XTERRA Pro Chris Ganter wasn’t even mentioned in the pre-race hype leading up to the XTERRA West Championship at Lake Las Vegas last month.
Interestingly enough, that may have been a blessing in disguise.
Josiah Middaugh wasn’t listed among the favorites in Richmond the year he won the East Championship in 2008 and he's been one of the world's best ever since. Ruben Ruzafa wasn’t in the media guide the year he won his first XTERRA World Title, and he won two more after that. Emma Garrard was notably left out of the prognostication for the women’s elite race at the USA Championship two years ago, and she’s been the top American in the sport at every race thereafter.
“It’s good to fly under the radar like that,” explained Middaugh. “No pressure, no expectations, you can just go out there and perform.”
And that is exactly what Ganter did in Vegas, posting a career-best third-place finish behind only Olympian Francisco Serrano from Mexico and Middaugh, the 10x U.S. National Champ.
While he had a solid season racing in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series in 2014, finishing in the top 10 at all five majors with a season-best 7th place finish at the Mountain Championship, he’d never been at the front and in the mix like he was in the desert last month.
Perhaps the oversight was all he needed to finally breakthrough ... or maybe, just maybe, it was the result of a lot of hard work.
We caught up with the 36-year-old from Boise to find out…
XTERRA: Where did you make the biggest improvement in the off-season?
Chris Ganter: I’ve put in some good work across the board. But the primary focus this “off-season” has been on improving my fitness on the mountain bike. I was into recreational BMX and mountain biking growing up, so it’s like I’m kind of going back to my roots. I love it.
XT: Can you tell us about your coach and maybe what you’ve been doing differently?
CG: I’m coached by Paulo Sousa of The Triathlon Squad fame. I’ve been with him for 18 months (not that I’ve been counting). You don’t necessarily have to be doing anything vastly different to make improvements. If you look at my results last season, I was steadily improving. And we’ve continued that trend during the off season. But without triathlon results, it looks like a big “jump” when you come back to racing. The most important thing I’m doing is training consistently. I saw how consistent the performances were in the ITU and I wanted a coach that knew how that’s done. Luckily, I found a great one and he shares my style work ethic.
XT: Where do you train?
CG: I live and train in Boise, Idaho. I have hundreds of miles of trails only blocks from our home in the North End. I’m a little isolated here, so periodically I head down to train with the rest of the squad in Poway, CA. I find that I get a good boost from training with a strong squad, but being a full-time XTERRA athlete I have to put in a lot of solo time on the dirt.
XT: What brought you to Boise?
CG: Everything about it! My wife Allis and I agreed that we’d spend a few years in Philly together and then move somewhere West. It came down to Flagstaff, Bend, and Boise. When we visited Boise, it was like we already lived here. And it has just become more and more appealing to us the longer we’ve been here. Boise’s not for everyone, but it’s for me and I could go on and on about it.
XT: I know you’ve won some of the XTERRA Points Series races in Idaho, you guys have a pretty good XTERRA culture there, huh?
CG: Yes, I’ve pulled off some hard-fought results here locally. I absolutely love our local XTERRA scene. Great venues with high-quality professional racing. We have two notable races close to Boise that each attract solid talent: XTERRA Les Bois, here in Boise, and XTERRA Wild Ride in McCall, ID. They couldn’t be more different, with Les Bois down here in the desert and McCall held in beautiful mile-high ponderosa forests.
XT: Ever see XTERRA ambassador Allison Moore out on the trails, or our course guy Chris Appleton?
CG: Absolutely! One of my favorite parts of XTERRA is our ohana. Allison is a good friend and my wife’s mountain bike teammate. So we hang out pretty regularly. I don’t run into Chris all that often, but Boise is a huge small town, so I’m sure I’ve passed him in the supermarket and didn’t even know it.
XT: I know you had a "real" job before going all-in, how long have you been racing full time now?
CG: First off, I love that you put “real” in quotations! One of the issues I see with endurance sports in America is the concept of a “real job”. Professional triathlon is a "real job" if you choose to make it so. Just like being a musician, or an artist, or professional ANYTHING. You have to work very hard to make it work for you. This is one of the biggest things Paulo and my squad mates have taught me. But yes, to answer your question: I worked for Johnson & Johnson in Global R&D Quality Assurance and loved it! It was tough juggling a demanding job, some graduate school, and amateur racing. But I got some solid results along the way. I was there for 10 years, so I sort-of technically “retired”. I still consider myself a “J&J’er”!
XT: You grew up on the East Coast, can you tell us about your high school days, what it was like?
