SANTA FE, N.M. — Qualifying for the king of ultra events – the famous Ironman triathlon in Hawai’i – is no easy task.
But 60-year-old Liz Sponagle pounded through the half-tri course on the big island in the Ironman Hawai’i 70.3 last weekend, finishing in 5 hours, 48 minutes and 21 seconds to easily win her age group and qualify for the Ironman Hawai’i National World Championship on Oct. 11.
A relative newcomer to the sport, Sponagle, who used to manage Santa Fe’s Racing Hub store for 10 years, has been living and training in California of late.
“I didn’t start doing triathlons until I was 51,” she said. “I just fell in love with it.”
But while in Santa Fe, she was known as “Coach Liz” by her devoted followers as she was the area’s running coach for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training fundraising program for a number of years.
Those local folks “showed me great support,” Sponagle said in a telephone interview from Hawai’i. “I’m still in touch with a lot of them and they were quite excited about my experience.”
Sponagle also inspired her daughter, Santa Fe Prep graduate Kiara Glover, who watched her mom compete for the first time.
“Because I had never seen my mom race a big race before, this was a first for me,” said Glover, who was a state champion in the 400-meter dash for Monte del Sol in 2008 and the Blue Griffins in 2010. “I was so proud to be able to be a part of something that she has worked so hard for.”
It’s something Glover said she can see herself doing once her career as a cross country runner with Fort Lewis College is finished.
“I would say yes, she has definitely inspired me to try a triathlon someday,” she said. “For now I’m focusing on my cross country running for my college but, eventually, once I’m done with school, I think it will be good to try something new. At least I know I’ll have an amazing coach.”
The race helped forge a special mother-daughter bond, Glover said.
“Seeing her come through transitions with a smile on her face was a great experience,” she said. “As an athlete myself, I know the pain you can feel out there is tough, but she made it seem easy.”
For her part, Sponagle said she’s glad she was able to inspire her daughter. “I’m excited that she’s interested in doing this,” she said. “She’s a terrific athlete.”
Although she won her age group by a whopping 45 minutes, it was by no means an easy feat, Sponagle said.
“I can’t see doing this every year,” she said. “It takes so much training and it’s so expensive. I don’t understand how people can go year after year.”
But now that’s she secured her spot by qualifying through one of the only two half-triathlons, Sponagle she is going to ramp up her training because, instead of the 1.2-mile ocean swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run, everything will be doubled.
“It takes so much work to get ready,” Sponagle said. “But I won by so much that I just decided that I had to go for it.”