For many of us, our sport offers an escape from our work. But when we morph our passion for sport into our work, it is sometimes harder to see life’s lessons in front of us.
For Chris Myers, the quest for self-actualization has come precisely from combining his work with his passion for endurance sports. And through many paths, personas, mistakes, and lessons learned, he has grown. Chris had a wake-up call about passions and priorities during a race in 2016, which he shares with us in this interview.
Chris has a PhD in Exercise Physiology, is on the faculty at Radford University in Virginia, and is a cycling and triathlon coach for Peaks Coaching Group. Through his 15 years in active duty in the Army, he was a competitive athlete, on the Army Academy cycling team and began pursuing his professional racing license in triathlon after successfully competing in his first tri in 2000. When he left the military, he pursued his Masters and Doctorate in Exercise Physiology and got his coaching license with USA Cycling (L1) and USA Triathlon (L2E).
Q: While you were in the Army, you were also a full-time athlete, training for your professional license. How does triathlon training fit into military life? Walk us through a day-in-the-life.
Training full time while on active duty is very, very difficult. We know on average to be at the elite level, one needs to train about 20 hrs per week. I never was able to meet this goal. At best, I was able to train about 12-15 hrs per week.
My days were very well packed. I would ride or run in the mornings. Luckily, we only had organized physical training a few times a week, so I had the flexibility to do many workouts in the morning. During the summer months, I would do my longer workouts in the afternoons since I had daylight until almost 9 pm. Other times, I would try to cram in a ride during lunch time.
Being a Soldier first took priority. There were many times I had to skip a training session or had to miss a race due to my duties. I just needed to be flexible. This type of situation taught me how to be adaptable athlete, and I try to use this lesson to be an adaptable coach.
Q: Fast forward from the time you left the Army in 2012 to today. Your life and your career is centered on your passion for endurance sports. How much of that journey was based on your active intention, as opposed to being the right place at the right time?
I guess I would have to say 50/50. I knew I wanted to be a researcher for the DoD. But I had never thought of being a full-time coach, initially. Through the mentorship of Dr. Lisa Colvin, she taught me the science and physiology of endurance athletes. Lisa is responsible for putting me on the course that allowed me to obtain my doctorate in physiology.
Also, I give credit to Hunter Allen and Justin Trolle. They taught me how to be a coach. Without them, I would not be a coach today!
Q: A life centered on triathlon could lend itself to obsession … I’ve heard ;-)
Tell us about a really hard lesson that you’ve learned, due to your hyper-focus on sport?
This is a very good question. I would have to say the best example of this would be in 2016. I raced in Gulf Coast 70.3 in Panama City Beach, FL. I had pinned my entire season on this race. I had trained hard, set new PRs across all 3 events. But, somehow, I got into my own head. By raced day, I had stressed myself out. I just could not perform.
I mean, this was the worst “A” race I had ever had. During the swim, I was in the top third. Sometime halfway through, I missed one of the intermediate buoys, and swam off course by about 100m (at least that is what my Garmin showed). When I got back on course, I got stung by a jellyfish. My left leg, where I got stung, started to cramp. By the time I reached the swim exit, I was crawling; I could not walk!! It took a minute or two, but I eventually massaged out the cramp enough to get off the beach.
On my way to transition, I was having difficulty pulling off my wetsuit due to the cramping. I think I lost about five minutes due to this issue. It took me over 10 minutes to go through transition, when I know I could have done in under five minutes.
On the bike, things got worse. In my haste to get out of transition, I did not eat or drink. I even forgot to grab my gels! So, the only nutrition I had was my two water bottles on the bike. I knew I was not in good shape with the swim, so I tried pushing my wattage a little higher than planned. Well, at mile 10, I came apart. My hamstrings and left calf cramped. At times, I could barely push 100W. What should have been around a 2:15 bike leg came closer to a 2:45.
Going into T2, I was in my head again. I had psyched myself out. I was going to pull the plug. At this point, I knew I was almost an hour behind my goal. I had no chance of placing in the top 15 of my age group. I had decided to quite once I racked my bike. Well, that did not happen. Luckily, my wife was there to cheer me on. She kept me going, and distracted me to get through T2.
The run was much like the bike. I ran for the first 2 miles, then ended up walking the next 10. I was able to run the last mile.
Needless to say, this was not a fun race. I am glad for the experience. I learned a few items:
1. We race for fun. I knew that I was not going to win. But was so hyper-focused, I forgot to have fun.
2. Stuff happens. There is only so much one can control. I am glad I had a performance plan, but I did not adapt it. My plan was too specific and did not allow for flexibility. Now, when creating a performance plan for my clients, I ensure that the plan has the flexibility for them to make an informed decision during the event.
Q: How do you, as a coach, use your life experience to help your athletes succeed in their goals?
1. Family comes first.
2. We do this for fun. Most of my clients are not professionals. We all have day jobs and families.
3. Do not forget to have fun. Do not get so hyper-focused to where you lose why you race triathlon.
Q: What’s next for you, either as an athlete or a coach? Do you have a big race, event, or goal that you are looking to achieve?
I want to start building our coaching bench. I want to work to help build the next generation of coaches.
Favorite family-time activity – Legos!
Superpower you wish you had – The Force
Race day breakfast – Oatmeal and dry fruit
Favorite workout music – AC/DC
Life motto – One team, one fight!