Carmichael is most known as being personal coach to cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong, but he’s also written seven books, coached a slew of other elite athletes, was member of the 1984 Olympic cycling team and was declared the 1999 U.S. Olympic Committee Coach of the Year. Oh, and he’s the founder and CEO of the uber-successful coaching company, Carmichael Training Systems.
FBG: Any words of advice to first-time endurance athletes? Are there are any common novice mistakes during training or on race day?
CC: Failure to listen to their bodies. Athletes are highly motivated individuals and a lot of them will go out and push themselves through scheduled workouts even when their bodies are giving them all the signals that they need more rest. In events, they sometimes push through signals that they need more fluids or food, or that their pace is too high to sustain. There’s a difference between being determined and being stubborn.
FBG: You wrote a very successful book on eating (Food for Fitness). What’s the most important thing that women who are working out need to know about nutrition? What about those training for an event?
CC: The biggest thing is that without adequate calories, you will not make progress in your training. Your fitness and performance will not improve if you are simultaneously training hard and seriously restricting your caloric intake. This sometimes causes problems for athletes who are trying to lose weight and gain fitness at the same time. For these athletes, I recommend focusing on the fitness first, because improving your aerobic conditioning causes changes within your muscles that enable them to burn more calories per minute during exercise. You gain the ability to sustain higher workloads (go faster for longer), and then you can slightly reduce your caloric intake and use that increased capacity for speed and endurance to burn the weight off. But if you rush the process and cut the calories before you’ve gained the fitness, then your training suffers because you don’t have the nutritional support to help your body recover and adapt to the training stress.
FBG: Can anyone complete a triathlon, marathon or other endurance event? Would you suggest that non-athletes sign up for one as a challenge?
CC: Anyone can get started in endurance sports. You don’t need to sign up for a marathon as your first event or an Ironman triathlon. Running, triathlon, cycling and other endurance sports have events of varying lengths, and beginners can start with the shorter events and work their way up to whatever distance they choose. At the same time, I do believe that people need to challenge themselves consistently. If you’ve been doing 5k running races for a year and your performance is starting to stagnate, it’s time to find an additional challenge. That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to race 5k races, but it means you would benefit from adding some other kinds of events as well.
FBG: You have quite the resume when it comes to working out, training and winning, especially in cycling. Throughout your career, what has been your mindset? How do you help others to stay so focused and committed?
CC: Athletes start out with a lot of passion about their chosen sport or goal, and I think it’s important to help them maintain that enthusiasm and passion, especially through rough patches. Every athlete faces challenges, whether it’s an illness, injury or just a period of poor results. As a coach, it’s important for me to be consistent, and that means being supportive as well as—occasionally—tough. An athlete goes through ups and downs; times when everything is going great and times when everything seems to be crumbling around them. A coach has to stand by an athlete through thick and thin but can’t necessarily follow him or her on the up-and-down emotional roller coaster.
FBG: What advice can you give to our readers to help them stay motivated whether they’ve just started working out or are in training?
CC: Set goals, but realize that they don’t all need to be performance goals. Training progress can be slow, which is why some athletes struggle with motivation. But when you establish some process goals—like getting out X times a week, staying on your training program, completing your warm-up properly and maintaining good running form— you can feel positive about your runs and your progress even when your fitness is moving forward slowly.
FBG: What are the first steps beginners need to take to get started? Any good resources?
CC: Obviously I’m a big fan of seeking professional help. Whether that’s getting a coach or joining a local running or cycling club, it’s important to learn from people who have been involved in the sport longer. There’s a learning curve to any endurance sport, like using Aquaphor under the waistband of your shorts or under the straps of a sports bra to prevent chafing, and experienced athletes or coaches can help you create good habits right from the beginning.
FBG: What’s it like working with Lance? He’s superhuman, right?
CC: Lance is certainly gifted, but he’s human like the rest of us. He gets tired, hungry and sore just like you or I. His physical gifts enable him to compete at the very top of his sport, but the principles governing his training are the same as what makes a novice athlete get stronger and faster.
FBG: Any other words of wisdom for our readers?
CC: Be kind to yourself. Gaining fitness or losing weight takes time and progress is not always linear. You will face periods when your progress plateaus or even slides backwards. You will deal with setbacks. But it’s important to stick with it and maintain a healthy perspective about your goals and the work you’re doing to achieve them.