What would it take to complete a 3,000 mile rowboat race across the Atlantic? It’s way more than just the sheer physical strength and stamina. You have to have the mental toughness to deal with the wave of self-doubt and other negative emotions that will overpower you. And that’s if physical fatigue doesn’t get you first. Chriss Smith joins the show again to share his experience at the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, dubbed as the world’s toughest rowing race. Chriss is the owner of Trident Mindset. He believes that the psychology of sport, fitness, and fun play a vital role in the success of a healthy lifestyle. His mission is to help others overcome self-doubt and perceived limitations by developing the mental toughness to unleash their warrior within and solve their happiness. His WHY of Better Way fuels this mission to make himself and other people better. Find out how that helped him overcome what would possibly be the hardest thing he had to do in his whole life!
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Mental Toughness – What It Takes To Keep You Moving Forward With Chriss Smith
In this episode, we’re going to be talking about the why of a better way, to find a better way and share it. If this is your why, you are the ultimate innovator and are constantly seeking better ways to do everything. You find yourself wanting to improve virtually anything by finding a way to make it better. You also desire to share your improvement with the world. You constantly ask yourself questions like, “What if we tried this differently? What if we did this another way? How can we make this better?”
You contribute to the world with better processes and systems while operating under the motto, “I’m often pleased but never satisfied.” You are excellent at associating, which means that you are adept at taking ideas or systems from one industry or discipline and applying them to another with the ultimate goal of improving things.
I have a great guest for you. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. This is a revisit of somebody that I had on the show a couple of years back. Since then, a lot of crazy things happened to him. He’s accomplished a lot of things, and we’re going to talk about that, but let me tell you his bio first. His name is Chriss Smith. He is a former Navy SEAL with decades of experience in the SEAL teams and other special mission operations.
He’s the CEO and Cofounder of Trident Mindset, an online Mental Toughness Training Course. He’s the Founder and Co-Owner of Trident Athletics, formerly Trident CrossFit, one of the largest CrossFit gyms in the country. Chriss is an entrepreneur, extreme adventure athlete, husband, family man, and dog lover. He says, “It’s not just about becoming a SEAL but also about the journey once we leave the SEAL teams.” Chriss believes that the psychology of sport, fitness, and fun play a vital role in the success of a healthy lifestyle.
His mission is to help others overcome self-doubt and perceived limitations by developing the mental toughness to unleash their warrior within and solve their happiness equation. Now a competitive ultra-endurance athlete, he completed the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a 3,000-mile row boat race across the Atlantic Ocean. He was also part of team Shut Up & Row, the fastest American team ever that beat the previous record by fourteen days. They finished the race in 33 days, 17 hours, and 38 minutes. You are also part of the world’s toughest race as you can see on Prime television. Chriss, welcome to the show.
It is good to see you. It’s been way too long since we’ve talked.
You’ve done a lot of stuff. I was following you on a line when I saw that you were rowing. Let’s talk about that. For those of you that haven’t read Chriss’s first episode interview, please go back and read it because you’re going to learn the fascinating and mind-blowing story of how he went from an engineer to joining the Navy and becoming a SEAL then everything that happened after that. It’s a fascinating story. You went through it twice.
I’m a little bit of a skinny guy, hyped out all the good stuff, but made it through going up to a special missions unit, graduated from that, worked out for a while, back in the civilian sector, trying to change lives and make the world a better place. That’s my mission.
During that interview, you couldn’t talk about what you were doing because it hadn’t aired yet.
Back then, we’re reasonably sequestered for World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. It was a race on primetime TV. The Bear Grylls put it on for us. I raced with a team called Team Onyx at that time, which was the first ever all-African American team to ever race an adventure race. It is an eleven-day adventure race in Fiji, and it was incredible. Like most things in life, things don’t go as planned. You have all the ups and downs that came with that as well. The last time we chatted, I wasn’t able to discover that, but the show’s been aired for a little while, the team did okay, and had some challenges, but I’d love to talk about that if you want to.
How long was the race? What was the race? What were the events in the race? I was blown away by what you guys had to do and what it looked like the toughest one was. Tell them a little bit about this race.
If you’re unfamiliar with adventure racing, it is an amalgamation or accumulation of a lot of different sports like running, trekking, rocking, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, rope climbing, descending, rappelling, and all these different things. What made Fiji exciting is we use a lot of native Fijian craft. The race started with a native Fijian outrigger sailboat, which was by a canoe with one outrigger on the right side, and a sail made of canvas. Local tribes made all 50 or 60 boats for the race. Race started with that. Another exciting event there was called Billy-Billy. Imagine a stand-up paddleboard that is made of bamboo and uses the bamboo stick board. We had 70 or 80 miles to go upriver on a Billy-Billy. That was long and exciting.
