Meet Liz Lyles: mother of two, wife, and Ironman champion

Photo by Ali Engin

Photo by Ali Engin

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I want to introduce you to some awesome Moms and Dads as I write these letters to you. I’m doing my best to balance being a husband to your mom, a good dad to you kids, and an athlete, but there are some amazing people in the world who are doing these things too. I think it’s important for you to meet them.

Liz Lyles is a second year professional triathlete. What sets Liz apart is the path she took to pro triathlon. She started as an age group athlete in 2004.  Almost by accident she discovered her talent for the sport. She won several races over all as an age-grouper between 2004 and 2007. But in 2008 Liz took a break from triathlon to have her two children. The “break” lasted 4 years.

When she returned she did so with a renewed passion for the sport. Within a few short months of her return she turned pro. She finished 4th in her first race as a pro at Boulder 70.3. One month later she had her breakthrough performance: she won the prestigious Ironman Wisconsin title. That win put Liz “the triathlete” on the map.

So far this season she has impressive results against the very best competition in the world: 7th at Escape from Alcatraz, 4th at Ironman 70.3 Texas, and 3rd at Wildflower.

I had a chance to chat with the mother of two recently. I hope you enjoy meeting Liz Lyles:

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How did you get involved in triathlon?

We were living in San Diego and I had run a few half marathons and done pretty well.  I started taking spinning class and a local race director in the class suggested I try one of his triathlons.  I did the spring sprint triathlon in my husband’s wetsuit, which was way too big, and on a mountain bike.  Somehow I won my age group.  I did well in a couple more triathlons that year and in the following spring I decided to enter what is now Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.  I won my age group in that race and qualified for Kona.

 

You took 4 years off from the sport to have children before turning pro in 2012. Tell us about your kiddos and the process of taking time off, maintaining fitness and then coming back to the sport.

 

I need to start this one by saying I love my kids more than anything in the world.  They are my greatest treasure and my top priority.  They are the most important thing in my life.  Now having said that…

In 2006 and 2007 I had two bucket list items I needed to check off before having kids.  I wanted to qualify for Kona again, which I did at Ironman Coeur dÁlene in 2006, and I wanted to win the Donner Lake Triathlon, which I was finally able to do in 2007 after finishing in 2nd place three years in a row.

Pregnancy was very tough on me, more challenging than I had ever imagined, morning sickness basically became morning, day, and night sickness almost through my entire pregnancy (x2).  While pregnant I maintained a little bit of fitness by spinning and going on a lot hikes with my husband and dogs.  In between pregnancies I focused on running, because the prep time and training time was less demanding.  I had a lot less time to myself after having kids, and it was a pretty big adjustment, so I used running as a little bit of an escape (therapy!).  Knowing my time was limited, I pushed myself to run faster during every workout.

LizLylesmom

I think this really improved my running during the four years off I took from triathlon.  In between pregnancies I managed to win a few local running events, and I posted my first sub three marathon. After both kids were born, I stuck with running for one more year, and did four marathons, including a win at Lake Tahoe, 4th place in the San Francisco marathon, and a new PR at the California International Marathon of 2:50.


You started the 2012 season off still racing as an amateur as late as June and then won overall at your first Iron distance race as a pro just two months later. Talk about the day at Ironman Wisconsin and your big win.

Winning Ironman Wisconsin is probably the biggest athletic accomplishment of my life.  Not only was winning an Ironman big, but doing it in Wisconsin, on that course, with those spectators was incredible.  The beautiful rolling farmlands, the state capitol, downtown, and of course the roaring crowd were so iconic of America and American sports.  Madison, Wisconsin has such a great vibe, pretty special place.  I will definitely be back at some point.

The time commitment it takes to excel in triathlon is often a source of stress for a lot of couples. How do you and your husband deal with the time commitment and discipline it requires to compete at the pro level?

