Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 6 - Chris Douglas - PRIORITIZE YOUR LIFE - Part 1 of 3

I think a lot of people would probably ask me what happened since 2016 because that was kind of when all of my bigger results kind of came around. I think that was a time when I was really just kind of going at it all in trying to figure out what I wanted out of the sport.

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I think a lot of people would probably ask me what happened since 2016 because that was kind of when all of my bigger results kind of came around. I think that was a time when I was really just kind of going at it all in trying to figure out what I wanted out of the sport. I wasn't really sure about, you know, I was improving. Every time I raced, I was just getting a little bit faster and I wasn't really sure where the end was. And so I was really motivated and excited to train hard and get that extra little bit of performance. And kind of as the year progressed, I kind of realized that it was time to start thinking about whether or not I wanted to take my pro card. JESSE: This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to Today on this episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast, my guest has done quite a few things. In 2016 he was USA Triathlons Sprint National Champion, he also booked a 70.3 win that year. To be able to do both is actually something pretty special. Currently, he races for Team Every Man Jack and is in the middle of his PhD in combustion dynamics at Georgia Tech. Welcome to the show today, Chris Douglas. CHRIS: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. JESSE: Chris, having your accomplishments readout, which I'm sure is only like, you know, a short snippet because I don't want to be too much of a cyberstalker for you. How do you like ?? 1:53> so like, those couple were 2016, how do you look back on that and what do you think about what you're doing today? Are you still trying to capture that kind of performance you had then, are you still at the same form? How do you feel about your racing then compared to now or a couple years later? CHRIS: I think a lot of people would probably ask me what happened since 2016 because that was kind of when all of my bigger results kind of came around. I think that was a time when I was really just kind of going at it all in trying to figure out what I wanted out of the sport. I wasn't really sure about, you know, I was improving. Every time I raced, I was just getting a little bit faster and I wasn't really sure where the end was. And so I was really motivated and excited to train hard and get that extra little bit of performance. And kind of as the year progressed, I kind of realized that it was time to start thinking about whether or not I wanted to take my pro card. And I really like what I do for my PhD and I don't really see a way where I could continue, or I didn't really see a way where I could continue to really push at the way I was in training for years and years as I would need to and also continue to push in my PhD as I would need to progress in that. So, kind of came to a crux where I had to say, which one do I want more? And I decided that well, I was helped by an injury, I guess. But I eventually decided that I'm a PhD student first. And I'm not closing off the idea of eventually pursuing I guess, a fuller career in Tri. I don't know, I do it for fun. And I think I can see myself having a lot more fun in the pro field if I feel like I'm ready for it. And I can actually, you know, there's something kind of sacred about calling yourself a pro triathlete. If I were ever a pro triathlete, I would not be a professional triathlete. I would be an elite triathlete where I would have a license to go out and push myself with people who could really whoop me and show me what a real triathlete is. And if I get to that point where I think I can push myself in training to the way where I can kind of benefit from that, then I'm going to spring on it. But as long as I'm doing this, I don't really see that being a productive way. I think it'll just kind of drive me down in both my PhD and in training if I'm not able to do both. JESSE: I know that. I mean the decision between the two, it seems like it's always tough. I don't know if you know, Cecilia Davis Hayes. So, she was the -- Todd referred me to her and she was the national champion for the women's side in the Olympic distance, that same year that you won the sprint championship. And I talked to her in another episode. And so she just finished medical school and like she had kind of put med school on pause a little bit and was like doing research while she's racing pro and is kind of struggling with the same thing. Like, does she continue to she not, you know, how do you parse out all those things. So, I think it’s kind of interesting to figure out, you know, where are these priorities lie? I personally spent the last basically eight years trying to be a pro, and I'm not as fast as like you and Todd. It was more of a personal challenge. But I think I can certainly sympathize with the idea about being like a pro being kind of a sacred thing. In a similar aspect, I didn't think about in the sense that I would be a pro and earn money. I never had the disillusion that I would earn money. CHRIS: Exactly. JESSE: I was just like, I’m just here to work as hard to get my ass kicked as I can, that was the whole goal. So, yeah. So, with the injury, was it like something major or? CHRIS: It was a knee injury. It's been a couple years and I don't remember exactly the details. But I remember I wasn't able to run for a while. And then I also, I guess I kind of took that kind of hard and kind of backed off of everything, even though really I could have kept swimming and probably cycling to some degree. And I kind of backed off everything a little bit. And then when I realized I wasn't really recovering from running as quickly as I'd hoped, I decided to start swimming more. And then I started hurting my shoulder. So, then I actually had to back off of that. And it kind of just started a cascade of a few things which kind of took me through 20 -- Actually, this was the kind of middle beginning of 2017. And my 2017 year was probably one of my worst years. Last year, I didn't do quite as many races, but I had some good results. 