What was amazing to me was how far each race was. This was not like jumping in a little outrigger and going a couple of miles, which the person would be mind-boggling to go that far. How far was the first event?
The first event was a beautiful day. Everybody’s got online to see what’s going out. It was supposed to be 50 miles. Remember, I said native Fujian outrigger sail. There was zero wind. It would turn into a canoe battle. That first event took us twelve hours to get to the other island. To put these encounters, it took my team, which is a beginner team, and newer athletes. Part of our mission for that race is to bring this sport of adventure racing to minorities or people that don’t usually do adventure racing. The number one team that finished the race was a team from New Zealand who crushed these events all the time and finished that thing in six hours. It took us a 12-hour battle and took them 6 hours.
Imagine for the readers what it’s like to paddle for twelve hours. That doesn’t even seem fun but doable in any way.
This is an eleven-day race. That’s just the first day you’re paddling for twelve hours. Jump off the boat, do an 8 or 10-hour trek around an island, and back in the canoe for another 12-hour paddle back. Welcome to day one.
What was going through my head as I was watching it is you got a lot of airtime, which was great, but I was blown away by the distance that you did everything. You do the 24 hours of paddling and running, then what?
What was cool about this race also was because of a junction between different events, you had to find treasure. Separate from that, we had to dive maybe 25 or 35 feet down to get a nice little bouillon to move forward. That turned into a traditional inflatable stand-up paddle board, which that event was 12 or 14 hours long, followed by a mountain bike leg that was 27 or 28 hours long, falling into another foot track that was 15 or 16 hours long, which follows the Billy-Billy that was 12 or 14 hours long.
Nothing is short, but everything is exciting. It’s long enough that you feel pressure, fatigue, suffering, tiredness, and all the things that make you not want to finish on that particular day, but short enough that you want to go fast to get it done quickly. There is a lot of team building there, a lot of negotiation itself, mental work, and a lot of finding a better way to get it done quicker. That’s a super exciting race.
You did not mention what I thought at least based on what I saw on the TV what the hardest event was. It was absolutely brutal.
What did you think?
It’s the swim up the river.
It was a freezing river. Here’s the sad part of this journey. It’s an adventure race. Good and bad things happen. Our team didn’t get to that point because we had a massive bike crash. Our team tapped in, crashed his bike, and got a concussion. He didn’t get that far in the race. We didn’t complete that race, but that’s okay because what we set out to do was expand the idea of adventure racing for different types of people. We did that. We went to work on team building. Team Onyx started with five members. Now we have 64 members on teams doing adventure races around the world. That was super hard, but I didn’t get to experience that.
It’s probably a good thing.
It was swimming up a river. After a storm, I heard the water was absolutely frigid. It was the breaker of many teams. The entire team suffered badly on that day. It was super hard.
One of the things we talked about the first time that we had you on and what became evident was your desire to never ever, no matter what, quit. You talked about the one time that you did quit and how it messed with your head. It became obvious when you had to stop. Does that bother you?
Our team captain crashed the bike. Before that, our team captain was also the primary navigator. It’s map and compass navigation, no electronics. He comes to me and goes, “Why don’t you captain right now? I’ll just be the primary navigator,” literally before the bike crash. Maybe 25 kilometers before the bike crash, I was taking over as team captain. I’m super excited to do that for the team. It was awesome.
A bike crash happened. I’m responsible for finding a way to keep the team moving forward after a horrific crash. It was super challenging for me to manage people, try to be safe, and try to make the right decision to do the right thing for the right reasons. All that was on my plate now. By doing the right thing, we didn’t get a chance to finish the race, but it was the right thing to do. Inside, I’m not finishing the race. I’m feeling like I’m quitting the race. In reality, sometimes, we don’t get to finish races.Sometimes you just don't get to finish races. Click To Tweet
Like you said, “We were doing this. We’re not quitting no matter what.” We can see when you were resigned to the fact that, “If we don’t quit, make it.”
Life over finishing, first and foremost. It’s a super hard decision to make emotionally and physically. Had a super strong race. We had a night’s sleep, super engaged, crushing the bike, and ready for the next day. It was not in our favor at that particular moment. You can always rest on it. Did you make the right decision for the right reasons at the right time? Yes, I was visibly disappointed and in emotional pain that we weren’t moving forward, but it is still the right decision to make. Cliff and I are still friends. We still do things. It’s nice. He’s so much into this growing or expanding the knowledge of adventure racing. He’s doing great. He’s a professional chef, which is crazy.
That gets back to why you guys crashed because the tires were full of mud.
We got new packs on. Literally, we had a couple of hours of sleep, and we were blind. The passing teams were feeling super good like, “We struggled on some of the water events, but we could ride bikes.” We’re catching up making places, road goes downhill real fast, and takes it to a big return, misjudges the turn, and off we went. The bike gets smashed all over the place. His helmet gets a big crack, and it falls off his head. It’s so painful.