CG: I graduated back in 1996 from Upper Perkiomen High, or “Upper Perk”. It’s an agricultural rural area outside of Philly, and I think we had every character from “Dazed and Confused” at my school. I played basketball and ran cross-country. I participated in track, but I didn’t like running around in circles. It didn’t help that my coach entered me in 4 distance events in every meet. I was a work horse for the team twice a week. I felt punished in every meet, lost passion to train hard, and consequently never really excelled in track. Out of desperation, I showed that I could win the high jump and pole vault in dual meets so I could get out of running four distance events!
XT: You ran cross country at Chaminade University here in our hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii. How did that happen and what was the experience like?
CG: A big influence on my life has been my childhood best friend’s family. Her father is a proud Chaminade Alum (pretty random for rural PA, I know) and he suggested out of the blue that I send in an application to this "Chaminade University of Honolulu". A typical rural teen, I wanted to transcend my rather humble roots. So when I got a running scholarship offer, I was gone! My time in Hawai’i was formative. I have an affinity for the islands and the culture that will never go away. It’s hard to describe, but when I’m there I feel like I’m at home… I believe in “mana” for sure. I left Chaminade for the promise of a Division I running scholarship at Drexel University. However, in the summer the coach called me and informed me that our team was terminated. I considered going back to Chaminade, but I decided to keep my education moving forward at Drexel. It was a painful, but smart decision in the end.
XT: What other races are you doing right now, or near future?
CG: I did a few mountain bike races in the early season. But I’m focused on the XTERRA US Pro Tour, so I’ll be lining up in Alabama and Virginia these next two months. I really want to put my efforts into getting better here domestically. For me, part of being a professional is to commit to "Plan A" without fear of failure. And if I chase other goals and races, I’m afraid it will detract from the investments I have to put in to just get faster.
XT: When was your very first XTERRA and how did you first hear about it?
CG: Believe it or not, the 2010 XTERRA US Pro Championships in Ogden Utah was my first XTERRA race! Looking back, it was comical. I was 19th Pro, 34th Overall. I came straight from Philadelphia, (altitude 15 feet) to a race in the mountains of Utah (over 4,000’). The experience was “breathtaking”. But I performed the way you would expect for a flat-lander at altitude. And I still do, albeit to a lesser extent now that I live at 3,000’ and spend some time much higher.
XT: Most ridiculous thing that's happened to you during an XTERRA?
CG: Oh that’s easy! 2013 XTERRA Southeast Championships. Coming off a double mechanical in Vegas, I promptly broke my right hand early on the bike in Alabama. I finished with an all-out sprint for… wait for it…. 9th! How’s that for “ridiculous"?!
XT: You've set a pretty high standard for yourself with that 3rd, did you have to re-adjust your season goals afterwards? What are your goals?
CG: I’m pretty stoked on that result for sure! But honestly, the folks who win the race set the standard. It’s hiding in plain sight. So I’m focused on the process of getting better every day, and consistently putting together good performances. I just want to continue to steadily improve through this season. So I don’t really have to adjust my goals too much. If anything, I think that getting 3rd in the opener allows me to defend a higher position in the overall points series. It may figure into my risk/reward calculations, but I’ll most likely keep a “push hard, take risks” attitude.
XT: When did you shave the mustache, and wasn't that kind of your thing? Was it an aerodynamic decision?
CG: Ha! I think budgy-smugglers are my thing. Like I said, I’m old school. … and they’re also aero. Very, very aero.
XT: You wrote on your profile form last year that after 10 years you "found where I belong in triathlon" about XTERRA? Can you explain…
CG: XTERRA is just kind-of me. I grew up riding my mountain bike. Whether in the forests of Pennsylvania or later on Wa’ahila Ridge by University of Hawai’i (UH). My friends were nuts, so we’d ride hard twice or sometimes three times a day in the summer. I ran cross country in Pennsylvania and in Hawai'i, but did not like running on the smooth surfaces. I surfed (a lot) so I love the ocean and open water. I naturally became a triathlete. So with XTERRA, being triathlon, in the ocean, in the woods, and based in Hawai’i, it’s a perfect fit for me. I’ve definitely found where I belong in triathlon!
XT: What should people know?
CG: I’m passionate about bringing XTERRA to new people and showing them that XTERRA is more than just triathlon. There’s a freedom and connection with nature that go with it. There’s also serious suffering that gets you more in touch with yourself as an athlete and a person. So, for me, the XTERRA training and racing experiences make me feel more “alive”. I’m extremely proud to have amazing sponsors including my title sponsor Equal Earth who allow me to share these experience with as many people as possible.