Interviewing Chris Lieto: America's Top Ironman and Founder of "More Than Sport"
With so many superstar athletes today whining about things like not getting enough playing time, appreciation, or money, it's refreshing to see an athlete like Chris Lieto giving back.
Lieto is America’s premier Ironman triathlete and is one of the favorites to win the 2010 Ford Ironman Championship on Oct. 9 in Kona, Hawaii, after placing a close second last year.
Lieto hasn't let his celebrity status within the triathlon community go to his head; he knows he has been blessed with amazing athletic talents, and his way of showing appreciation for that is to give back to the communities around the world where competitions take place.
After five weeks of training in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., in preparation for the Kona Ironman, Lieto finished first in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon Classic Pro/Elite Sprint race. The event was attended by many celebrities who helped raise over a million dollars for Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Racing internationally, Lieto has competed in some of the most beautiful countries in the world. However, he said he also realizes that often hidden behind that beauty are children living in squalor and abject poverty. With that in mind, the Bay Area native decided to partner with World Vision and formed his own charity, More Than Sport, to help make a difference in those kids’ lives.
In June, Lieto won the Buffalo Springs 70.3 Triathlon in Texas and donated much of his winnings to More Than Sport as he often does.
On Sunday, Oct. 10, the day after the 2010 Ford Ironman Championship, Lieto and More Than Sport will be sponsoring a brunch for other athletes and fans to help raise money for the children of Kona in order for them to be able to afford school supplies, food, and a community center.
“We’ve always gone to Kona…we enjoy it, and then we leave," Lieto said on The Competitors radio show shortly before his interview with B/R. "I want to leave this year by leaving something behind and really give back to the community for allowing us to wreak havoc on the island for a week.”
In addition to helping the community of Kona, Lieto's efforts this year will also be benefiting the children of Kenya.
“The challenge was to get the message out there that our racing should be more then what were doing and make a difference around us,” Lieto said.
Lieto chose Hawaii to kick off his campaign by establishing a goal of sponsoring 141 Kenyan children. Each mile he races will represent one of those kids.
“While I am out there racing, I am not just doing it for my own glory, and my own race," Lieto said. "I’m doing each mile for each of those kids out there.”
Lieto recently took time to do an in-depth interview with Bleacher Report to talk more about the upcoming race and his charity efforts. Click over to the next slide for the full Q&A.
The Ironman Journey
Blaine Spence: Hi, Chris. Thanks for taking some time out of what has to be a grueling schedule to talk with me today.
Chris Lieto: Sure, no problem.
BS: Chris, a marathon is a little more than 26 miles, but you guys swim about 2.5 miles and then ride a bike 112 miles before you even start running…what motivates someone to get involved in doing triathlons and then make them want to turn pro?
C.L: (chuckles) That’s a good question…I don’t know (chuckles). It’s funny because I would never want to go out and do, or I never thought I would ever want to go out and do just a straight marathon.
I’ve never done a straight marathon race before. I have friends that do it. I’m friends with Ryan Hall, and Meb (Keflezighi), and those guys, and they run marathons, the pace you have to run a marathon is…the effort you have to give in a race is very difficult.
So for me…the Iron Man, I saw it on TV one year, the Hawaii Ironman, the passion that was behind it, the challenge of the whole event, pushing yourself to the limit—and seeing what your made of. I think that’s a big piece of it. Going through and Ironman event is really not just how fast you can run, or if you can break your time; it’s about a journey, a journey of training, and a journey of going through the whole race, and setting those goals, and seeing the completion.
You're out there, you know the winners are out there for eight hours, and there are competitors that are out there for seventeen hours. To witness that, and see the diversity of that, of someone that’s racing it to win, and someone who just wants to complete it before the cutoff, and the passion is both equal, but the journey is little bit different, and when your out there all day, eight hours or seventeen hours, there’s a lot that goes through your mind, it’s almost like a life long journey for the day, you know.
The Ironman represents so many things to so many different people, considering what their challenges are in their life at the time, or what goals they have, or passions they have, or anything like that. I think its kind of an outlet to see what you’re made of and to see what you can accomplish.