Did you stay there to watch the finish?
We did because these kinds of races are not just about how your team does in the event. It’s a community. There are maybe 50 teams. People are finishing all the time. People are still, “Tough break for you, but we’re still part of this whole thing.” We are making the sport nice. We’re putting on a good show for TV and everything. It’s nice to be part of people who want to move forward, get past adversity, and keep doing our things. We stayed until the end. I got smaller bike rides and a couple of walks. We took it easy a little bit. It’s been two days in the hospital. There were a lot of things there, but we’re still there to support the race.
What are your interest and excitement? Why the heck do you do these? Why do you do an adventure race? It looks excruciating and a nightmare to be out there. There was nothing that looks fun at all at least from the perspective of somebody watching it on TV.
There’s a lot of suffering involved, but after a while, it takes a little bit more to look inside to see what you’re made of. First, I was an athlete. I remember 5k was a long distance. Now, 5k isn’t a long distance. After the 5k, a 10k was a long distance, half marathon and 100-miler. Three-day race is exciting. I get pushed out a little bit. You can’t go too far, but it’s the excitement of looking in and talking to yourself or having that mental toughness to keep moving forward when everything is trying to tell you to stop.
What’s it take for you to keep moving forward? You have to move forward fast all the time, but keep moving forward. I am a huge proponent. I love these team sports where the suffering isn’t just about you. Can you be a beacon? Can you inspire people? Can you mentor people? Can you galvanize your team to keep moving forward?
When all the things are going bad and nothing’s going in your favor, are you that person that people can lean on? Are you that person that can find a better way to get something done? Are you that person people can count on to keep moving the team forward? I got the chills right now. That jazz’s me up so much to be part of that. Not just being a leader of that, but also being a good follower of that. Being on the team is super important to me.
How do you do that? I’m on your team, four of us on the team, and all hell’s breaking loose. What goes through your mind? Why do you step up?
The good thing about the team is you don’t have to be the only person that steps up. As the race goes on, you may have your high or low days. Not only are you there to support your other teammates, but they’re there to support you as well. It’s understanding relationships and communication, when somebody is crying and whining for no reason, or there’s an actual reason why they’re crying and whining. You don’t have support.
Being able to understand people and to find a better way to make sense of things to understand what their problems are and work through that with them is super liberating. It’s super exciting for me. It’s having the wherewithal to want to communicate, keep that relationship for the right reasons, and move forward there. It’s good listening skills, good communication skills, sometimes not good listening skills, and all the things inside. It’s like, “We’re just going to keep moving forward. Let’s go.”
It’s being part of somebody’s comeuppance. They are in a very low. Their feet hurt and whatever is bothering them. You are in that dark, shallow part with them. You are able to give them and encourage them something that made them come out of that trough. Hours later, they’re feeling good, and whatever’s bothering them is not happening. You have to be a part of that with somebody. You’re talking about deepening relationships and making connections with people. Listen first and talk later.
There are a lot of good lessons in there for us in the business world.
Sometimes we think about ourselves. We forget that the team is as important, if not more important than whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe put all your jazz behind you and say, “What’s important for this person? How can we make this person better so that we all can move forward?”
Let’s go to the next thing that I heard you were doing. You sent me this text, “I’m about to do this row across the Atlantic.” How do you come up with this? Who thinks of these things? Why are you doing this? You love to row. It’s the worst. It’s not even a sport.
Rowing is always challenging. I’m a storyteller. I like sharing stories. I found myself a few years ago being in a place where I felt I was regurgitating past experiences, past stories, and nothing new to contribute. Had I not experienced anything new in my recent time that’s exciting, worth sharing, and inspiring for people, am I talking to talk and walking the walk? Am I sitting back in my rocking chair telling, “Back when I was this, I was that?”
I wanted a test. I wanted to stay engaged and stay involved. I tell people all the time, “Sometimes you got to choose hard things. You have to choose the wrench to do hard things that make everything else easier.” I found myself in a place where I wasn’t doing that. I was doing things, but I knew when I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t doing the things that I should be doing to keep myself spirited and inspired. I was looking for a challenge that was going to scratch that itch. You have to be careful what you put in the universe because it comes back at you fold fast.Sometimes you have to choose the wrench and do hard things. That makes everything else easier. Click To Tweet
I’m hearing you were feeding others because I’ve seen you at your CrossFit. I know that you are constantly feeding other people. You can’t tell it from reading, but Chriss has a very loud voice. There is nobody that doesn’t know he’s in the gym at that moment because you are encouraging, yelling, and harassing everyone everywhere you go. That’s your thing.
That’s my whisper voice. That’s who I am. I love what I do. It just comes through in races. It’s who I am and what I do. It’s not changing. I love it. I’m looking for stories and experiences and wanting to walk the walk. We give advice to people all the time. Do we listen to our own advice? Do we do the things we ask people to do? I asked you to do hard things all the time. Well then, go do something hard, son. This was it.
