Chris Lieto: Catching Up with America's Premier Triathlete After the Ironman

Blaine SpenceSenior Writer IDecember 17, 2010

Chris on the bike
Chris on the bike

Writer's Note: The 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship can be viewed this Saturday, December 18th at 4:00 EST on NBC.

This past October, I received the pleasure of interviewing America's premier triathlete and Ironman, Chris Lieto, just prior to the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, the granddaddy of them all if you will. (That interview can be viewed here.)

The event has come and gone, and after some time for reflection on the race, Chris has agreed to share with me his thoughts on the race as well as his future plans, and of course two things that are really close to his heart, his family and charity work.


BS: Hi Chris, how are you doing?

CL: I'm doing great, how are you?

BS: Good, I'm doing well. Now it’s been a few weeks since the Ironman, and I know that you have had some time to think and reflect on the race. Can you tell us what went right and what went wrong?

CL: Yeah, last year I finished second and this year I was trying to go for the win. If you want to win you have to put it all out there, you have to challenge yourself, take risks, and I put it all out there. I had a game plan of what I thought it would take to win, but the day didn't unfold exactly how I had planned.

The first part of the day went well, I was feeling good on the bike, didn't feel like I pushed myself too far, I was riding well and I was in my element. Part of the day is also affected by the conditions. Last year it was windy and this year it was hardly windy at all; that made it harder to separate myself from the other riders. There is no drafting in the race but there are groups that took advantage of the conditions.

Just the way it unfolded, I didn't get to start the run the where I would have liked, but I was confident in where I did start.

The littlest things over the course of an eight-hour day can really affect you; they really start to add up. I was leading the race and finished 11th because of those small issues. On a normal day they may not affect you, but in a race like this they can take you out of winning the event. I had some GI stuff going on and some hamstring stuff going on, I finished 11th and I am proud of that, first American to finish, but it was not what I wanted.

Every year I’ve learned lessons and every year I have improved. It was difficult, not getting the result I wanted, but after some reflection I am happy with the effort I gave.

BS: Some of those guys like [Chris] McCormack, [Andreas] Raelert and [Craig] Alexander were absolutely flying off the bike. If your body had held up, do you think you would have been able to hold them off?

CL: You know, that’s a tough question. My style of racing is to put it out there. Because of the conditions, they didn't have to ride as hard. They had more in them to run the 2:41’s, the 2:42’s, whereas last year the fastest time was a 2:48. I think I was equipped to run a 2:52 or a 2:48, that would have been a really good day for me, but if you look at the time gap, I probably wouldn't have won anyhow. I probably would have gotten third or fourth or something like that.

You know, it wasn't my day...the biggest disappointment I think I had was not by my finish. It was the difficulties I had that didn't allow me to run the way I wanted to run and have a solid run. I would sacrifice my bike in order to have a solid run. It was more of a personal thing....

If I had a good run and finished 20th I would have been ecstatic; if I had a good run and finished fifth I would have been ecstatic. But to not be able to run the way I had prepared and what I was ready to do left me unsatisfied to a certain extent to where I am excited about the next one because I know I have that in me, I know I have improved upon my run, it may be next year in Kona, or it may be races before Kona, but I am excited to see how it unfolds.

BS: I saw some pictures of you and your boy after the race doing some kayaking and whatnot (CL: Yep, yep), and you seemed so happy even though you must have been disappointed by not getting the win or running the way you had important is family to you in overcoming a disappointing race?

CL: Yeah, I mean very important. To do an event like the Ironman you have to make a lot of sacrifices to prepare and there is time that I don’t get to spend with my family that I would like to, so as soon as the race is over I take a day and absorb it and be bummed a little bit, but there is a bigger picture.

As soon as the next day happens I am not thinking about the race, and for the next two weeks I am not thinking about the race and I am not thinking about the Ironman and just enjoying the time with my family. That is where my identity lies. It doesn't lie with me winning or losing, getting first or 11th. It is about my family and me being enriched by them, and my friends, and my sponsors and my surroundings. That is where the true value is. For me, that was a joy to spend time with my family.

We are back here in Kona, we moved here for winter and we are back here for three months. I am training very little as it is the offseason, but I am getting to enjoy time with my family again. That is what brings me the biggest joy.

BL: You did mention Kona next year, so we can we look forward to another run at Kona in 2011?

CL: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, you bet, I think it will be a good year, the conditions will be different, it is always a new year every year and hopefully it unfolds my way. Yeah, I will definitely be back.

BS: Chris, you're 38, which isn’t old in the eyes of most people, but at what age does a triathlete start to wonder if his best years are behind him?

CL: I think it really isn’t an age limit. It is more about how you take care of your body. What you eat, how much rest you take and how hard you train. I’ll be 39 in two months and every year I have gotten better. This year was my best ever, not in Kona, but overall, and I don’t see myself declining, I only see myself getting better in 2011.

But you know a lot of people start fading at 34, or 32. It just depends on what kind of damage you put on your body and how well you take care of it. You need to take a quality supplement, eat right and get rest.

One of the main reasons I started a supplement company called “Base Performance” was because you have to focus on your foundation of health, and that is why we came out with a multivitamin and an amino acid. You have to take care of your body and you will last a long time.

BS: Before the race, I know that you and your charity, “More Than Sport,” had a goal of adopting 141 underprivileged children. One child for each mile of the race...did you make your goal?

CL: We did not reach all 141 kids, but we did reach about 110. But the total we raised was over $150,000, which was really cool, because when you win the Ironman it is not huge prize money, it is like $110,000 and bonuses and stuff like that, so for me I didn't win the event, and I didn't win the prize money for myself, but I was able to raise $150,000 for the kids in Africa, and the kids in Kona, so in a sense I won on that realm. I didn't win for myself, but I won for them, and that was one of my goals going into it.

BS: I also remember you planned on having a brunch to raise money for the kids of Kona the day after the event. I remember thinking that I wouldn't even be able to get out of bed the day after something like that...but how did that go?

CL: (Laughs) It went really well. It was tough getting out of bed and getting down there, but when we got there it was great. We raised a lot of money, and we gave a lot of cool product away, including 141 backpacks. The kids were so excited, more excited than I had anticipated.

I didn't think the kids would get so excited over a backpack, but you could not believe the reaction of some of the kids. For some of them it was the very first brand new thing they have ever received, and when they found out that the backpacks were filled with supplies, they got just ecstatic.

For me it was really rewarding and fulfilling to see the joy that they had from just something simple that we take for granted like a backpack. I can’t tell you how many backpacks I get every year, but for these kids one new backpack is huge for them.

BS: What’s up next for Chris Lieto?

CL: Race season starts in March, so probably the first race will be in mid-March. I have put together a tentative schedule but haven’t finalized anything yet. I will definitely be doing a couple of Ironman events and a handful of half Ironman events. But yeah, March or mid-March and will be looking forward to and getting ready for October.

BS: Chris, thank you so much for your time today and good luck in 2011.

CL: Thank you. I really appreciate it.


Writer's Note: Don't forget to tune in to NBC on Saturday, December 18th at 4:00 EST to watch Chris and all the action from the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship.