In August 2003, Rich MacInnes stood in Louisville’s sweltering August heat and watched as dozens of cyclists in the Master’s Nationals Road Race Championships burned up the hills in Cherokee Park. A former All-American half-miler and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, MacInnes, 46, had logged plenty of time on the bike just for fun in recent years, but his training and his progress was spotty and inconsistent.
After all, he had spent the past eight years devoting much of his time to building his business, an international training and consulting firm. He had three adult children, a wife, and a travel schedule that frequently found him all across the U.S. as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
But here were racers, guys like him in their 40s, professionals and entrepreneurs among them, completing a grueling road race in searing heat. They were working, suffering but they didn’t struggle like him or lose form like he did during long rides or find themselves spent after a long climb. They were focused, powerful and lean.
MacInnes, despite his time on the bike, was a doughy 206 pounds – Clydesdale territory.
A few months later, disappointed with his weight, his performance and his seemingly limited possibilities on the bike, MacInnes contacted Carmichael Training Systems (CTS), the training and coaching businesses started by Lance Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael.
MacInnes’ stated goal was fairly straightforward – finish a century within five hours. But his aspirations went a bit deeper. He wanted reawaken the athlete that he had set aside so many years ago. “I know Rich is in there,” he recalled thinking to himself. “How do I get him out?”
Since it began in 1999, CTS has grown from a three-person operation to one of the most sought-after training programs. Stoked by Armstrong’s success, CTS has seen “100 percent growth” in both number of employees and those signing up for its coaching services, said CTS marketing director, Kevin Dessart.
In addition to cycling, the company has also attracted triathletes, runners, swimmers, hockey players, racecar drivers, skiers and snowboarders. Locally, about a half dozen athletes – mostly cyclists – subscribe to the coaching service.
According to Dessart, MacInnes is typical of many CTS clients: an athlete who may have been into a sport at one time but for whatever reasons – work, family, burnout – stopped. When they come to CTS, they may have already resumed training, but they are looking for more structure from their workouts and greater success overall.
“If you’re an athlete and you want to perform at your best – if that means being physically fit or if you want to do a triathlon, or if you want to be competitive – we take all the guesswork out of it for you,” Dessart said. “We provide the structure and the workouts.”
After selecting a subscription level from CTS, MacInnes’ coach had him perform a series of short training time trials to establish a base for his training and fitness. Throughout the winter he trained under the guidance of his coach, reporting his progress and adjusting his workouts based on her suggestions and his evolving goals.
During the beginning of the racing season, his coach had prepared him for taking longer pulls at the front of a pack of riders. Earlier this summer they had adjusted his strategy when he found he needed more power on climbs. More recently, they’ve emphasized sprinting.
In the year he’s worked with CTS, MacInnes has seen drastic improvements. Starting as a beginning Cat 5 racer, he quickly worked his way up to a solid Cat 3. In March, MacInnes finished first during a Louisville Bicycle Club-sponsored criterium held in Iroquois Park. It was only his second race.
Since then, and despite a crash during a criterium in May that left him with deep bruises in his right thigh, he has had strong showings in several races around the region. In August, one year after watching the competition at Master’s Nationals, he traveled to Park City, Utah to participate in this year’s meet. Recently, he joined the Indianapolis-based Indiana Masters Cycling Team.
MacInnes’ progress has been impressive enough to catch the eye of CTS, which recently featured him in an ad with three other CTS-coached athletes. The ad has run in Cycle Sport and VeloNews magazines.
“I think we’ve seen a good deal of success together,” said MacInnes’ CTS coach, Kate Gracheck. “He’s become so competitive.”
Gracheck, a USA cycling expert coach who holds a master’s degree in sports psychology and counseling from Boston University, said that athletes will generally subscribe to CTS with broad goals in mind, such as wanting to be able to finish a century or finish well within their age group. For Jeffersonville resident and fellow racer Darrin Lay, who began using CTS about three months ago, the goal was to simply reach his potential.
“I wanted a greater return on the same amount of time,” said Lay, who rides about 10 to 15 hours a week and also recently joined the Indiana Masters team.
Like MacInnes, Lay performed a pair of three-mile time trials to give his coach an indication of his fitness. From there, his workouts have been focused on improving his performance on hills on increasing his endurance.
In the short time he’s been using CTS, Lay said he was able to pull longer on rides and climb faster. And although it seems counterintuitive, Lay, 37, said that his CTS coach has had him training less and not as hard as before. Dessart said that improving an athlete’s “aerobic engine” and building endurance are some of the first things coaches address.
“I’m excited to see what next spring will be like,” Lay said.
CTS subscribers log in to dedicated pages on the CTS Web site that outline specific training programs. The more expensive the training package the more detailed the plan and the more often it’s updated.
This past January, Jude Clark, a Cat 3 Louisville Bicycle Club racer, also signed up for CTS in an effort to get the most from his limited training time. (He often trains on his lunch hour, riding from downtown Louisville along River Road and back.)
But unlike Lay or MacInnes, Clark said he found the fit between athlete and coach – at least at the beginning – to be less than perfect. He said his coach, a 19-year-old first-season, Cat 3 racer, was slow to respond to requests for information and seemed unenthusiastic about coaching.
When that coach left, however, Clark found himself paired with an experienced coach who held an M.D. and a degree in exercise physiology and possessed many years of experience as a road- and mountain-bike racer. In fact, her experience as a doctor helped plan workouts that were sensitive to a recent knee injury. Overall, the structure of the workouts has kept him from falling back into some bad habits.
Clark said the variety of workouts has also kept his training interesting. Months and weeks are set aside to emphasize aerobics, strength, climbing and later in the season, anaerobic work.
The company’s coaching packages are grouped into five levels: Classic, Signature, Select, Premium and Ultimate. Coaches are divided among CTS’s three tiers: Active, Advanced and Deluxe. The most basic package, Classic, includes online access to a coach from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (MST) on weekdays. At $39 a month (plus a one-time fee of $19), subscribers record their training data, which is evaluated by CTS each month.
For those with ambitious goals – and a larger pocketbook – the Deluxe series offers the Premium and Ultimate packages. At $499 a month, the Ultimate package includes daily review and adjustments of the athlete’s training program, daily communication with a coach and three coach-initiated phone calls a week.
For more information on CTS, visit their Web site at www.trainright.com.
Paul Baldwin, who enjoys running, swimming and cycling, is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Louisville.