What came through your mind when somebody asked you, “How did it happen that this is what you guys chose to do?”
This was a third-party experience. Our team captain, Brian Nicholson, and his buddy, James Hein, work together. They started to do this race a few years ago. It’s very unheard of race. There have only been less than 1,200 people that ever do it. For some reason, that race didn’t go, but it was on Brian’s mind for a long time. Brian was looking for people to make a team of four. I reached out to a friend of mine, Dan Cirilo, and said, “Do you know any person who would want to row the boat across the Atlantic Ocean?” He’s like, “Nobody would even entertain this crazy thing.”
Dan and I have a good relationship. He’s like, “I know the two perfect people.” It was myself and Brian Chontosh. Brian called us and said, “Does it sound exciting?” I’m like, “It sounds exciting to me.” No research, no nothing. I talked to Tosh. He’s like, “If you do it, I’ll do it.” We said, “Yes.” That was a few years ago.
You’re not somebody that rows all the time.
I am 5’9” and 165 pounds. I’m not even built for rowing. You’ve seen rowers. They’re gigantic. They’re 6’7” and 240. They’re huge. This was totally not up my alley. That was also exciting for me. If you asked me to ride a mountain bike, I’ll ride a mountain bike. I can go faster or slower. If you ask me to run, I can run faster or slower and paddle a kayak canoe. I have done all those things before. I’ve never rowed a boat or a rowboat, and never even had a boat in the ocean. Everything was new and exciting. Everything, I had to learn. That jazzed me up. It fired me up so much. I’m like, “This is going to be awesome.”
Was it more excitement or more fear? Was there any fear?
In the beginning or post?
Probably, in the beginning and during. If I was thinking about doing that now, it would be petrifying to me to think, “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I don’t even know I have a concept of what I said yes to.”
I felt exactly the same way. That was exciting for me. I’m like, “This is completely new and exciting. I’m capable of many things. Let’s see if I’m capable and can do well in this event that I know nothing about.” That was a few years ago when our training first started. I remember that I broke my neck. I had to get four new vertebrae in my neck. I didn’t get a chance to train for six months but then started training again. I get the two-year mark concept for weightlifting. Our team got a coach to help guide us through this experience of what we’re supposed to be looking for later on. It was nerve-racking. You know me very well. I’m an excitable guy like variety will. Rowing is not variety.
Let’s go to race day. I remember I sent you a text. I said something like, “What are you up to this weekend?” You said, “I’m going to do a little trial run or something for a trial row.” What does that mean? You said, “I’m going to go out and row for twelve hours.” Who rows for twelve hours?
We did some 72-hour rows in a garage. We’ve done lots of rows. We rode from Florida to Georgia. We did a lot of rowing. Other than that, we didn’t even compare to what we experienced on the ocean.
That takes us through the start of the race. What was the start? How many boats were there? What was going on? What was going on in your head?
Forty-two boats in this race come in different classes. You have single people doing the whole 3,000 miles by themselves who are still out there rowing. You got singles, doubles, and 4s and 5s. We’re a four-person boat. All the boats are lined up. The Atlanta campaign runs the race. They do a good job of making it seamless from showing up in Spain, to getting your boat prepped up, to starting in the row. All the boats have a two-minute start separation. Our goal was to be the first American team ever to win first place. That was our goal. Our team manager is like, “We’re going to start. We’re going to do three-up,” which is 2 hours of rowing, 40 minutes of rest, and 2 hours of rowing. We’re going to do that for 3, 4, or 5 days.
I’m thinking, “Who came up with that? Is that even possible?”
It is possible. It’s crazy. That worked out well for us. We got out front quickly and maintain that 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for a long time. We got in the first place. We’re 12 or 14 days into the race right around Christmas time. It was us in another boat, neck in neck, on the big ocean 500 to 600 miles off-shore racing, which is insane to think about.
In my mind, I would be trying to picture, “What the heck does this boat look like? It’s not like a little kayak.”
It’s 26 or 27 feet and has a small cabin in the stern about 6 feet long or 3.5 feet high. You can sit up in it. You can almost lay down flat in it. In the front of the boat, the bow of the boat, you have about a 6.5 to 7-foot cabin about 3.5-foot high. You could almost lie down in it. It’s about 4 or 5 feet wide. In between those two flat halls, there are 3 sliding seats and 6 doors. That’s it. There is some whole space put food and a watermaker on board, poop and piss in a bucket, a full ocean-going electronics package, full electronic navigation AIS, all the things I have, it’s all that was there as well.
It only had three seats because only three people are rowing.