Training for the 2010 Ford Ironman Championship
BS: Right now you're in Hawaii training for the 2010 Ford Ironman Championship in Kona that’s coming up Oct. 9—which is really the Super Bowl of events for you guys. How does your training regimen differ leading up to this event?
CL: It’s the same as you go into any Ironman event. This for me is the big focus. My whole year revolves around this, so the training that I do in the races prior to this time is always looking to try and win events and do the best I can, but always the goal is looking at winning this event in a week.
The last few weeks going into the event, there’s a lot more rest, your still focusing on some intense speed and race day effort, but you really want to balance it and give your body rest. It’s a little of taper, but its also, I think, a body taper.
You have to put the training in, eight to four weeks out, where the volume gets really heavy, the capacity and the amount of effort that you put in, and the hours you put each day are great, so the last few weeks it’s important to let your body rest and recover so you have the energy and stamina to exert through an event on one day. It's less volume, but keeping up the intensity, or even improving the intensity, or increasing the intensity on the latter days.
World Class Conditioning
BS: You’re having great year so far. Your win in Malibu was your fourth win so far…
CL: Yeah, I think it was, my fourth or fifth win this year, yeah.
BS: Would you say this is the best shape you’ve been in going into the Ironman in Kona?
CL: I think so, yeah. I think this year we’ve worked on a lot of things. We’ve focused a lot on my running. We’ve also focused on my bike as well to increase that, always, as well as the swimming. We’ve put a lot of time and focus on my core strength, and my nutrition, and just having a good healthy balance of what I put my body through. So I think this year, the way I feel know is above where I was last year.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that I am going to go out and win this year, but given the same circumstances and situations that I had last year, I think can take the win. I’m excited about this year, excited to see what unfolds, and excited about the fitness level increase that I have this year from last year.
Shooting for the Championship
BS: Last year you finished second, after being first off the bike with about a 12-minute lead over the eventual race winner, Crag Alexander. Conventional wisdom might say that you would want to have a bigger lead off of the bike this year, but is that necessarily true?
CL: No. It’s not really the case. You know each person is a little bit different. Craig is a two-time champion, so the lead I will need on him, I believe, is not 12 minutes.
There are other guys out there that can win this event as well, so I have to keep my eye on them as well, and I don’t feel that my time on them either is 12 minutes. I think I’ve improved my run, and it’s all about how you approach the event, and approach the race.
I didn’t plan on getting 12 minutes last year; I was kind of surprised that I had 12 minutes. I didn’t think I needed it, but I did last year...I guess I needed a couple more. It’s that balance, you know? Maybe if I had eight minutes last year, would I have run eight minutes faster? I don’t know. Each year the conditions are different and you have to approach those as the case comes by, and kind of see what unfolds.
Training and Strategy
BS: Having done everything right last year, and in your words, giving it everything you had, would you say this year you’re more focused on training or strategy?
CL: Yeah, the Ironman is becoming more of a strategy game, but there are so many variations of what can unfold.
You can set something up and you can plan for something, but depending on the conditions, and what else other athletes are doing, it can really mess up your plan, so you pretty much just have to focus on your training, and focus on improving your fitness and racing the best race that you possibly can.
My goal is to just go out and perform the fastest I know how—to finish the day, and hopefully that challenges those that are behind me to falter, or to try to get the fastest day they can and mess up their plan.
Giving Back with "More Than Sport"
BS: How much would a win this year at Kona mean for you?
CL: (chuckles) Yeah, it would be huge for me. I’ve dreamt of the day for about the last 11 years.
I really feel that it’s possible this year—that it’s something I can achieve. It would be huge for me and my career, but also for my family and just for my fans.
For me, I strongly believe that you can achieve what you put your mind to, and you don’t want to give up on that. For me, winning would be the achievement that I could then go out and share that feeling…you know what I mean? You want to follow through with the words I have been saying in that you can believe in what you want to accomplish, in that you can see that through.
