Epic En­durance Rac­ing


Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Features - BY KEVIN HEINZ AND HE­LEN POW­ERS

This sum­mer Tara Nor­ton and Chad Bent­ley be­came the first Cana­di­ans to com­plete two of the most chal­leng­ing mul­ti­sport en­durance races. Nor­ton be­came the first woman to com­plete the in­cred­i­ble Doxa Three­lay, while Bent­ley com­pleted the Epic5 in Hawaii.

IF YOU ARE like most triath­letes, you prob­a­bly did a sprint and a standard dis­tance race be­fore do­ing a half-Iron­man, how­ever, North Van­cou­ver’s Chad Bent­ley is not like most triath­letes. At 6'2" and

weigh­ing 215 lbs at race weight, al­most ev­ery­thing about Bent­ley is big, in­clud­ing the Epic5 ul­tra dis­tance triathlon he rep­re­sented Canada at in Au­gust.

Grow­ing up in Ab­bots­ford, B.C., Bent­ley par­tic­i­pated in team sports and ex­celled in rugby, but, when he was 22, he suf­fered a knee injury, forc­ing him out of the sport and off the job. As a young guy with ex­tra time on his hands and his main pas­sion taken from him, he sub­sti­tuted ex­er­cise with al­co­hol, smok­ing and un­healthy foods.

He fol­lowed this in­dul­gent lifestyle for a few years un­til a friend sug­gested he re­turn to his for­mer ath­letic self by do­ing a triathlon. In the sum­mer of 2004, af­ter only six weeks of train­ing, Bent­ley was on the start­ing line of the hot and hilly Desert Half in Osoy­oos. He had an ex­cep­tion­ally fast swim and started the bike along with many of the prov­ince’s top triath­letes. Al­though he faded on the run, his ex­pe­ri­ence

mo­ti­vated him to say good­bye to his cheese­burg­ers and beer lifestyle.

On the night of Sun­day Aug. 27, 2006, Bent­ley was sleep­ing on the side­walk in front of the Lake­side Re­sort in Pen­tic­ton. No, he didn’t re­lapse, and he wasn’t alone. He was along­side hun­dreds of other ath­letes lined up to regis­ter for the fol­low­ing year’s Iron­man Canada. In those days, the pop­u­lar way to en­sure a spot in the al­ways sold-out race was to be at the reg­is­tra­tion site the mo­ment it opened, which was the morn­ing af­ter the pre­vi­ous year’s race. The sleep on the side­walk was a rite of pas­sage, where friend­ships were made and Iron­man dreams were shared. Once Bent­ley was reg­is­tered, he be­gan train­ing more se­ri­ously and joined the Tri-Cities Triathlon Club in Port Moody. The club gave Bent­ley the so­cial sup­port and guid­ance needed to com­plete his first Iron­man in 11:42.

Bent­ley con­tin­ued to do Iron­man races but af­ter three of them was look­ing for even big­ger chal­lenges. Af­ter speak­ing with one of his friends, Lucy Ryan, and read­ing the book, Find­ing Ul­tra by Rich Roll, he was mo­ti­vated to try Ul­tra­man Canada in 2014. Bent­ley says the ul­tra dis­tance ap­pealed to him be­cause the ex­tra­or­di­nary men­tal com­po­nent re­quired to com­plete a three-day event. Hav­ing al­ready done two big days and then wak­ing up on the third day and know­ing you have to run a dou­ble marathon is some­thing an ath­lete doesn’t have to face in an Iron­man. Over­com­ing the many chal­lenges in his first Ul­tra­man gave Bent­ley an even big­ger sense of ac­com­plish­ment.

In ad­di­tion to the longer dis­tances, an­other com­po­nent that dif­fer­en­ti­ates ul­tra-dis­tance triathlons from Iron­man races is the small num­ber of com­peti­tors. For ex­am­ple, the 2017 Ul­tra 520K event held in Pen­tic­ton only had 14 par­tic­i­pants. This dif­fers starkly from the thou­sands in an typ­i­cal Iron­man event.

Bent­ley sus­pects more peo­ple would do ul­tra triathlons, but they worry they would have to do a lot more train­ing. Bent­ley says that this isn’t re­ally the case, adding that since an av­er­age Iron­man ath­lete is al­ready train­ing be­tween 15 and 20 hours a week, there is prob­a­bly no more time to train, and you just have to max­i­mize the time you have. The key is to tar­get your work­out hours ef­fec­tively. To

help him do that, Bent­ley hired a coach, Sean Cal­laghan from En­durance Sports Canada. To­gether, they were able to de­sign a work­out sched­ule that en­abled him hon­our his “real-life” com­mit­ments and com­plete his Ul­tra­man strongly.

An­other thing that makes Bent­ley dif­fer­ent from many of his fel­low triath­letes is that he is a vege­tar­ian. Some peo­ple may think the lack of meat-based pro­teins would re­duce his abil­ity to re­cover from his big work­outs, but he con­tends his pant-based diet meets his nu­tri­tional needs. He can still put in the miles, re­cover well and train to his po­ten­tial the next day.


