11 Time Ironman Champion, Lisa Bentley!
Lisa Bentley is one of the most charismatic and openly accessible pros on the professional triathlon circuit. A former high school cross country runner and a budding triathlon analyst for various networks, Lisa has managed to position herself as one of triathlon’s “cross over” success stories as she has achieved great wins on the course as well as succeeded in giving motivational speeches, brought great awareness to the sport among kids and families while battling cystic fibrosis. We were thrilled to get time with Lisa this month and wanted to share this interview.
The REV3 race is getting more and more packed with the top talent in the world — in fact, after Clearwater and Kona, I don’t think any other race will feature so many Ironman champions and top talent. How does that kind of a lineup motivate you and/or change your preparation?
It is very exciting. I love to race and to race against great competitors and REV3 will provide that. I definitely plan to be in good shape for the event. The organizers have put a big effort into creating a competitive environment and a great professional event with good exposure and prize money and the athletes need to come out and perform at their best.
Unlike so many other triathletes who consume a carbohydrate laden diet (although this is changing everyday), you have been a strong advocate of the 40%/30%/30% carbohydrate, protein and fat regimen of the Zone diet. Tell us about your experience moving to this nutrition pattern and what were the biggest changes you felt.
It happened by accident really. I went to the dentist and had a bunch of cavities and I couldn’t figure out why. I went to my chiropractor/ART specialist, Dr. Mark Scapaticci, and he said that I ate too much sugar since I ate so many carbs. He challenged me that I could not stop eating bread and simple sugars. I took up the challenge! That was in 2003 and I could count the number of times I have had bread or bread products. I started to eat gluten free and organic and I just tried to eat protein and carbohydrates at every meal. I never eat pasta for dinner. I might have some brown rice pasta or Zone pasta as a side, but the majority of my meal is salad, veggies and a protein source of chicken, tuna, wild salmon or cottage cheese. I am still not a big fat eater, but I do not fear eating healthy fat like almonds or adding some organic olive oil to a stir fry. The biggest change was that my health improved – I wasn’t catching as many colds. And I was able to get a bit leaner which ultimately made me faster. I had my best racing seasons after 2003 and I like to think it was new diet.
How has your reliance on the Zone diet changed your “in race” nutrition choices?
I am still a big Power Bar Performance bar and Protein bar eater – that has not changed. I eat Powerbars before and during my workouts – they are fast and easy energy and they are complete nutrition (with protein and fat but lots of carbs to fuel my training which is important). I try to eat whole foods at other times though. I have had so much success with eating PowerBars for racing and training that I will never change this. Racing and training requires carbs and fast energy and that is provided by PowerBar. The difference is that I am a better fat burner now and I don’t require the same number of calories. I still eat my PowerBar on the bike and Power Gels on the run but I don’t fall into the same deficits that are inevitable when training and racing for long hours. And now, I take about 8000 mg of Eico/Pro Zone fish oil every day with a 4 ounces of Sea Health antioxidant drink. That helps reduce the inflammation from my training and helps me recover faster and means that I don’t have to take anti-inflammatories anymore.
You are infamous for your incredibly high run cadence, even in the last few miles of a Ironman–how did you train yourself to run so efficiently and is your styled modeled after the “pose” method?
I don’t even know what the pose method is?? My running has just evolved from running and from trying to run faster. Running hills and running on the Treadmill have helped me with cadence but I never set out to increase my cadence. But I do encourage others to try to run at 90 cadence or over and I try to teach them how to do that. I find that the higher cadence means that my foot is on the ground for less time and that reduces the impact on my muscles. That in turn translates into faster recovery times for me from training and racing Ironman.
When you think back over your years of triathlon, what racing experience has had the single biggest impact in the way you train?
Racing Kona changed the way I trained. I knew that to race well there, I had to go to Hawaii about 4-5 weeks pre race in order to acclimatize and train on the course. I was sweating out way too much salt in that race and I could not take in enough sodium to replace it and it was leading to some major cramping. I knew that if I could really acclimatize then I could train my body to sweat out less salt and be more efficient. I love the heat, so it wasn’t a matter of getting used to the suffering – it was all about helping my body chemistry adjust. Salt loss is one of the side effects of Cystic Fibrosis. Once I started to spend weeks pre race in Kona, my racing really reached a new level.