Typically, most people row 2 hours on and 2 hours off, 24/7. That’s the typical way most people are doing the race. You get two hours of rest of which you have to make food, cook food, eat food, and clean your body. Make sure your body was recuperating at that time. Sleep, recover, get back on ore, rinse and repeat, 33 days, all night long, just rowing.
What is the ocean like out there in the middle of nowhere on a little 26-foot boat?
First of all, Mother Nature does not give a heck about you. She is going to do what she is going to do. She wants to give you a storm, and you get a storm. She wants to rain, and you get rain. She wants hot sun, and you get a hot sun. There’s nothing you can do about it. You fill your place in the universe real quick. You are a very tiny boat in a gigantic ocean where as far as you can see, is as far as you can see. There is nothing is in your way. You don’t see any other boats in the race. It’s very awe-inspiring, where you have the entire majesty of the sky, where you see every star that you can see. There’s nothing in your way. You can see through the galaxy. It’s crazy. The nights are dark as dark. The days are hot.
What’s the temperature like out there at night?
It was gorgeous. We roll without shirts on at night and short pants. It was nice. When we got closer to Antigua, it got a little bit hotter. A lot of guys row naked. I wore some sleeves to keep the sun off my skin during the daytime. Some guys had no shirts on. The temperature couldn’t be better. There are storms out there all the time. It’s Mother Nature, with high winds, big water, big seas, 30-foot swells, and 35-knot winds. You’re out there like a little cork in the big ocean floating around, going 3.5 to 4 knots.
The biggest challenge you ran into was what?
We had a myriad of challenges. We had some boat mechanical issues, which other boats didn’t get to experience.
What do you mean by mechanical issues?
There are solar-powered boats. The boats have two lithium batteries run by solar power that allows us to run all of our electronics and watermaker. The water desalinator is on board. We make the water that we use to make our food then all the electronic package is run on solar power. For some reason, we lost our batteries or solar power wasn’t working. The boats are auto-steered. It’s a GPS rudder. Without power, you don’t have a GPS rudder. You have to hand steer. You have to move your rudder with some lines, which is super challenging. That hung us up a lot, not just physically but also emotionally.
You’re in the first place, and all of a sudden, your boat shifts the bed. Now boats are starting to pass you and you’re trying to rectify or problem-solve. Our team did a fantastic job of navigating the 6 or 7 relatively major problem sets that we had on the boat, mechanically fixing things, and managing things. We did a fantastic job with that.
How did you keep going with no water?
Every boat has 15 days of emergency water and 15 days’ worth of food. We were allowed to drink some emergency water. One of our solar panels came back up. We’re able to make 20 liters or whatever for the team during the day. I had to ration stuff a little bit, which is cool. The boat still going to rows to get to Antigua. You make different decisions. If your car has got one wheel flat, don’t drive fast. You have to get to where you’re trying to go and manage that emotionally, mentally, and physically. Keep moving in the right direction. I keep having this thing in my head, “One more stroke closer to Antigua.”
There are some things you can’t control. Mother Nature, you can’t control. You can give the same amount of effort every single stroke. For 2 hours, you’re going 4 knots, and for the next few hours, you’re going 1.2 knots, the same exact effort. You have to manage a lot of emotional and physical management. It’s a lot. It’s a long race.There are some things that you just can’t control. Click To Tweet
How many total miles was it?
It’s 3,000 miles. We did 2,970-something miles. There’s a point when you’re like, “I am 1,500 miles from the nearest land, and there’s as a bird. What?”
What the heck goes through your mind 1,500 miles in and you got 1,500 more miles to go? Did you ever want to quit?
No, I 100% emphatically never wanted to quit. I can honestly say that I’m not trying to be egotistical or braggadocious or whatever. There wasn’t a time when I didn’t want to get to row. Rowing was way more manageable than the two hours off. You have to manage many things, your emotion, sleep, food, your body, and all these things you have to do in a very short time. When you’re rowing, all you had to do is row. There’s not much else you can do but row. I made a goal of mine. You’re rotating every hour with a partner. You’re like, “My partner’s not going to roll one of my minutes. I’m going to do my 120. They’re going to do 120.” In our team, we did well with that making sure that everybody is participating as much as they could. It was awesome. I took rowing and resting seriously. That was my little idea.
Were you wearing gloves or no gloves? What were your hands like during all this? What was the part of your body that broke down the most during this event?
Me included, but most people have three contact points that wear out. The first one would be your butt. You’re sitting on a seat no less than twelve hours a day. You are sitting on the same bones, the skin starts to shake because you’re wet. In most of the races, either with sweat or salt water. To your skin, it sloughs and erodes off. It’s miserable. You’re sitting in the same spots over and over again for two-hour blocks. Even when you get off the row seat, you go back to your cabin, which is literally half a step away, and you’re sitting again. You’re sitting for 23 or 24 hours a day. Your butt takes massive trauma.
