. We make poor decisions on our own workouts. Maybe they’re too intense or not intense enough.
Chris: Sometimes it’s hard to see far enough down the road when it’s just you. You’re stuck in the state where you can’t see the forest for the trees. A coach can have a broader perspective with athletes. They’re focused ultimately on the goal the athlete is trying to achieve during a longer period of time.
Training is rarely a perfect ascending curve where you’re getting stronger and faster every week. For most of us, it’s periods of improvement followed by plateaus and possibly dips. Then there’s another upturn in improvement of performance.
There are periods of ups and downs. It’s usually in the down period when an athlete tends to make poor decisions on how they’re going to continue to stay on the right track for reaching their goal.
Victor: Would you say the training is different for someone like a Tour de France champion? Obviously their volume is going to be different, but are they actually doing very different training than the athletes who are doing Tour de Cure types of rides?
Chris: An elite athlete is somewhat of a different animal. How quickly they adapt to training loads is usually one of the reasons why they are elite. There’s the percentage of improvement. All those things are usually different for elite athletes than time-crunched athletes, I would say.
The fundamental principles that govern training are the same whether you’re an elite athlete or a time-crunched athlete.
Victor: You and I are about the same age, and I’ve been riding a really long time. Since you started riding to now as a coach to elite athletes, how have you seen the way we train change over the years?
Chris: It’s obviously changed, and it’s primarily driven by new technology, practices and methods for training and nutrition. A lot still remains the same. When you look back at some of the speeds athletes were going 30 or 40 years ago, they’re definitely faster now, but not that much considering the bikes and the technology.
Ultimately, over the last 40 years, everybody has known what the fundamental principles are of training. Coaches and trainers 40 or 50 years ago tried to apply those. They just didn’t have the same tools we have now.
A coach or trainer still has to make decisions with the information they’re gathering from all these tools we have. We now have a lot more objective data to make those decisions. We feel like we’re making more informed decisions from the objective data, but experience is still critical.
Science only takes you up to the point that’s known about the things that affect performance. There’s still a lot that’s unknown that affects performance.
That’s where experience of the coach or trainer, their foresight, and their ability to articulate, communicate and ultimately inspire their athletes is critical. If they can’t inspire their athletes, they’re not going to get out there and do anything great. It first starts with that inspiration.
Victor: The inspiration is interesting. On top of that is accountability. Having a coach, there’s someone you have to report back to on your workout and if you did that interval session they gave you yesterday. That’s a huge thing.
With all these technology tools you’re talking about, not that many years ago they were really in the realm of the super elite athletes and weren’t available to your everyday person. It’s interesting that now we all have access to some of these technology tools.
Chris: Absolutely, and we have a better understanding of how nutrition affects performance. A lot of what nutrition is, is readily available for the athlete now as opposed to a few years ago.
Victor: What’s your big advice for athletes doing centuries and/or the Tour de Cure? Do you have any tips of wisdom for people just starting out? They’re not necessarily a super athlete. They’re just getting out there, and they want to have a good time. Do you have any words of wisdom for them?
Chris: There are a few things. A lot of times when these group rides like the Tour de Cure start, there’s a lot of excitement. You’re with your friends and family. Many times the beginner athletes will start off a little too hard. The pace will be too fast for them. They don’t necessarily feel it in the first few miles, but they start to feel it five or 10 miles into it. At that point, they’re going to start getting more uncomfortable the longer they go.
One of the first recommendations I would make is to start slow. Start at a conversational pace so you can ride with somebody and easily finish a full sentence without feeling like you have to gasp breath in between each word. You’re breathing comfortably and starting at a comfortable pace.
I would say to stop often. Get off your bike. Stretch. That’s going to help your lower back and neck. You’re in that static position on the bike. Stop and stretch a little bit. Make sure you’re hydrating. You can refill your bottle at the aid station to keep your energy up.
The next tip would be to stop early and stop often at the aid station.
The last tip is to make sure you anticipate what the weather conditions are going to be like as best as you can. You’re going to want to make sure you have sunscreen on if the ride is going to be in the warm summer months. You don’t want to get out there and start baking.
Maybe you’re only going to do 50 miles, but those 50 miles are going to take four or five hours. That’s a lot of time to spend in the sun. You want to make sure you’re taking care of your skin. Buy proper sunscreen products.
There might be afternoon thundershowers and things like that. Make sure you have an outer shell to slip on in case an afternoon shower comes along. You can stop and put on that outer shell or rain jacket to help keep a little bit of a summer chill off if there is an afternoon shower.
It’s all about having fun during the course of the whole thing. You want to make sure that it’s fun from the beginning all the way through.
Victor: Those are some great tips. The one I love is to stop early and often, and have fun out there. We don’t want to forget that we’re out there to have fun for a good cause.
That is really fantastic, Chris. I really appreciate you taking the time today to chat about this.
Chris: Thank you very much. I hope to see you at a Tour de Cure.
Victor: Thanks so much, Chris.
Thanks very much for listening. Thanks to Chris for being on the show. We really appreciate it. I’m thankful to the fine folks at Endurance Magazine and the Tour de Cure of North Carolina for helping put this interview today. Thanks very much, and thanks for listening.