A Journey of Small Steps: My Interview with Triathlete, Collin Chartier

By David W. Fouse

While taking a bit of a break from interviewing executives, I recently had the opportunity to connect with one of the bright, up-and-coming young triathletes on today’s Sprint circuit.

Collin Chartier is a student at Marymount University and has been actively competing in triathlons since his whimsical debut at Dewey Beach, Delaware, in 2009. For Collin, it wasn’t love at first sight, but triathloning has a way of getting under your skin, and within a year he was back at it again.

Today, beyond competing at the collegiate level, Collin also participates in top-level triathlons across the U.S. and around the world. In fact, he was recently invited to participate in the 2016 FISU World University Championships in Switzerland. To put it in perspective, 40-plus countries will participate in this coveted event, with only six spots coming from the U.S.

It’s easy to look at an impressive athlete like Collin with admiration, while at the same time forgetting what it took to get where he is today. Like most things we value, they don’t come easy, and if they did, we wouldn’t value themas much.

One takeaway I had from my interview with Collin was that, regardless of your goals, success is a journey of small steps. It rarely happens overnight. Collin has worked hard to get where he is today, and I think his story will inspire and encourage you.

DWF: How did you first get started doing triathlons, and why do you continue?

Collin: My friend Ryan coerced me into doing the Dewey Beach Triathlon in 2009. We were both swimming competitively and ran a bit here and there on high school cross-country teams. I went back to the Dewey Beach Triathlon in 2010, and ever since enjoyed the sport.

DWF: Tell me about your training routine.

Collin: I train in a partnership with Zane Castro. Zane is the mastermind behind the physical and mental preparation I do for racing. There are quantifiable demands for being competitive at the races I go to, which are both Sprint and Olympic distance draft-legal ITU races.

The top performers at the Continental Cup level swim 750 meters in eight minutes, bike 20 kilometers in 25 minutes, and run five kilometers in 14 minutes. Knowing what I am reaching for is the biggest key to my training, because all of the work is focused on the demands of the race.

DWF: What does a typical day/week look like?

A typical week of training is about 25 hours, and includes swimming, biking, running and functional movements. Right now, I am in a race-prep block of training, so I am doing more intensity and less volume than I would be doing in the winter.

A typical day has three sessions, one or two in the morning, and one later in the day. I aim for five hours between morning and afternoon sessions for optimal training stimulus. If the sessions are too close, then the body does not respond as well.

About 80 percent of my work is aerobic/very easy, maybe a little less this time of year because of the race-prep intensity, and 20 percent is at race intensity/very fast.

DWF: How many hours do you devote to fitness per day/week?

Collin: 20–30 hours per week. 2–6 hours per day. 6–7 training days per week.

I spend a few hours per week in the gym doing body-weight exercises, functional movements and running drills. I also spend an hour or two per week doing a stretching or yin-style yoga routine.

I spend an hour or two per week on soft-tissue work, which includes self-massage, lacrosse balls, Voodo bands from Rogue fitness, and other massage modalities.

DWF: What does your current training schedule look like?

Collin: Right now, I am training for a race in Switzerland, where there is an eight-hour time difference. The week leading up to it, I have shifted my sleep and training cycle to match the race time.

I go to bed around 2–3:00 a.m., get up at noon, get my first workout in at 1:00 pm, then my last workout starts at 10:00 pm. This is how Floyd Mayweather trains for his fights, he trains at midnight because he fights at midnight or later.

DWF: Are you actively training for anything specific? What and why?

Collin: I am training for the FISU World University Championships, which is held in Nyon, Switzerland, on August 7th. Team USA is bringing five guys to represent all U.S. universities, and we will be competing against 40 countries. The race is Olympic distance with draft-legal regulations.

DWF: What’s the worst experience you’ve had in a triathlon?

Collin: I have had many terrible experiences in triathlons, some of which took place in training.

But I have made very rookie mistakes, like riding someone else’s bike for the first time in a race and having back spasms, not eating before or during a race and bonking so hard that the four-minute lead I had dropped to a four-minute deficit, getting caught up in a bike crash in my second professional race, and so many others.

I try to learn what I can from these mistakes and then forget about the negative experiences.

DWF: Dreaming here, what would be your ultimate goal / dream?

Collin: I dream of making this triathlon lifestyle sustainable for as long as possible. I know that the longer I can stay in this game, the better I will be.

This is a simple equation of fitness and experience: the greater work + the greater skills = the fitter and smarter racer one will be. I dream of representing Team USA at a world championship and believing that I have performed to the best of my ability.

DWF: Have you ever considered giving up?

Collin: I have considered giving up at every injury that I have had, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, tibia stress fractures, femoral bone spur and so on. So yes, many times I have considered quitting the sport.

Each difficult season is a time to reflect on why I am doing what I am doing, what’s my purpose and how I can move forward. My biggest consideration for giving up is if I am pursuing this for myself. The moment it becomes selfish or about my ego is the moment I no longer want to keep pursuing it.

