Jan 30, 2007 04:30 AM
“I was gutted,” says Lisa Bentley of her second-place finish in Ironman Canada 2006.
“I wanted to win. Everyone wanted me to win that race and that is the blessing. I learned what I needed to learn and it’s okay that I didn’t win. But I had to convince people of that.
“There is always something greater than the race itself.”
It’s that positive outlook, mixed with her infectious personality that attracts supporters and has helped propel the 38-year-old Caledon resident to 10 Ironman victories in races around the world.
At 5-foot-4 and 115 pounds, Bentley’s lean frame is designed for distance. It allows her to excel at all three disiplines and explode on the run, which helped her win her first race of the year and sixth-straight Pucon Half Ironman title in Chile last week.
And she’s able to push herself this far despite having cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems that can leave her susceptible to chest infections.
After 18 years of “swim, bike, run!” the former math teacher is still reaching down deep and pulling out what’s needed to complete and win in a punishing sport – which starts with a 3.8 km open water swim, is followed by a 180 km bike race and ends with a 42.2 km run.
Running a marathon takes endurance. Combining that with a competitive swim and a rigorous bike ride, requires additional tactics besides time in the pool and on the bike.
Muscles must be conditioned to make the transition without cramping up. And the body has to be fueled with the right amount of water, salt and nutritients to make the journey a success. But when it comes to racing to win, it’s all about timing, positive thinking and a little luck, says Bentley. To overtake the leader and win in Pucon, Bentley wrote on her website that she “fed myself every possible positive one-liner that I could.”
Despite the competitive nature of the sport and its athletes, it was the community spirit that attracted Bentley in the first place. Originally from Etobicoke, she was a cross-country runner on her university team when she got injured and took up biking. That led to her first triathlon experience. She rode the bike portion of a relay.
“Not my strength, but there was such great atmosphere at the race – that’s the key part of the appeal,”” she says. “It was pretty infectious.”
Bentley returned the next year to complete her first full triathlon. By 1995, she qualified for the Pan American Games. She dreamed of the Olympics, but her strength was distance – Ironman distance. “I loved the idea of training all day,” she said. “I love pushing my body to the limit and doing something I haven’t done before.”
Her breakthrough year came in 2000 with Ironman New Zealand, setting her on a path of Ironman titles that reached 10 last year with her fifth consecutive Ironman Australia win.
“As I’ve gotten older, I almost love it more and more,” she says. “I have the maturity to enjoy what I’m doing.”
Nonetheless, Bentley is still racing at a level that requires 100 per cent effort. And she’s not ready to put any limits on herself. “Every year I think, this could be my last year.”
She will take what she’s learned, add it to what she knows and will see what results that brings this season.