— by Kevin Heinz
At 6’2″ and weighing 215 lbs at race weight, almost everything about Chad 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 big- ger 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 of 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 a 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 to 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 plant-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.
Kevin Heinz is a freelance journalist from Mission, B.C.