DWF: What, in your opinion, are the keys to becoming a successful triathlete?

Collin: Learning how to go easy. I find this is the biggest barrier in our sport, because it requires trusting the process. There is a tendency to let our egos dictate our workouts, especially among fellow athletes, and to gain confidence in our own abilities from workouts.

Ego is the enemy, although if harnessed properly can be a huge benefit while suffering in a race. Having a great workout and feeling great about ourselves, then having a poor workout and feeling bad about ourselves is a very dangerous line of thinking.

Our self-worth is not dictated by how well we do in sports. Determine your goals to do the very best that you can do, and don’t stop learning until you have achieved that goal. You will find that the further you go with this mindset, the further you will believe that the threshold of your own abilities is greater than you could have ever imagined.

DWF: How important is nutrition to your daily routine? Do you focus on anything special?

Collin: Nutrition is huge. I eat real foods. I focus on the timing of my meals to best recover and fuel for the next session. The biggest thing with nutrition is gaining knowledge and then being intentional about eating, when and what you eat.

I am not so much concerned with how much I am eating, but making sure that I have at least three quality meals per day.

DWF: What motivates you to get up every day and do the tough work that’s required to succeed?

Collin: I feel called to be exactly where I am, and that I would be wasting the gifts and opportunities I have been given if I were not using them. I believe that giving our best to what we are called to do is the highest achievement.

I am not sure where this pursuit will take me, but I trust that the right doors will open and close at the right times.

DWF: What are some of the benefits you’ve gained from being involved in triathlons?

Collin: Perspective. Each day, I am challenged to get outside of myself and my own narrow thinking. I am surrounded by teammates, coaches, friends, mentors and good people, and I am challenged to lead, follow, challenge, empathize and show kindness to everyone.

Many triathletes I know are very driven, and sometimes that drive can overshadow the thousands of stories that we are surrounded by … the story of the person swimming next to us, or the stories of the hundreds of people we race against.

At the end of the day, triathlon is a game we play, and our relationships with people will always trump the little award or prize we get from a race.

DWF: How do you keep you mind busy during the long hours on the bike, running and in the pool?

Collin: Mindfulness is a practice and can be learned through daily meditations and applied to almost everything we do.

During swims, I am most mindful of my body and technique. I pay attention to how my hips are floating or sinking, to the timing of my breaths, to the separation in my fingers and to the countless other parts of our bodies that we use in the water.

I enjoy long rides with company, and that makes the time fly. I also enjoy long rides by myself, and I take in the beauty and uniqueness of where I ride, whether that’s being in the doldrum of cornfields in Kearney, Nebraska; the endless switchbacks up the 14,110 feet of Pike’s Peak, or the interesting buildings, people and culture of Chicago; Washington D.C.; Kansas City; and places all over the world.

I am usually focused on all the pain I am in while running … I try to stay focused on fluid movements and flow.

DWF: How do you feel competition has helped when it comes to succeeding in other areas of our life?

Collin: Process versus result-oriented mindset, this is what I have learned and have carried into my pursuit of academics, business and relationships.

The process of school is simple, show up everyday, pay attention, write some important things down, then study them before a test or use them in a paper.

There is a process to everything we do, but sometimes we pay more attention to the result of the process, and we never will achieve that result.

The process in most endeavors start with showing up everyday and being mindful of what we are doing with our thoughts and actions. The discipline and commitment from sports allow me to believe in the process.

DWF: Who inspires you?

Collin: My Dad, he who pursues his vocation as a father, servant and leader to our family and others, with all of his strength and with God’s strength.

DWF: What books are you currently reading?

Collin: “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Josh Foer; “Originals” by Adam Grant and “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid.

DWF: What are the keys to balancing life as a triathlete and life outside of that?

Collin: Have fun, go out once in a while, even if you have to get up early to workout the next day. Yes, there is an optimal number of hours of sleep you should get, and optimal amount of recovery, but it’s very freeing and even inspiring to know that you can still get up the next day and get the hard work done when you are not optimally rested or fueled.

Don’t let sports, this game we play, take away from the relationships you have. I have leaned on the side of too much sports, and I have leaned on the side of too much fun. For me, it took going to both extremes to find that balance.

DWF: What is restful for you?​

Collin: Sleeping, reading, cooking food for others and drinking wine with friends.

DWF: What would you say to someone who’s contemplating getting involved in triathlons? Any good advice?

Collin: Try it, try it again, and if you still don’t love it, then find something else that you are passionate about!

DWF: If people want to join this journey with you, how can they do that?

Collin: Follow me @collinchartier on Twitter or Instagram. I am trying to get a site up with a blog, but we will see how long that takes.

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David Fouse is a partner at the Pinkston Group, a Washington, D.C.-area public relations firm. Follow David on Instagram @davidwfouse.

These articles are part of an ongoing series highlighting great examples of leadership in health and wellness. We’re always looking for good candidates. Submit your ideas to fouse@pinkstongroup.com.