You have been a great advocate for fitness and the value of a healthy lifestyle–especially with those affected by your disease, Cystic Fibrosis.**How have you had to alter your nutrition and/or training to compete with this condition?**
I have to eat healthy so that I don’t catch a cold because when I catch a cold, it always goes to my lungs and then I get a chest infection. The bacteria that my lungs grow – called pseudomonas – is a very bad bacteria and it requires some very strong antibiotics to fight. So that is the vicious cycle that I get into when I get sick. I train with chest infections – if I didn’t, I would never train or race. That is my reality. The difference is that I back off on the intensity so my body still gets a workout but it won’t be a real high intensity workout. So I suppose my training may suffer during these periods but you just have to do what you can with what you have and I am blessed to be as healthy as I am. It is very important to keep moving when I get sick or when others with CF get sick because the exercise helps to clear the lungs. I do have to take salt pills to deal with the high salt loss that I encounter – that is one of the side effects of CF and it is actually how it is diagnosed.
You’ve been training under the Lifesport banner for some time now. What have been the biggest obstacles in your training that they’ve been able to help you overcome?
I started to work with Lance Watson well before there was Lifesport. Lance helped me with my mental game and taught me how to race at my best every single time whatever my ‘best’ happened to be. He has supported me through so much – training, racing, training and racing disappointments, life’s highs and lows, injuries, appendix rupturing, broken ribs – there is no question that he has been a life coach. And as a good coach, he has taught me to take a bit more ownership over my training so that he doesn’t have to guide me as much anymore – but that said, he guides me when I need it and plays a big role in my career. He is that one person that I can talk to about pretty much anything and he is that impartial person that every athlete needs to bounce things off of. He is a great sounding board and is truly a ‘life coach’.
If there were 3 things you could change about the sport of triathlon, what would they be and why?
- Both drafting and non drafting time trial triathlon events in the Olympics (and Ironman)
- Pros start separately – men and women by 30 minutes – completely separate the races
- Athletes wear a tracking system so that drafting isn’t a judgement call but a factual call – or – that draft marshalls would just pull over the entire pack of athletes who are drafting and start them 30 sec apart one by one
How does the sheer dominance of someone like Chrissie Wellington effect the women’s field? I imagine, at times, you’ve got to feel like a male PGA pro golfer going up against Tiger Woods!
She is amazing and it is fun to watch someone go so fast and so effortlessly. I wish I was in the prime of my career so I could have a go at racing her.
You’ve battled some very tough foot injuries over the past 1-2 years.What did those injuries teach you about your training or how you had to potentially change it?
It is a chronic injury caused from too many miles. But I wouldn’t change anything. Our careers are finite and I have loved every single race. If this injury had happened in my 20’s, i would have had surgery and bounced back and raced hard. But when you suffer a huge injury in your late 30’s, there is no time to take a year off and get healthy. So i have had to be resourceful with my therapies and I have chosen to race in some pain. But I am happy to say that I am running painfree right now (I don’t know for how long though??). I will likely never go back to my big volume running days – I will keep my runs shorter and faster and less frequent. I want to run painfree and fast. When I train for a marathon now, my long run will be no more than 2 hrs whereas many years ago, i would do multiple 3 hr runs and back those up with a second run in the evening. The antibiotics that I have to take for the chest infections I get with CF – it is called Cipro – has been proven to cause Achilles tendon rupture and damage. I have raced while taking cipro several times, so the doctors believe that that has contributed signifigantly to my chronic Achilles tendon issues. Racing a marathon on Cipro can’t be good for your Achilles!! Now, when I go on Cipro (now that I know that), I don’t run hard – just easy. And I try to avoid Cipro at all costs. I have had to take it once this year in February.
Born: November 28, 1968
First Triathlon: Royal LePage King City Triathlon in 1989
Turned Pro: 1992. Resigned from teaching to become a full time professional athlete in 1999.
Lives: Ontario, CA
Career at a glance:
- 5 Time Ironman Australia Champion
- 3 Time Ironman Canada Champion
- 2 Time Ironman New Zealand Champion
- 3rd place, Ironman World Championships, 2006
Lisa, it is an honor to get this opportunity to interview you. You are one of the freshest personalities in the sport and are always there with a great attitude and quick smile. Thanks so much for your time.
Interview by Max Wunderle