Secondarily, and surprisingly, your feet. I don’t know if you’ve been on a concept to rower with a strap that comes across your feet. Your hands are used to working and being tough, but your feet are always in shoes, and it’s relatively soft. That strap creates a lot of blisters on top of your feet. Unexpectedly, that tricking my brain a little bit is like, “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
The third thing would be the hands. Most people use either gloves, grips, or bare-handed. Bare hands is probably the best choice. Since your hands are in the same position, they blister. The blisters dry out, create callus and your hands are good to go. That takes about two weeks or maybe 10 to 15 days. My wife is like, “Do something with your hands because they are like 60 grit sandpaper. Don’t touch me.”
You rowed straight for 33 days. Did that beat the record by quite a bit?
The American record is by fourteen days. I was doing some research the other day. We wanted to hit first place. That didn’t happen. We took 5th place in the 4-man boats and 6th place in the overall race. Emotionally, you want to row hard. You want to the first place. That was what we were telling our sponsors and everybody. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. When you’re racing things, sometimes they happen, and sometimes they don’t. It was emotional that we didn’t do that, but people kept telling me like, “It’s not being in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. You rowed from the overall accomplishment.”
I’ve been trying to come to grips and wrestle with not hitting the podium but still what a magnificent accomplishment. On the Talisker Whiskey site, they have every race since 2015. I put our score and our time in there. Before this year, we only lose 7 or 8 boats forever faster than us since 2015. This year was a fast year. They’re obviously 4 or 5 boats faster than us, but still, that’s a huge accomplishment. The last American boat that finished was fourteen days longer than us.
Can you imagine fourteen more days than what you did?
There are still people rowing. I wake up every morning looking at the app that shows people are still rowing. How freaking awesome is that? I’d be bonkers by this. We talked about mindset and different ways to attack the problem. We wanted to race fast, so we didn’t take some things. We tried to stay hard and committed to our goal. Our experience was different. Some of them know they’re going to take two and a half months to finish the race. They’re attacking the beast and the race differently. Maybe not rolling as hard, taking more sleep, eating better, and all the different ways that you can tackle a race.
I’m like, “There’s no way I want to still be rowing.” If that’s what you set out for, it’s probably an amazing experience. Sunsets, sunrises, moonrises, and all the different things that Mother Nature throws at you are mind-blowing. It’s inspiring. You feel your place in the universe. You feel the sense of time and your space in the universe. It’s a gift I want to say thank you for because, before that, I was racing through life, not aware or paying attention. Now I’m like, “I’m going to be me right now.”
Was the hardest part of the race mental or physical?
The hardest part of the race was mental because the physical became routine. I got a row. With the intensity of rowing, how hard I row or how hard I don’t row is modular. It modulates a little bit, but you’re still just rowing. The mental thing of fourteen-hour nights, “I can’t do it again. I can’t eat this food. I need water. My butt hurts. This hurts.” All the things that get in the way of people accomplishing goals are there and don’t go away. They’re coming back every two hours and slamming you in the face, “My butt hurts. This hurts,” or whatever kind of thing is bothering you. They don’t go away, and they don’t get any better. You got to create a different relationship with them.
Take us to the finish line. You’re half a mile from the finish line. What was it like to see the land and then get to the finish line?
I’ll talk about scale for a second. What was it like to finish and see land? You can see land about a day before you hit land. For this race, what I love about what Atlanta campaign is they celebrate every single finish like it’s an awesome finish. You’re in contact with the race coordinators. You’re like, “I’m eight hours away.” They’re like, “Here’s your last bearing. Take this direction.” You are rowing. When you get close, they send out a jet ski and a video boat. Every finish for this race is live on Facebook.
Your last 20 or 30 minutes of crossing the line are filmed. There are flares and all this chaos. The boat is spinning around. You’re videoing. What you don’t realize is that you’ve been sitting down for 33 days, and you haven’t taken more than five steps. They are like, “Stand up and put your flare up.” You’re like, “I don’t even have any legs.” You finally finished. They get the photos and everything in the video. They’re like, “You got to get to the pier.” It’s another mile away.
You do the mile. They pull you up to the dock. The race coordinators are there, announcing your time, and telling it to everybody. Your family’s there. My wife and my sister were there. Other teammates’ families were there. You haven’t seen people in 30-plus days. You see nothing or talk to anybody for 33 days. It’s overwhelming. You hold the American flag. You’re on the boat still. You’ve got your sea legs and stuff. They’ve given you your plaque, you’ve done all the photos, and ask you questions, and then you take the first step off of the boat that you’ve been on for 33 days.
You haven’t stood up. You got no muscle. I’ve lost 17 pounds, and the world is rocking. You’re talking about sea legs. You can barely even stand up. Everything is wobbling around, and people are trying to give you hugs. It’s a lot. You’re trying your best not to man cry, but you do it anyway. Your wife loves you so much. She gives you a big hug. She’s like, “You stink,” but still gives you a kiss and hug. It’s amazing. Talk about eating real food for weeks. There is food and drinking beer. I don’t have the words to describe how surreal it is. It takes you days to realize that when you wake up, you don’t have to row.
