Epic Endurance Racing
NORTH VANCOUVER’S “RAD-CHAD” BENTLEY COMES FULL-CIRCLE
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.
BELOW Chad Bentley raced through all conditions during the Epic5
RIGHT Tara Norton
LEFT Chad Bently finishesa the Epic 5