by Chelsea Hejny
Despite her talent, Liz Lyles never wanted to be a professional triathlete in her twenties. She wanted a family. After the self-described homebody proudly had her two gorgeous kiddos with her husband Chip, she finally decided it was her time to do what so many athletes dream about: turn her passion into her career. That was six years ago. Since then, Liz has stayed grounded, yet relentless, about making the most of her time as an elite athlete. There’s no better proof of that than her performance this past weekend.
For the second year in a row, the 2015 Triathlon Magazine cover star and two-time IRONMAN Champion won the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon race with a strong 6-minute lead over second place. Not only did Liz’s 4:42:17 finish earn her center podium, she also walked away with the fastest bike split and fastest run.
1:27:21 combined run
Prioritizing starting a family over competing as a pro triathlete earlier in life puts Liz in an arena almost all her own. But don’t let that fool you into thinking she’s at a disadvantage. If anything, it’s quite the opposite — she’s got the upper hand. In her training and day-to-day life, Liz is more zeroed in and efficiency-minded than most. Why? She has to be.
Pressures of Parenthood Create Stronger Athletes
Greater responsibility at home has made Liz stronger than any version of her former 20-something self. This isn’t coincidental — it’s consequential. True triathletes, like Liz, thrive under pressure. Just as true triathletes thrive when they’re pushing their limits physically. Liz has learned to exploit this trait. She knows that nagging feeling of wanting to get in her workouts and always push herself will likely never leave her, so she’d rather tap into that resource sooner rather than later.
With this kind of mindset, Liz’s decision to start a family when she did was easy. She knew she didn’t have to choose her children over her triathlon career, or vice versa. Having both was just a matter of timing. Now, at 38 years old, she’s capitalizing on those strategic planning skills parenthood requires and thinking more critically about how to make every minute she has available to train more impactful.
Right after she decided to turn professional she hired a coach. Justifying her decision she told us, “Triathlon is complicated — you don’t just swim, bike and run in a row every day. You’d wear yourself down. So I always thought there must be a specific formula for getting faster. I thought an experienced coach would give me that formula.” Enter Cliff English. Every week Cliff, her tri coach from Tucson, Arizona, sets up Liz’s workouts in TrainingPeaks — she follows them meticulously.
“Triathlon is complicated — you don’t just swim, bike and run in a row every day.”
Training Evolves as Goals Get Bigger
The training for the 5’6” powerhouse has evolved a lot over the years. In the beginning, Liz had no structure and everything was based off of effort. With Cliff, she’s fine-tuned her approach. Her swim and run workouts now consider pace rather than time; and her bike workouts are power-based. Focusing on the latter has been the most game-changing.
Liz’s commitment to indoor training on the bike clearly sets her apart from her competition. The de facto reason her trainer won her over? Time savings. When we spoke with her at the end of February, she commented, “I could have ridden outside yesterday, but didn’t because I ran out of time. If I don’t prepare properly the night before — grab CO2 cartridges, get nutrition [Glukos energy gels], make sure I have my equipment together — I won’t have time to get in my workout and get the kids on time.”
All Liz’s time training indoors has paid off. In an Interview with SlowTwitch right after her most recent WildFlower win, she noted, “I hammered the bike — but it was a different feeling because I didn’t have to charge as hard as I did last year to catch Heather [Jackson] and Rachel [McBride] who are lights out bikers.”
“If I don’t prepare properly the night before — I won’t have time to get in my workout and get the kids on time.”
Other important aspects of Liz’s race that played into her win was her equipment and gear. Here’s the full rundown on what Liz wore at WildFlower, as well as what she likes to use in general during training:
- Wetsuit: Roka Maverick X Wetsuit — Size XS
- Cap: Roka Pro Team Silicone Swim Cap
- Goggles: Roka R1 Goggle — Dark Vermillion Mirror
- Frameset: S-Works Shiv — Size XS
- Groupset: Shimano Dura Ace DI2
- Wheelset: Roval CLX 64 Clincher
- Power Meter: Powertap P1
- Computer: Polar M450
- Kit: Sugoi Women’s RSE Custom
- Helmet: S-Works Women’s Evade Tri
- Eyewear: Oakley Jawbreaker — Road Prizm Lens
- Hydration: XLab Torpedo
- Nutrition: Glukos Energy Gummies — Lemon
- Shoes: Asics GT-2000 4
- Glasses: Oakley RadarLock — Black Iridium Lens
- Watch: Polar M400
- Nutrition: Glukos Energy Gel — Lemon
Time Management Drives Efficiency in Training
Stop reading this for a moment and look at your clock. What time is it? Are you doing the thing you said you would be doing at this time? Is this moment in your day accounted for in your schedule? Beyond the level of intensity at which Liz works out, time management is another stand-out variable that sets her apart.
Take our interview with the pro triathlete, for instance. We knocked on her door at 3:59 pm for our 4:00 pm meeting. We waited precisely (no exaggeration) 60 seconds until she came to the door to greet us. Dressed in her slightly dampened workout gear, she explained she planned her indoor bike workout to finish at exactly 4:00 pm. Now that’s precise scheduling.
Another way Liz commands control over her time is by planning her training and race schedule around her kids’ school calendars. When we asked about sacrifices, a common theme among triathletes, she only named one: not being able to volunteer in her kids’ classroom. The potential to get sick is too high. So while Liz hasn’t been gifted with an imperishable immune system, she does have power over when she trains and competes, which means she picks all of her races based on her kids’ school schedules.
What’s Next for Liz Lyles
Now that Liz has properly defended her Wildflower title, she’s already started preparing for IRONMAN Brazil. This will be her first full IRONMAN of 2016. Then, right after IM Brazil, she’ll set her eyes on the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.
If you would have told Liz when she was in her twenties that at 38 years old she’d be a mother of two, as well as an incredibly accomplished and respected professional triathlete, she probably would have believed you. That’s not because she’s arrogant or naive — it’s because she knows what she’s capable of. She’s always known.
If you’re ready to start training like Liz on the bike, here’s your shot to try TrainerRoad for one month risk free.
Imagery courtesy of Kaori Funahashi.