Lisa Bentley on Digging Deep When the Going Gets Tough

I have met many blossoming athletes who watch an Ironman and are inspired to tackle that distance. And occasionally, this aspiring Ironman athlete will want to rush the process. “Can I be ready in 3 months?” To which I reply, “yes, you can be ready, but you will miss bits and pieces of the journey and the road to Ironman is often more brilliant than the race day itself.”  We are on a journey right now. It has been a journey rife with curveballs, pivots and re-calibrations. Would we have wished for it? No. But the resiliency, adaptation and problem solving we have exhibited and will continue to exhibit will have a greater effect on your racing then a fast tempo run, bike time trial or swim set. 

You don’t need a race to train for or an Olympic Games or an Ironman or an NBA Championship Game. Do sport for you. Do sport to develop you.  Do sport to better you. Practise discipline and calm your mind. Those skills, practised today and for the upcoming weeks, will make you a champion with or without a finish line. Can you imagine the next time you are in a race and it gets difficult? You will be able to draw on this crisis and how trudging through a 10k run or a 90k ride or the last hour of a marathon is way easier than homeschooling your kids or blowing kisses to your older parents from your car or not being able to sit with an ill family member. You will draw on the strength you are exhibiting now and that will become exponential strength for you on your race day, whenever that is. As Peter Diamondis says, “A problem is a terrible thing to waste.” 

Firstly, focus on what you can do! Just as with an injury, we modify based on pain, with the pandemic, we must modify based on public health. In the early days, many of us were confined to our homes. We saw the rise of indoor triathlons, marathons on a balcony and dryland swim exercises. All of those “new normal” moments were “wins”. They demonstrate finding a way where there is no way. Set tiny achievable goals each day. Maybe your win is being consistent or dedicating time to strength training or riding more often or further or maybe you are now riding or running with your kids. Yes, we wish our “wins” were race finishes, but you DO have the reward of completing the session and the internal satisfaction of knowing you did your best and your skills and fitness are going in the right direction. I often speak about internal goals. These are the goals which are process-based such as I will find the right gear when I ride. I will push up and over the hill. I will find my run rhythm and run over my feet pushing off my big toe. I will swim with strong catch, finish and rotation. External goals are statements such as “I will ride 40 km in less than 60 min. I will break 12 hours in an Ironman. I will qualify for the Boston Marathon. External goals are outcome based and often, those outcomes are beyond our control since we cannot control our competitors or the conditions.  Internal goals focus on process. They focus on the journey. And right now, we are steeped in internal goals. Internal goals will lead to the fulfillment of your external goals when racing resumes. For now, focus on now and being the best we can be with what we have. 


So what can we do?

Be creative with your training. Here are some ideas:

  • Rather than go for a 60 min run, do the following. Combine your aerobic activity with strength training (which most people neglect). By creating this new stimulus, your body will adapt and get fitter and stronger

    • Run 15 min warm up

    • Stop and do the following strength circuit

      • 30 air squats

      • 15 push ups

      • 10 burpees

      • 15 push ups

      • 20 jump squats

      • 15 push ups

      • 10 lunges each leg

    • Run 15 minutes

    • Repeat strength circuit

    • Run 15 minutes;

    • Repeat strength circuit

    • Finish with one more 15 min run

  • You can modify the above to include any aerobic activity. I do it with the rowing machine as follows:

    • Row 2000m

    • Stop rowing and do 40 Kettle Bells swings, 12 dumbbell squats with overhead press, 12 renegade rows;

    • Back to rowing and repeat 4 times

    • By doing this, I have been able to row further and get in some key strength exercises which I was neglecting. And all of this has made me stronger on the bike. 

  • Plan epic training days that combine exercises that you love:

    • The Epic 1-1-1 – swim 1 hr, ride 1 hr, run 1 hr or paddle board 1 hr, ride 1 hr, walk 1 hr

    • “Covid-Man” – write down your "to do" list with easy to accomplish tasks. These are short task that historically are avoided. Then run 1 mile every hour for 6 hours. During the remainder of each hour following your 1-mile run, do your “to do” list. At the end of that hour, run another mile. When done, return to your “to do” list. Repeat for 6 hours. At the end of 6 hours, you will have run 6 miles and you will have accomplished more than you would have had you focused solely on your “to do” list. By combining exercise and life, we find momentum and we reap energy from the exercise which we apply to our chores. 

