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Liz Lyles doesn’t slow down. It’s not in her DNA. Whether it’s running, swimming, and cycling as a professional IRONMAN triathlete, teaching spin class four times per week, or being a wife, and mother of two, there’s no such thing as an off day for her.
After getting Luke, 9, and Emma, 7, up and off to school by 9 a.m., Lyles then has six hours dedicated to whatever tasks and training she needs to accomplish that day. Once 3 p.m. hits, it’s back to being a full-time mom—pick the kids up from school, homework, sports, dinner, play dates, bedtime.
“I feel I’m much more efficient because I’m only given a six-hour window to complete swimming, biking, and running,” Lyles said at the IRONMAN World Championship broadcast premiere viewing party in New York City. “There’s no time for socializing or procrastination. It honestly helps. It helps to be busy with my kids and have a limited amount of time to get something done.”
Lyles, a former high-school soccer player and swimmer, discovered triathlons in 2001. After graduating from the University of Arizona, she moved to San Diego where she signed up for a few marathons, took spin classes, and registered for her first tri. Despite wearing her husband’s surfing wetsuit, which was too big for her, and riding a mountain bike with no clips, Lyles won her age group at the 2002 Spring Sprint Triathlon in Mission Bay, Calif.
She was hooked and participated in competitions until her and Chip, her college sweetheart, decided to start a family. Even though triathlons took a backseat at that point, Lyles wanted to reenter the fitness world after her children were born. She began teaching spin during the week and started training again. In 2012, Lyles finished second in the amateur division at IRONMAN 70.3 in Boise, qualifying for her pro card. She won IRONMAN Wisconsin three months later.
“I wasn’t going to just dabble with it anymore,” said Lyles, 39. “I was going to go big or go home.”
Like a fine wine, Lyles has gotten better with age. She won the Wildflower Long Course in 2015 and 2016, won IRONMAN Wisconsin in 2016, and set the course record (8:54:10) by winning IRONMAN Brazil in 2016. This year, Lyles has first-place finishes at IRONMAN 70.3 Santa Cruz and IRONMAN Chattanooga before finishing eighth at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii—it was her second-highest finish at the event after placing seventh in 2014.
It certainly hasn’t been a cakewalk for her by any means. There are those 30-degree days where Lyles would prefer anything other than jumping into a cold pool for training. There are days when she is exhausted because one of her kids is sick, so mommy mode has been in high gear.
“It’s very therapeutic for me even though it gets very hard at times and I might not want to do it,” she said. “Afterwards I’m always so happy about it because I’m constantly thinking of the finish line of the event I’m preparing for. The feeling I get when I cross the finish line at an IRONMAN trumps the bad feels or lack of motivation I may have had to attain that goal.”
Lyles said she utilizes her training as “me” time. She’d prefer to run on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike rather than watch TV or read a book as a means of treating herself. Triathlons, and the physical and mental strain involved, provide clarity for her.
“IRONMAN is helping my body: it’s helping me eat healthy, it’s helping me exercise, and it’s helping me set goals I can achieve,” Lyles said. “Anyone can go out and do that, too. It’s a way of life that’s going to positively impact your life and those around you, and you might even inspire someone else along the way.”