First and foremost it is important to realize the goals and dreams of your spouse and provide support so they can be accomplished.  This goes both ways as everything does everything in marriage.  You also have to make a few sacrifices.  After I made it through the newborn stage with our second child I decided I wanted to work part time, so I got certified and started teaching spinning class at 6am.  Wondering how this applies to the question?  I get 6 hours of training every week before anyone else in the family is out of bed.  We also joined a gym that offers child care so I can get in my midday workouts without requiring more time from my husband or having to hire a babysitter.  On the weekends my husband dedicates a lot of time with the kids during my long training days.  I reciprocate by allowing him time to pursue his hobbies as well, which are usually outdoors related, but often triathlon related too.

LizLylesfamily

How did life change for you when your first child was born.

It didn’t really, was it supposed to?  Just kidding.  For starters, everything we owned was destroyed!  The iPad screen got cracked, cell phones were broken, carpet has become stained with just about everything imaginable, the walls have been colored on with magic marker, my car has some nice scratches, we regularly find trails of food from the pantry to just about every corner of the house.  This, and lack of sleep during the first couple years was probably the hardest thing to adjust to.  Then there are the other obvious things too… our social life has taken a back seat during this time so we can realize our dreams and also be there to raise our kids when they need us the most at this young age.


Did your perspective on sport change?

Before having kids my calendar was a lot less demanding.  I worked full time then as an engineer for the phone company, so I couldn’t workout whenever I felt like it, but I had a lot more flexibility.  I’d make a training plan and find a time that “I had to do it”.  With the time constraints of having kids, I view it now as having time that “I get to do it”.


What do you hope your kids remember about mom being a professional athlete?

I have been able to do what I love and accomplish my dreams, because of my strong work ethic, and discipline.  I hope they remember the time I put into training and the happiness I achieved and shared with them as a result of hard work.

LizLylesalcatraz


What’s the best piece of training advice you ever received?

To race at full potential, you have to bring all aspects of training together.  In addition to actual swimming, biking and running, you have to eat healthy, get plenty of rest, and achieve balance in your life.


Favorite workout of the week?

I think I have three favorites: Climbing huge mountains on my bike, intervals on the treadmill, and teaching my ultra-motivated spin class.

LizLylescozumel


Triathlon goals on the horizon? Are you chasing a Kona slot?

Yes, Kona is definitely a goal.  I’m in the process of ironing out a path as I write this.  It would also be a dream come true to win Ironman Lake Tahoe, right here in my own backyard.


Other than family, 3 people you would like to invite to dinner.

Jennifer Blaise-Kramer-Childhood best friend who now lives across the country, this would need to be a looong dinner!

Jamie Whitmore- Mother of twins(!), amazing triathlete, and cancer survivor whom I admire for conquering some of the toughest challenges in life.

Mike Reilly- the voice of “You are an Ironman” –I bet he has some inspirational stories and memories….


Press shuffle on your ipod/phone. What’s the first 3 songs that played?

Can’t Hold Us- the Heist

Get Up, – Bingo Players featuring Far East Movement

Next To Me (Kendrick Lamar Remix), – Emeli Sande

Photo by Ali Engin

Photo by Ali Engin


If you weren’t a professional triathlete what would you be doing?

I’d probably be pounding my head against a wall 23 hours a day at the funny farm.  This is a good question.  It would have to be something in the fitness world, probably personal training, which I’d like to get into when I retire from triathlon.


3 guilty pleasures in life.

1 – Cookie Dough/Brownie Mix

2 – Watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Chip is embarrassed for me for admitting this publicly)

3 – Staying up past 8:30pm on a Saturday night

4 – Getting my car washed and detailed so it’s perfectly clean
What motivates Liz Lyles to be her best?

Above my own sense of pride, I want to always represent my family well: My husband, kids, parents, sisters, and extended family, including sponsors and my coach.


Words of advice for age-groupers juggling work, family, and triathlon.

Do not let anything get in the way of pursuing your dreams, but do it with balance and reciprocation to your family.

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I hope you enjoyed meeting Liz. You can follow her journey on her blog HERE.

I love you,

– Daddy