#StrongerBetterFaster: Triathlete extraordinaire Lisbeth Kenyon: 5-time Age Group Winner at Ironman World Championships
Lisbeth Kenyon is a long-time user of the Vasa SwimErg and 5-time Age Group winner at the Ironman World Championships and 9-time qualifier. Her most recent win was in 2016 was done in an impressive 10:47:13 at age 51. We caught up with the busy mother of three and entrepreneur to learn how she optimizes her training and racing.
You are originally from Norway. Would you tell us a little about your background – what brought you to the USA, family, athletic background and if / how being Norwegian influences your athleticism?
I stem from Northern Norway fishermen as far as the family tree goes; they are hardy types. High school swim team is as serious as I got growing up. I cross country skied a lot but didn’t compete. I rode my bicycle like a bat out of hell racing only the school bus. I was planning to study medicine there, however when my sister was recruited by the University of Iowa’s swim team (yes, she was the athlete as was my decathlete brother) I too wanted to study in the US so I moved to the University of Miami and changed major to Electrical Engineering undergrad and Biomedical Engineering masters (scholarship were granted in these fields). I met Todd in a bar and we started triathlons to have some fun after college. I won that first race – having never won anything it motivated me to invest in a new bike and to start running. Better late than never but I regretted not coming from a running background. I still do.
You have won your age group at Ironman World Championships 4 times, which is truly amazing. How does that feel? What sacrifices have you made along the way?
It feels terrible! Just kidding of course; I don’t take that for granted and sometimes I can’t believe it. I haven’t sacrificed much but I have stayed super consistent always. I train with Todd and keep my weekly hours around 8-10 but move to 14-18 hours starting 10 weeks prior to a race. If my schedule allowed it I would train more but there is a point when it starts impacting family, work and most of all sanity. It is, after all, a hobby that should be an enjoyable one long term.
As a busy mother of 3 who also works outside the home, how do you manage to pull in enough training time? How do you create a plan and set milestones along the way that keep you focused and motivated?
Since we run our own businesses (3 of them) I have flexibility. If I don’t get everything done at work I catch up on weekends or evenings at home. My other activities on a chauffeur and spectator basis are lacrosse, golf, crew practices/regattas, saxophone, piano, and drums. A big help in getting it all done is not having the luxury to procrastinate and waste time. Additionally, I have worked so many years with Coach Al Lyman that he knows my time dilemma and what I can manage. I have complete trust that sessions are created in a way that I will be able to progress – I don’t spend energy analyzing or second-guessing that process. Our Pursuit Athletic Team also has a strong online community with a motivational coach and a heavy focus on movement skills and sports specific stability and strength. Lots of my teammates are overcoming obstacles from injuries/accidents with some having been told they would never run again; it helps put perspective in a sport that can easily take you to selfish levels.
What helps you be tough when it gets really hard in a race or training session?
What helps me getting through an uncomfortable session is remembering it will be in the bank for later retrieval and knowing that reflecting on the effort later will feel good.
How has training with a Vasa Swim Eg been useful in terms of time-savings, improving freestyle swimming technique, measuring progress?
Time is my ultimate quandary so I consider the Vasa SwimErg a must-have training tool. In my experience, it correlates well with water swimming so I substitute 2 of my 4 swims with the SwimErg. It’s easier than water to focus on perfect form. The varying resistance settings, coupled with the ability to monitor power output, distance and stroke rate results in swim-specific strength that translate directly to the pool even for yardage minimalists like me. I can record the data on my Garmin and download it to training peaks for Al to analyze. We do power tests regularly to monitor progress.
Would you describe a key Vasa SwimErg workout that has been a mainstay for you?
The triple: even though it’s not a particularly tough or long Vasa workout in itself, one key weekly session for me has been to get on the Vasa SwimErg for 20 minutes right before an indoor Computrainer session followed by a brick run. Rarely do we practice the swim straight to the bike without a shower break and going home to retrieve our bike first. In adverse weather, I do the run on the treadmill for a complete indoor triple.
Building confidence for open water swimming and the triathlon swim is hugely important and can translate into a more positive experience in the water. What advice would you have for other athletes in this regard?
Hit the open water as much as you can in general. If you don’t live near the ocean or lake, take advantage whenever on vacation near water. Get accustomed to rough seas. Learn to get out past breaks and to body surf. Learn to dolphin jump. Take surf lessons. Just knowing that you can handle yourself in the open water will provide self-confidence in mass starts and open water swims.
Your husband Todd Kenyon has developed a tremendous tool for fitting athletes to their bikes (www.ttbikefit.com). Would you tell us about that and how it has helped you crush it on the bike in races?
Todd, being an engineer, started to think about better ways of fitting ourselves and our friends with an optimal combination of aerodynamics, power output, and comfort at the beginning of our entry into the sport 25 years ago. Fitting someone to a road bike is more straightforward and can be done at many bike shops; however, a time-trial specific triathlon bike with aero bars is a very different ballgame. He has over the years aggregated lots of data from cyclists and triathletes via 100s of motion analysis fits and video-taping pros at races and developed a fit system. He then designed and patented our in-house wireless remote controlled fit bike. The rider is stationary and the contact points orbit around the rider. Each fit variable is independently adjustable from any wifi enabled device. It has a fully wireless computer positioning feedback system that feeds information back into a database. Needless to say, I have benefited in a most positive way in my own selection of bikes over the years that would fit me the best and set up in the most beneficial way for me.
What are some goals you have set for yourself in triathlon for 2014 and beyond?
My goals for 2014 are to get back to (the boring) basics and work on getting stronger generally and to gain more mobility and flexibility. I definitely feel these details become more important with fine age. I think this will help me get faster at shorter distances – a relative weakness of mine. I will try to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships which is the half distance, held in Canada. My ultimate goal is to compete in Kona when I am 70. That has always been the goal. This is why the sport is a lifestyle hobby – it’s important to avoid overdoing it to the point where it affects my family negatively and I burn out in the process.