You are rowing in your sleep. You can’t sleep more than fifteen minutes because when you’re on the boat, you’re like, “Is it my turn to roll?” You take 15 to 20-minute naps because you don’t want to make your partner wait for you. That doesn’t go away immediately. I didn’t stand up to take pee or poop for 33 days. I couldn’t even stand up and pee. I get out of bed and wobble, hit the walls, try to get to the bathroom, and sit down.
It’s overwhelming that 3 or 4 hours after you finish and all this stuff starts to settle down. We go back to the hotel. I’m taking my first shower in 33 days. Hot water hits me. I broke down, crying, sobbing, and overwhelmed that part of the journey is complete. I literally sobbed in the shower. I couldn’t even stand up and take a shower bath. I had to lie down in the water because it was overwhelming because your emotions were all over on the boat. You find like, “I’m done.”
Are you happy or sad?
I don’t even know if it was happy or sad. It was such a release of something like everything, “I don’t have to row. Look what we did. Could I have done better? Could I have done worse?” All I ever did was, “Was awesome, lifting, demeaning, or all the things?” It floods out of you. I’m speaking for myself. I don’t know about my other teammates. Tolerance for people is very short. Everything is different. Time is different. Everybody is like, “Let’s do this.” I don’t want to do anything, and I want to do everything. It is exhausting. You have no land muscles, all your land and leg muscles. I didn’t push anything for a month and a half. Everything was wobbly. I’d walk five steps and take a nap.
I was trying to get you on the show even sooner, and you were avoiding me.
I couldn’t process it. I won’t stop wobbling. One of the couples is like, “Let’s get on the podcast.” I’m like, “I don’t even know what I even say to the podcast because I can’t even process enough yet.” It’s like the reintegration into the world about all things. We rowed hard, ate food, and we finished. It hadn’t come. I’m still having trouble articulating. There are so many lessons to learn, “What could you do better? Would you do great?” All the things, “You didn’t hit the podium but still did a fantastic race.” It is taking time to intellectually and emotionally bubble to the surface to share.
What was it like walking into your Trident Athletics for the first time?
I secretly came home for two days and didn’t tell anybody because it was a lot. It was overwhelming support. The gym put up two rowers in the back of the gym where people rowed for the whole month, which is awesome. We raise a lot of money for our cause, Big Fish Foundation. There is a two-part story here. I didn’t share this, but I had a bit of a sweet finish because my dog died six hours after I got off the boat. I don’t think he was diagnosed with DCM. I’ve been gone for two months, rowing. He has been taking care of my wife and doing other things.
I laid down that first night, try to get some sleep, popped up and had a visceral conversation with my dog, wobbled to the bathroom sat down, peed, got up, hug my wife, and the phone rang, “Your dog died.” I got a bittersweet thing. Here’s what’s super crazy. Another teammate’s dog died the day before the race. It’s weird how this was bracketed in with sorrow, emotion, relation, depression, excitement, and all the emotions. You put four Navy SEALs in the boat, and what they can do well was row really hard.
Can you handle other stuff that Mother Nature is going to throw at you? It’s been more than a rowing race for me. Personally, it’s been it’s a journey of all these different emotions. You’re talking about coming back to the gym. There is much support. I’m so excited. It’s awesome. It’s hard to receive everything at one time. It’s someone petering in a little bit because I want to show my appreciation for your support as much as you’re supporting me.
I’m doing a little bit. If 1 or 2 people come up, I’m like, “I want to let you know that I’m gracious and grateful for you. I appreciate all the stuff that you’ve helped with my family and my wife when I was gone. I want to show appreciation for that. I’m still taking it slow.” I can do ten push-ups right now in case you wondered.
You’re used to giving so much. You’re used to being such a giver and encourager, and then it’s probably hard to accept it.
It is. It’s new. Everybody is excited. They see some things that I am learning to see now. What a great adventure and accomplishment. Half of me is still like, “We didn’t make it to the podium,” but they helped me with that, which is good. I’m a blessed man. I’m grateful.
At least for me, I’m thinking not a chance in hell I will ever try something like that. I’m happy to know somebody that did. That is never going to be me.
My wife was doing a little research. She’s like, “There’s data out that says over 25,000 people have summited Mount Everest. Less than 1,200 have done this race.” I was like, “That’s pretty awesome.”
What’s next for you now? Have you ever thought of that?