  • Plan simulation races

    • Practise your race routine including nutrition, pre-race visualization and taper and stage your own event. Ideally, gather up a few friends to join so that you can all celebrate. You will learn pacing and fuelling. This provides internal motivation to return to your training to apply your new knowledge. I have staged several simulation days for my coached athletes. I do not prescribe their actual race distance but rather a shorter duration so that they can put their head down and go hard and work on developing their threshold. My favourite duration for Ironman 70.3 athletes is a 60 km strong ride followed by a 15 km run (versus a 90 km ride and 21 km run). I have had a few athletes do a 10 km run – 60 km bike – 10 km run to develop their run strength and others have focused on speed with a 20 km bike – 5 km run. These are perfect opportunities to dial in effort, wattage, run pace and nutrition. And most importantly, to feel a sense of both accomplishment and fulfillment.

  • Create adventure days 

    • I remember when I was racing, I would see gravel roads and wish I could ride them. Now is the time to explore. I love to head out on my Cervelo C5 and detour on a “road less travelled”. I now find myself riding on the road and then veering off on a dirt road for some exploration. My favourite adventure is to ride with my swimsuit and goggles and make my way via paved and dirt roads up to the quarry in Caledon, hop in for a swim and then ride home again. I feel so accomplished not because of pace or heart rate or wattage but because I efficiently accomplished my two loves – a bike and a swim – without driving a car! That is a win.

  • Get others involved in your sport

    • You are a role model to those around you. Take the time to include others in your training. That might be as a new training partner or as a support person on one of your adventures or race simulations. Get your kids involved. Do your strength circuit with your kids. They can do jumping jacks, skipping etc. Have your kids ride their bikes beside you while you run or act as a cheering squad. Sharing sport is the most fulfilling element of sport.  

  • List your assets

    • Accept that you will struggle as some stage. There will be tough days. And on those days, I suggest taking time to list your assets. List everything you have going for you. For example:

      • I am healthy.

      • My family is healthy. 

      • I am a good listener.

      • I am a good problem solver.

      • I have never quit a workout.

      • I have a great team around me.

      • I have a great coach. 

    • Continue to list every single item. This is your resume for your eyes only. You will see that you are blessed far more than you could have imagined. Then revisit that list as a reminder that you will survive and thrive any curveball.

    • Finish that rough day by listing your “wins” for that day and three things that you are grateful for. And those wins could be as simple as “I cooked a great dinner. I walked the dogs 3 times. I rode my bike for 45 minutes when I didn’t want to ride.” 

    • Here are some of the wins that I have discovered over the past few months:

      • over 50 km of walking/cycling roads have been created in Toronto to help provide physical distancing and to promote exercise. We need this to stay! 

      • less traffic 

      • more people cooking at home = less unhealthy eating = less heart disease

      • re-thinking my professional and personal goals - what really matters to me?

      • being grateful for friend and family connections. 

      • realizing that graduation is a big deal, that teachers work hard, that health care workers deserve every penny they earn, that grocery workers and other “easy to ignore” workers are just as valuable as Harvard grad and that sports bring people together as fans, athletes and countries. 

      • this is an opportunity for self-reflection, learning, growing, new habits and change.

Decide to make the most of this journey. It is a journey without an impending race finish, but it is a journey of resiliency, adaptation and problem solving. That trio will make you your best self when the finish lines return.   

Enjoy this quote from Mickey Mantle, "During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played seven years without hitting the ball.”

We will hit the ball again. Let’s keep practising, improving, learning and going to bat. There is no limit on better!

Lisa Bentley

Cervelo Sponsored Athlete since 1999 

Favourite bike – Cervelo P5 Disc

Coach, Speaker, Author of An Unlikely Champion