2017 was definitely kind of the struggle year. And actually I was on Every Man Jack year and I remember talking with Rich and he was like, “Man, if you hadn't had a good 2016 you'd be off the team.” Because I really underperformed both in racing and in the balance. I learned a lot of lessons that year, which is I mean, it was important, and it's helped me since then. But it was not a proud year for me, I guess. JESSE: Something I'm kind of curious about because I'm not with my own kind of allegiances as far as I have, you know, I have a skincare business, which doesn't directly compete with the EMJ. But I couldn't be a part of it because of that. I'm kind of curious, like, how did you get hooked up with them or how did that all start? CHRIS: So it started because I knew a guy through the collegiate racing scene, Steve Mantell me, you may have heard of. Yeah. And I talked with him a little bit about it and it just seemed like it was a really good opportunity for him. And I honestly, didn't know anything about the brand until I talked to him. But after I talked to him, I went out and bought a thing of shampoo and liked it. And that was just kind of my introduction to what it is. Did some research online and eventually found a couple more people to talk to, but my first like really experienced with the team was actually when I was on the team at camp. And that was just like finding home. The guys on that team are so, I don't know, organic. I don't know, I've gone to so many races where you get beat by someone or you beat someone, you talk to them after the race and you're just like, man, I just don't like that person. You know that -- There's just something about the way their attitude towards the sport that kind of grinds your gears. And I feel like I've maybe encountered that once or twice in the team. And there's no names that stick out to me. But I mean, it's kind of weird, right, because everyone who's at the level of the point where they are, you know, most of the guys on EMJ either have gone to Kona or probably could go. Well, maybe not to Kona, but to the World Championship in their preferred distance. And I forgot what I was gonna say exactly, but I don’t know, it's just everyone in that position is at least in their head, super, you know, not humble, super proud. And you know, aware that they are good. But it takes someone like an additional layer of I don't know what you'd call it. It's kind of I don't know how to describe it. It's just the ability to not really be humbled, because like deep inside you know that you're good. And you're able to compete with people who might be better than you on some days and worse than you on others, but you're able to convince yourself that on that day, you're the best. And also to immediately after the race to turn that off and just, you know, recognize that neither of us a better person because of it, and that everyone's kind of deserving of that respect. And the relationships that you can get by treating the sport that way where you kind of push yourself to being the best you can on race day, but also respecting everyone else, and respecting their pushing and watching them improve and get injured and spend a year like 2017. But who knows what, I don't know, it's made the whole triathlon experience for me a lot more like me kind of in a community of like-minded people, rather than just like me going to a race to do it. JESSE: I mean, you can tell me if I'm off base here, I know I’ve met like you said, very like-minded people in the community, it's almost just this very odd thing where I've kind of felt, I don't want to say a loner because I've had plenty of connections with people growing up. But there's some kind of mentality that's like this, a little bit crazy, but also that like ambitious, and strong, and not just a physical sense. It's like that ability, where like you said, you have to think that you're the best, but at the same time, there's this extra layer of strength where you are almost empowered by somebody else doing well. CHRIS: Yeah. JESSE: You're not jealous of them doing well, you're like that's awesome because I think it's because you understand the suffering that they went through to achieve that. Even if you weren't able to, you can appreciate the sacrifices that they made to get there. CHRIS: That's one of the great things about tri, it's not like a sport where you can, you know, I feel like-- When I was little I used to play basketball and I didn't really like basketball so much because I was not on like a school team. I was on like a youth center team and it always felt like maybe this wasn't, you know, the sound reason. But I would always find a way to convince myself that someone else in the team had like, made the mistake that cost us the game or something like that. And one of the nice things about triathlon is you can't really say that. People will say, oh, you know, there was a bunch of drafting or I got beaten in the swim or, you know, you come up with things, but to really let go and just kind of say, you know, this is an individual sport. And it's really fun to go out there with that mindset that anything that doesn't go right, at the end of the day, it's my fault. In some way, I wasn't prepared for whatever weird conditions may have led to that result. But you can always point yourself as to why and not being able to look at someone else or point the finger anywhere else is kind of a humbling thing, especially like the first couple times where it happens. I remember my first race, I went into that really cocky. I started in tris because I was an injured runner. And I the whole tri, basically, up until the run, I thought, oh, man, you know, I don't care who passes me right now because when we get to the run, I'm going to pass him right back. I'm going to go so fast in the run. And then I got to the run after biking and I just felt so awful. And I just remember thinking, wow these guys, you know, the ones behind me are still running way faster than me. I'm like struggling to keep running sometimes because I wanted to walk so bad. And just kind of going through that kind of mental struggle where you're like, wow, you know, I really didn't prepare for this. And just trying to never feel that way, again, I think is one of the big motivators for training as hard as it takes to have a good race. JESSE: Yeah. I know, I've definitely felt that like the first time I did 70.3 it was at Eagle Man. And not only had I -- So, I'd only gotten biked up to maybe 50-55 miles, basically the race distance for the bike. Not only that, but it'd been like 93 degrees in that course, I don’t know if you’ve done that course but there's no shade on that course. So, there's no reprieve from the time you get out of the water till the time you cross the finish line. I head to the medical tent and it was just like -- Because, you know, I too kind of came ?? 