And this year also will be extra special in the charity work that I am doing, as far as conjunction with my race. I’m partnered with World Vision to get 141 kids sponsored, and each kid is going to represent a mile of the course, so it will be 141 kids overall as far as distance.
Also, we're raising money, doing an auction, and having a breakfast after the event to raise money for the kids here in Kona and give back to those in need in this community, as well as the kids in Africa and around the world. We created that with morethansport.org.
A Strong Faith
BS: It is so refreshing to see athletes like yourself giving back, raising awareness, and raising money for such noble causes. How important is your faith in driving you competitively, and in your desire to give back with your charity More than Sport?
CL: That’s the whole reason why I came up with More Than Sport—was just that.
As athletes, amateur, or as far as professional, the majority of the time we go out there, we try to compete, we want to compete and see what we can get out of ourselves—see what we can accomplish.
That’s all great, but a lot of times, you’ve finished and you’ve achieved that goal, you look back and hour later, or a day later, and really wonder what that was worth, you know?
A win this year would be great, but it’s going to be that much more satisfying if I do something more with it. So by winning an event, or competing in an event, I want to make it more than about just the event and also about giving back.
A big part of that is to share my faith, and what I believe, and my relationship with God and wanting to do more, and I guess to have more of a purpose in my life. If that is what I am doing right now with the gifts God has given me to compete, and to race well and win races, then I want to honor that and do more than just pat myself on the back when I cross that finish line.
Live Coverage on Ironman.com and Twitter
BS: The event airs on NBC, December 18, 4 PM EDT, but is there a way fans can track your progress live?
CL: Yep, you can go to Ironman.com and I believe it’s though Universal Sports as well. Ironman.com will have live updates.
You can also go to my Twitter account, @ChrisLieto, and follow updates leading up to the event, as well as during the event as far as updates and stuff.
The Ironman Live Show is a great show—it’s like watching TV, and you can hook it up to your flat screen, or watch it on your computer, as far as the computer. It is full video and it is updating the whole time, and it is a great broadcast.
BS: Chris, do you have any tips for the amateur that might want to get involved in the sport?
CL: The biggest tip that I like to share is go out and do it. You don’t have to feel like you have to be in super shape to go out in compete in a triathlon. It is more about being healthy, and being active.
Whatever distance you choose to do as your first event—if it’s a sprint distance, or a really short race; if it’s a half Ironman 70.3, or if it’s an Ironman event—just getting out and doing it and seeing it through. You don’t have to worry about getting your fastest time or anything like that, but just go get your first time and go through the journey.
A short-distance triathlon you can literally do with no training. The event may take you and hour, or two hours, as far as getting through, but anyone can complete it, and I think just the process of going through from start to finish, and experiencing what a joy it is, how well it’s put on, and when you finish—that’s usually when you get hooked, and that’s when you start putting more time in to it and really trying to get fit and get healthier.
Time for Family
BS: Chris, just have one final question. You being from the Bay Area, I have to ask—who are your favorite pro sports teams?
CL: (laughs) Gosh, that’s a good question. It’s interesting, because since I’ve been in endurance sports, I haven’t been watching typical sports as often, but the 'Niners have always been a team I’ve watched since I was a little kid. I really enjoy college ball too.
As far as basketball, the Warriors have always been fun. Basketball is more my sport, I think. My son is really involved in basketball—he’s seven, and he loves it. We hit up Warrior games as often as we possibly can. For me it’s more about spending time with my son, and seeing his excitement in sports and just being active.
BS. I want to thank you so much and wish you all the best in bringing home the Ironman Championship this year and of course achieving your goal of sponsoring 141 children.
CL: Thank you, very much.
Times are tough economically for a lot of folks, but if you are reading this, then I am willing to bet you have a roof over your head, food to eat, clean water to drink and bathe in, and an opportunity for yourself and your children to get an education.
You can help Chris and the underprivileged children of the world by going to morethansport.org and sponsoring a child for less than the price of a few lattes every month. You can even select a specific mile you want to sponsor.
You can also participate in your own event and set your own goals for sponsorship.
Please to go to morethansport.org to learn more.