Over the week­end of Aug. 28 to Sept. 1, Bent­ley be­came the first Cana­dian to com­plete the Epic5 Chal­lenge, com­prised of five con­sec­u­tive Iron­man dis­tance races on five Hawai­ian is­lands. In ad­di­tion to the ath­letic part of the Epic5, he also used the event as an op­por­tu­nity to give back to his com­mu­nity. He chose a dif­fer­ent B.C. chil­drens’ char­ity to raise money for on each of the is­lands he raced on. Bent­ley says the op­por­tu­nity to help out these or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vided him with ad­di­tional mo­ti­va­tion and a “higher pur­pose” for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Epic5.

Hav­ing com­pleted the Epic5, Bent­ley has gone about as far as pos­si­ble in the world of en­durance triathlon, so what’s next? For the 2019 sea­son Bent­ley plans to fo­cus on shorter events and to spend more time with his fam­ily.

guide. They planned ev­ery leg of the race with the de­tails of ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing Nor­ton would need from changes in gear for warm ver­sus cold ar­eas, when her two bikes would be swapped out and when and what she would be eat­ing.

“I knew it was go­ing to come down to mostly nu­tri­tion for the race,” says Nor­ton. Things went pretty well un­til the se­cond af­ter­noon. With sev­eral legs left to go, she tried to eat a chewy food sup­ple­ment and be­came vi­o­lently ill. She sol­diered on and, later, her stom­ach re­cov­ered well enough for a full meal plus a cel­e­bra­tory beer.

Men­tal strength was the other huge fac­tor in her suc­cess. “It is your men­tal strength that keeps you go­ing when all you want to do is lie down and quit,” she says. The first of two dark mo­ments came dur­ing the night when Nor­ton didn’t want to talk much and she was slur­ring her words a bit. She had been up at 5 a.m., started the race at 7 a.m. and had been go­ing for 20 hours. So, she lay down for half an hour and got about 20 min­utes of much-needed sleep. She would have only one other half-hour rest dur­ing the 35-hour race.

Her se­cond dark mo­ment was around 9:30 a.m. on day two when she sat in a tran­si­tion zone for a long time, won­der­ing about con­tin­u­ing on. Nor­ton still had al­most the length of a marathon ahead and, al­though it was split up into sev­eral legs, it was still a daunt­ing prospect at this stage. “My shins and quads were killing me. I had con­stant mus­cu­lar pain,” she re­calls.

She sat there think­ing of Maya, her six-yearold daugh­ter, who was so ex­cited about the first solo Dóxa woman be­ing her Mom. Nor­ton also talked with her sister-in-law, a crew mem­ber and a very ex­pe­ri­enced triath­lete.

“I knew I had to start and just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” says Nor­ton. “I re­ally wanted to call it a day but, once that notso-pos­i­tive mo­ment passed, I put it be­hind me and didn’t won­der any­more.”

Nor­ton did not prepare for sleep de­pri­va­tion be­fore the race, but she did fo­cus on putting good miles in her legs.

“I had three weeks of run­ning 100 km a week, split into smaller seg­ments,” she ex­plains. “I got used to do­ing mul­ti­ple runs in a day and also hav­ing three or four in­di­vid­ual ses­sions of swim­ming, bik­ing and run­ning a day, mix­ing up the usual or­der.”

On­tario’s hu­mid sum­mer days were great prepa­ra­tion for Utah’s high tem­per­a­tures, but there wasn’t enough time spent on hill train­ing. Re­mem­ber­ing how much her legs hurt, she says, “I would es­pe­cially rec­om­mend down­hill run­ning prac­tise for any­one tak­ing on the race be­cause that can be re­ally tough on your legs.”

What she didn’t re­al­ize at the time was that a stone was imbed­ded in her foot for the en­tire race. It was dis­cov­ered later by her doc­tor while look­ing for a source of lin­ger­ing pain.

The high­light of the race was cross­ing the fin­ish line with her whole team, in­clud­ing hus­band, Bruce, Maya and all the crew.

“We all did a lap to­gether, hold­ing hands,” she says. “We were all so happy. The race ex­pe­ri­ence was pretty fab­u­lous and pretty emo­tional for ev­ery­one as we bonded un­der the stress­ful mo­ments.”

As a cer­ti­fied coach, Nor­ton sup­ports oth­ers’ triathlon goals, in­clud­ing Chan­tal Thibault.

“Tara was thrilled to see my progress and is ex­cited about help­ing oth­ers,” says Thibault, “She is a great role model for so many and makes you feel good about your ac­com­plish­ments even though she’s 100 times bet­ter than you.” Thibault was one of many fans who re­ceived on­go­ing up­dates from Bruce that de­scribed Nor­ton’s Dóxa mile­stones.

Nor­ton re­ally en­joys em­pow­er­ing women and the race was a mis­sion for her and Maya.

“A bonus has been the in­spi­ra­tion it pro­vided to oth­ers both dur­ing the race and af­ter­ward,” she says. “I love push­ing my lim­its and al­though my time was slower than I would have liked, this was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” de­clares Nor­ton.

Kevin Heinz is a free­lance jour­nal­ist from Mis­sion, B.C.

He­len Pow­ers is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Triathlon Magazine Canada. She lives in Dun­das, Ont.

Colin Cross

BE­LOW Chad Bent­ley raced through all con­di­tions dur­ing the Epic5

RIGHT Tara Nor­ton

LEFT Chad Bently fin­ish­esa the Epic 5

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