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Moms Rule with Clean Sweep of Podium in Chattanooga

American Liz Lyles took the Ironman Chattanooga victory a few weeks before she'll make the start in Kona.

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American Liz Lyles follows Santa Cruz 70.3 victory with Ironman Chattanooga win en route to Kona with compatriots and fellow moms Kim Schwabenbauer and Jessie Donavan rounding out the pro women’s podium.

American Liz Lyles dominated Ironman Chattanooga nearly from the start after surfacing second out of the swim in a time of 45:13, 2:58 back from Kelly Williamson. From there, the 39-year-old mother of two dropped the hammer with the race’s fastest bike leg (5:04:35) before essentially cruising to an overall win in 9:05:33 following a marathon time of 3:10:33.

Fellow Americans Kim Schwabenbauer crossed more than 20 minutes later (9:28:46), followed by Jessica Donavan (9:31:49) to finish second and third respectively.

The victory was the second win in as many weeks for Lyles, who won Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz on Sept. 10. This year’s race on the Tennessee River—the same location as the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, which took place two weeks ago—featured an all-female pro field race. The concept isn’t new to Lyles, who topped the female-exclusive pro field at Ironman Wisconsin last year.

“I’ve been training pretty hard for this race,” said Lyles, who picked up three wins in 2016, including Wisconsin, Wildflower Long Course and the Ironman Latin American Championships in Brazil where she set a course record (8:54:10). “Two weeks ago I won 70.3 Santa Cruz which gave me a boost of confidence coming into this race. I really just wanted to win an Ironman and now I can go to Kona and hope for another great day.”

While Kona is on the immediate horizon, Lyles, unlike many of her rivals who have opted to forego racing until the Ironman World Championship (Oct. 14), told Triathlete her decision to race Chattanooga was multifaceted.

“I’m a mom of two kids, a son (Luke) who is nine and a daughter (Emma) who is seven, and I can’t put myself in a bubble for Kona,” she explained. “What if I get sick, the flu or a cold right before Kona? So, I didn’t want to put all my eggs in the Kona basket because if one thing were to happen then it would be ruined.

“Plus, I just thought it would be a good opportunity to come here and get a paycheck and possibly win an Ironman,” continued Lyles, who picked up $15,000 of the $40,000 prize purse. “And nothing says I cant go to Kona and still have a good race.”

The wife and mother of two said her own mother’s attendance made her win even more memorable.

“It was great,” said Lyles when asked what she felt greeting her mom at the finish. “She was with me when I won Ironman Brazil, but she wasn’t allowed on the red carpet for some reason, so having her on the red carpet and being able to give me a hug at the finish was definitely a memory.”

Moms were most certainly a theme of the day, as both Schwabenbauer and Donavan are mothers as well.

“Moms are tough, man,” said the retiring Schwabenbauer, who gave birth to daughter Emma a year ago. “You can’t mess with moms, it’s fantastic. I guess it just goes to show you truly that anyone that wants to come back and be really tough out there and continue to push can do it.

“I felt like I’ve had a totally new perspective once I became a mother and feel so fortunate to be able to compete with the support of my husband and everybody else,” she told Triathlete. “I capped it off with a bang, and I’m ready to hit the retirement button and so excited to embrace the full-time mom gig— it’s my last race as a pro.”

For Donavan, a mother of three (Ava, 10, Elliot, 13, and Griffin, 15), the third-place finish was a monumental triumph following three years of hardship, which included the removal of an ovarian cyst, broken bones and a concussion following a training ride incident with a dump truck in Cape Code and major foot surgery which left her on crutches as recently March.

“I got it in my head that I had to race today even though I did not have a lot preparations,” Donavan told Triathlete. “I just really wanted to come here and be part of this event.”

The University of Vermont enrollment analyst did not start running again until June, when her first trot was not much more than a single mile.

“This was the longest run today,” an exhausted Donavan admitted after racing under 90-degree conditions. “I told my husband at mile 11, ‘I was done.’ However it was really hot, but that was probably to my advantage. Everyone was going slow and I knew I had to outsmart people.”

Like Schwabenbauer, Donavan also sang the praises of the female-only pro field.

“That was one of the reasons I really wanted to come to this race,” she said. “I knew it probably wasn’t the smartest thing for my body to do as far as being physically ready. I’m a weaker swimmer, so for me I tend to get mixed up in the age-group male field and it really makes it so we can’t have a fair race.

“I was so excited, not only was it an all-female field today, at least when I got off the bike no men had passed me, so it was a true race with just us out there and more of a celebration for all of us without the men here—it’s a different vibe.

“I loved watching the women’s-only coverage from the 70.3 Worlds and then the men’s-only coverage,” Donavan concluded. “It’s where the sport needs to go.”

The race winner shared similar sentiments regarding the day’s format, despite realizing she will not be able to defend her crown until 2019 as Ironman Chattanooga will likely return to hosting the all-men’s pro field next year after Belgian Marino ‘Bink’ Vanhoenacker won in 2016.

“That is sad, I would love to come back here,” Lyles told Triathlete after finding out she will have to skip next year’s race. “I had won Ironman Wisconsin my first Ironman out (2012). I knew that course, so I went back there because I loved it and I would love to come back here as well.

“That said, I do think the format of doing a women-only pro field is fantastic and one of the reasons I selected this race, as well as the 10-min start ahead of the age-group men,” she continued. “I never had any issues out there with biking or having to pass or surge, and it’s pretty cool to cross the finish line first and get all the media attention.

“It’s great for the whole sport of women’s triathlon,” Lyles concluded. “I love it.”

2017 Ironman Chattanooga
2.4-mile (3.86km) swim, 116-mile (186.6km) bike, 26.2-mile (42.1km) run, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Sunday, September 24, 2017

1. Liz Lyles (USA) 9:05:33
2. Kim Schwabenbauer (USA) 9:28:46
3. Jessica Donavan (USA) 9:31:49
4. Kelly Williamson (USA) 9:33:41
5. Kelly Fillnow (USA) 9:40:05