15:02>. I was like, like, I'm hot shit. Like, I'm going to get this done today, and get my pro card and get it is like, it's a complete mess and, you know, end up way off where I wanted to be. And it's definitely like, no, you're not as good as you think you are. And there's nobody to blame besides yourself for not preparing properly. CHRIS: Right. Exactly. JESSE: So you're talking about being injured in college and I think I’ve seen that somewhere else. I was kind of curious, it seems like injuries are kind of a common thread with collegiate runners. So, I'm kind of curious, like, what do you think, led to that? I just always like to hear about, like, kind of the environment, the culture of different schools and different kind of running clubs and what goes on, I guess. CHRIS: All right. ell, I was not like a stellar runner by any means. I was allowed to-- I would say I annoyed the coach enough that he let me walk on the team. It's just like, send him enough emails, I guess. And he felt bad enough for me that he let me walk on. And I actually had a pretty solid first year, considering my ability. I was improving and I was enjoying myself, I wasn't getting injured. And then right before the first track season, we were doing, like some pre-workout drills in the field. And I stepped in a molehill, and it just kind of tweaked my foot weird. And I ended up getting a tear in some of the ligaments in my foot. And that set off just sort of a chain-- I mean, that took a long time to heal and that set off kind of a chain of associated injuries in the other foot and then back in that foot. And I don't think I was ever really 100% healthy for another-- That was the only question preseason I had. And I tried a couple of the track races, but there was never really like 100% healthy for any of them. So, after I was injured for a year, and then I had kind of a mostly healthy summer and then right at the end of the summer something else came back, and I decided to walk off after that point. But as far as, like, I've heard horror stories, and I know some horror stories from people who I knew in college, who I ran with in college, where they were just kind of driven to the point where, you know, they couldn't help but be injured. I wasn't really like an asset to the team. So, I wasn't really pushed, I think to that level where I felt like I had to, you know, put myself at risk to do it. I just happened to get unlucky and get injured, I guess. But yeah, I mean, it's not like that doesn't happen. It's just kind of the way I think that that sport may -- maybe it shouldn't work that way, but it's not for me to decide how it should work. It's just kind of how it works in the current system is like, you gotta have X runners. And if you're going to, even if you do everything perfect and your training plan is, you know, just right and no one's overtraining and all that stuff; there's still fluke injuries that just happened. And you have to have, you know, stable full of runners that can go out there and do it if one person can’t. So, I think that kind of maybe makes it worse but it's also just part of the nature of the sport. I mean, football, basketball, athletes have injuries, it's just kind of the way it works. And the NCAA definitely has its problems, but I think that most of the athletes who are getting those injuries would say that they were doing what they wanted to do and they got hurt. I don't think it was, you know, their coach was like, you know, in the general case, of course, specific cases. But like, in general, the interactions I've had, it's felt like people got hurt because they were doing what they liked and they got unlucky or they overtrained or whatever. I would not blame my coach for anything that happened to me. I’d credit them for giving me a chance to walk on. JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So I mean, I was injured various amounts of ways from freak injuries. I was attributed this particular injury, it was right before conference my senior year cross country, like pulled my hamstring the week of conference. And that essentially prevented me from making the national championship. The only time I was fast enough to make the national championship. But there are other times where we had a culture have-- we had a different coach from my freshman year to my sophomore year, we change coaching staff. And like the distance group was very, very small. Meaning, there was me and one other guy and then some girls that had mostly walked on. So, there's kind of not as many serious people and I had gotten injured. And the coach was so used to listening to I call it fishing for workouts, some of the girls would be like, oh, coach, I don't want to do that today, let's do something else. Like so much of that, he didn't believe me when I said I was injured. And I ended up like basically running myself lopsided, where you can see the difference in the size of my legs. Because I was like, like, I was serious about it so it's like, you told me go run eight miles, I’ll go run eight miles. If I've got to limp through eight miles, I'll do that. And that was just-- I wouldn't blame him in the sense that I would be like, oh, he caused it. But it was this kind of interesting mix of culture that created the environment for that to happen. CHRIS: Yeah. JESSE: So I'm always just like, you know, I know I've heard of other coaches throwing people into hundred-mile weeks when they're not really prepared for it, and that leads to injuries. So, it's always just kind of curious to me, you know, what led to that for everybody because it's always different. Just kind of an interest of mine having been injured somebody. CHRIS: Yeah. This was again based on my experience, so I didn't mean to like, say that everyone-- JESSE: No, no, no, I just kind of share my own background. CHRIS: Yeah, it's interesting. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3

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