As she crossed the finish line on Sunday, Liz Lyles proclaimed Ironman Wisconsin her favorite of all Ironman races.
Lyles’ fondness for the event is understandable, considering the success she’s had in it.
Lyles, who won her first Ironman race in Madison in 2012, made it 2-for-2 as she duplicated that feat on Sunday by winning the women’s professional race in 9 hours, 33 minutes, 47 seconds.
It was the fourth Ironman victory for Lyles, 38, of Reno, Nevada, but both of her wins in the United States have come at Ironman Wisconsin.
“I love it,” said Lyles, whose other wins were in Australia and Brazil. “Out of the races I’ve run, this one has to rank as the best in terms of crowd support.”
Lyles finished nearly 10 minutes ahead of Leslie Miller, of Reston, Virginia, who finished second in the women’s pro event in 9:43:39. Katie Thomas, of Cross Junction, Virginia, placed third in 9:48:27.
Clay Emge, 32, of Tyler, Texas, won the men’s age-group competition with a time of 9:07:43. Ironman Wisconsin is not designated as a pro race for men.
Lyles was in fifth place after the swim portion of the race and made up some ground during the bike leg to move up to third entering the marathon run at the end. She admitted to having come concern at that point.
“I was a little worried that I hadn’t caught them earlier,” she said. “I was thinking this might not turn out how I wanted it to, but the run is my strength so I never really give up until the very end.”
She didn’t have to worry for long as she took the lead after about 4 miles of the run and quickly opened up a comfortable margin.
Whether on bike or on foot, Lyles said she tried to soak up the atmosphere surrounding the race.
“It’s a beautiful course,” Lyles said. “I just wished the whole time that I had my iPhone and I had taken pictures because there were so many different things to see along the way. The horses and the cows and the spectators and the beautiful land. … I was kind of looking around and enjoying the sights.”
Lyles will race in Kona, Hawaii, in four weeks, but beyond that she’s taking things race by race as she balances the demands of being a mother of two — Luke, 8, and Emma, 6 – with being an Ironman pro.
“I’m a busy mom taking care of their activities,” she said. “And I do this, too. I focus a lot on them, but as long as my body is able to do this and I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep going.”
Emge has gone through a similar process following the birth his son, Jordan, 10 months ago. His wife, Kimberly, and Jordan were on hand to greet him at the finish line as he won his second consecutive Ironman event following a victory at Ironman Boulder (Colorado) in August.
“You just have to be smarter with your training,” said Emge, who has won at Boulder two consecutive years. “I probably don’t train quite as much but I train smarter. I get up early and try to get workouts in in the morning and then on my lunch break. I try to be home in the evenings. That’s the time to be with family.”
Emge was fifth after the swim and took the lead during the bike portion. But it wasn’t easy.
“The bike course was tough,” he said. “It’s a very challenging bike course. I was just happy to make it through the hills. Biking is a strong suit for me and I did well, but it’s a tough course.”
After giving up a little of his lead early in the run, he began to stretch it out and had a safe gap midway through the run.
Kevin Wright, of Sterling, Virginia, finished second about 7 minutes back at 9:14:52. Eric Engle of Madison was third overall in 9:31:27.
It was the best finish in five tries at Ironman Wisconsin for Engle, whose best previous finish was a second place at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“The wind was a little stronger than I anticipated on the bike and I kind of fell apart a little on the run,” said Engle, a 2010 University of Wisconsin graduate. “But I held on and I’m just happy to finish third.”