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Learning from the Best: Lisa Bentley’s Kona Connection

Brent McMahon couldn’t have found a better advisor to help him through his debut race at the Ironman World Championship – providing mentorship support for the Canadian Olympian this year was former third -lace Kona finisher (and 11-time Ironman champ) Lisa Bentley.

This was Bentley’s 15th year on the Big Island. She wasn’t in Hawaii last year, and was happy to be back for this year’s world championship.

“The truth about our sport, it’s not just your career at one time, it’s your family and friends,” the ever-positive Bentley said. “And when you want to see them all at one time and have a Thanksgiving dinner all together, you come to Hawaii.”

Bentley wasn’t just catching up with old acquaintances this trip, though. She was providing some helpful mentorship for McMahon, who, along with Lionel Sanders and Jeff Symonds, arrived in Kona with a legitimate shot at a top-10 (or even higher) finish this year. McMahon is coached by the same man who helped her claim all of her Ironman and Ironman 70.3 titles (she won 11 of those, too), Lance Watson.

“My whole career I did my own management and sponsorship myself, so I know the comings and goings of sponsor relationships,” Bentley said in an interview during one of McMahon’s sponsorship appearances. “I feel like I had good relationships and still have great relationships, so it’s been kind of fun to share that with Brent and be part of his career. He’s a good person – if I can be even a tiny part of helping him, even if it’s a smile in the morning and calming him down, then I am happy to take that job.”

One of the biggest challenges for the top pros during race week before the Ironman World Championship is keeping up with all the sponsor commitments and other appearances required. Bentley is all too aware of those demands.

“It’s really important for the guys to decompartmentalize different things,” she said. They have to take care of their workouts – being the athlete. Then you have to do the job part, which is the business end of things – seeing your sponsors, shaking hands, signing autographs. All that can be a lot of fun, but it can be tiring. You have to remind yourself that this won’t last forever and there will be a time when people won’t want to see you and don’t want your autograph, so you need to enjoy it while it’s happening. Then there’s the down time, where you’re just sitting and resting.

Having competed in Kona as many times as she did, Bentley had some great advice for McMahon and any athlete taking on the challenge of the world’s toughest one-day endurance race:

“You have to embrace the conditions,” she said. “At the end of the day it’s Mother Nature’s course. Conditions don’t just change day to day, they change hour to hour. What you wake up to might not be what you ride into Hawi, and certainly won’t be what you ride back to in Kona. It’s really a matter of living in the moment. We hear that cliché all the time, but you have to ride the road your on and deal with this moment. Then there is nutrition. Nutrition is completely different here. What worked at Ironman Arizona or Ironman Brazil (McMahon’s first two Ironman races) will not work here. Have a back-up plan – an A, B, C plan. Mental preparation is also huge. You can be the fittest person on that start line and you’re not going to win this race unless you are a great problem solver and you have that mental backing that’s not going to quit. You’re going to have ups and downs. That’s the thing, to have more ups than downs, be positive and get to the finish line as best you can.”

McMahon must have heeded his mentor’s words on race day – after a perfect swim and bike he was in a perfect position to go after a podium finish. He struggled during the run, though, but hung tough for an impressive ninth-place finish