It’s interesting because, in my whole life, I’ve always had something out that I’m struggling with or working for some kind of goal out there, which is one of the reasons I chose this race because I was missing that for a little bit. On the boat, me and my BFF promised each other that we’re never doing anything harder ever again, “I’m never suffering again.” I’m off the boat. I’m like, “I might have lied to him.” I don’t have a specific event in mind, but I know I want to have fun during that event. I want to do it with people I care about.
Now I’m telling myself, “I don’t care about how I finish or whatever.” That’s the truth. I’ve already signed up for 4 or 5-mile trail hikes in my local area here because I need to do something to get my body strong again. I’m going to walk those. I’m pretty excited about that. I’ve got a little small half marathon scheduled at the end of March 2023. I’m going to walk that. I might run and walk that mostly.
I’ll just do it. It’s hard for me to train with nothing. It’s challenging. I love training. I need something to kind of, “That’s on the books. I’ll go and fiddle through that.” In my dark soul, the angry and the dark Chriss you were talking about quitting earlier, I don’t remember but I didn’t finish arrowhead 135-mile, middle of the winter sled pool. That’s on my mind. I don’t know about that yet, but that’s where I’m at. I’m not in a rush to do anything. I’m in a rush to support my family, be a better human, have relationships with people, share experiences, mean my hugs, and say, “Thank you,” and mean it. I’m in a rush to stay in touch with my emotions.
Here’s the last question. When you’re doing all those that rowing and it’s got to have been monotonous, are you guys talking? Are you quiet? When you’re quiet, what are you thinking about?
I can say that our boat had a lot of challenges. Two and a half to three weeks into the row, the two Bluetooth speakers that we brought were destroyed by saltwater before we listen to music on the boat. For the last three weeks, no music. You guys had ear buds or whatever. You have music or you’re listening to a book, but it’s weird on the boat because it’s not like this interaction or this collaboration anymore. Sometimes we did that. While we had music, it was great. You stay in tune and play.
Once that was gone, it added another complex layer of like, “This challenge is not about rowing a boat. It’s way more than this,” but it also gave you a chance to get in touch with self, be open with your teammates and talk about man crap. It gave you an opportunity to be a good listener, encourage when people are down, express your suffering, and not be judged for it. It gave you all these different opportunities that we don’t normally take in alpha males lives. They gave you plenty of opportunities to express yourself.
What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself during that 33 days?
It’s okay to be quiet.
It is hard for you.
Our team is Shut Up & Row. I’m a better way guy. I like to share my ideas. I stepped on the boat with the intention of doing more listening, contributing, then sharing my better way. We got a team captain. We got four strong alphas on a boat, “You don’t need another chef, but you needed somebody to be the yes man for a while.” I took that role on, which was illuminating for me how much more I heard. It was illuminating for me like, “I have much to say right now, but I’m not.”
It was exciting for me to go like, “I would have done it differently.” This problem happened, “I could have done it faster and better,” but not and be okay with that. That was a big takeaway for me. It is a big learning experience for me. Now in the real world, I’m like, “I don’t have to always share my better way. It’s still better to not get crazy.”
If readers are like, “I would love to have Chriss come and talk at one of our events. I’d love to follow Chriss, learn more about him, and see what he’s doing,” because I know you have a whole program on the mindset. Maybe spend a couple of minutes talking about what you teach in Trident Mindset because you live it on top of just teaching.
Our program is called Trident Mindset. It’s an online education program that helps people develop mental toughness. The rub is this. Most people think that mental toughness is about being physically hard and only doing hard things. It’s not. It’s about being in choice because when you’re in choice, that’s when your happiness starts. Trident Mindset is an app that helps you discover how to be happier, how to remove some anxiety, relieve stress a little bit, and ask for the things that you won’t need so it empowers the mental toughness that gives you an opportunity to be in choice for the things that make you happy. People forget about that.Most people think that mental toughness is just about doing hard things. It's about being in choice. When you're in choice, that's when your happiness starts. Click To Tweet
We have twelve tactics that have a lesson every single day on how to employ some of our tactics in your normal everyday life. It’s not rocket science but some tactics that you may build upon your life to relieve some stress, reduce anxiety, and increase your happiness. That’s what it’s about. You can reach me at CSmith@TridentMindset.com. I’ll answer every single email, not timely, but I’ll answer it.
What’s your website?
I had been looking forward to this. I’m still glad we are talking to catch up. I’m sure we’ll talk more soon. It’s amazing stuff you’re doing. Those are things that the rest of us wouldn’t even consider. Thanks for pushing through, completing those, and making it happen.
It feels good to be home, and thank you.
- Trident Mindset
- Trident Athletics
- Episode Interview – Past Episode
- Big Fish Foundation
- Instagram – Trident Mindset
About Chriss Smith
Navy SEAL, Entrepreneur, Extreme Adventure athlete, Husband, Family Man & Dog Lover. I have the unique ability to relate to people from all walks of life. It’s not just about becoming a SEAL but also about the journey once we leave the SEAL Teams.