Photo by Craig Amoss
Kyra Lyles has been running track since her youth with the Firebirds Track Club in Montgomery County. As a freshman at Quince Orchard High School, Lyles qualified for the state championships in the 300 meter dash, placing eighth. Every season she ran she qualified for the state championships, in both individual and relay events, but she had never placed higher than fifth. Heading into the state meet last spring, Lyles had placed second in the events at regionals - another positive mark on an increasingly impressive track resumé that was simply missing an exclamation mark.
Over the course of 24 hours, Lyles and her Cougar teammates provided not just one, but three of those elusive exclamation marks. It began with a surprise victory in the 4x200 on Friday evening, which served as a springboard for Lyles and the rest of the team. She came back the next day to win the 400 meter dash - a race in which she had never won an invitational, county or regional title - and then closed it out in another upset victory in the 4x100 with the same team that won the 4x200.
Now in her senior indoor season, Lyles continues to set personal bests and continue to re-write the Quince Orchard record books. Her track career has already spanned the better part of a decade and could still be just getting started. We talked to her about her breakout state performance, as well as her journey from youth track into high school - and her plans for the future.
MileSplit: You ran with the Firebirds Track Club before you got to high school and got to train with some of the most talented young runners in the area. Talk about those practices and meets you got to run in. What got you into running in the first place? How did your youth track experience help shape you into the runner you are today?
Kyra Lyles: Firebirds definitely made me the runner I am today. The training was intense and our coaches had high expectations of us from a young age. We had ten-year olds running 65-second 400s. We had 13- and 14-year olds running 58s. The training definitely pushed us and we were running amazing times and winning national titles. It was amazing running with Samantha and Melissa Kameka, Taylor Wright, Cori Brown [and others]. We were actually all on relays together and won nationals but, sadly, we all separated when we went to different high schools.
One day, just for fun, I raced a girl who ran track, and when I won I decided I wanted to run track, too (which is what got me into it). It was my first and only sport which is why I fell in love with it so much. I think the most memorable performance I had was running a 25.98 at USATF Nationals when I was 12 years old, as well as placing all-American in the 100 and 200 meters during my second year ever running track. That really made me realize how much talent I had so my club track success definitely motivates me when it comes to running high school track.
Lyles as a freshman at the 2017 indoor state meet. (Photo by Brandon Miles)
MS: You qualified for the state track meet back during your first season of indoor high school track. Do you think the experience of running at a meet like that made you more comfortable competing at big invitationals and championship meets going forward?
KL: I think qualifying for states my freshman year definitely made me realize the potential I had moving forward in high school. The 300 meter during indoor states was very memorable to me because although I placed eighth, I got the school record. I ran to [Coach Seann] Pelkey right after the race and we were both so happy because that was my goal heading into the race. Since I ran 44 at the start of the season, ending the season at 41.6 made me extremely happy. As high school went on I definitely became more comfortable competing at bigger invitationals and championship meets because at each meet, my goal was the same: run a PR.
MS: When you started running at Quince Orchard you focused mainly on the shorter races, but you've gradually started to run the 500 and even now the 800. Was that something you wanted to try out as you got further along into your running career? Does it reflect a shift in training throughout the years?
KL: Ever since I was 12 years old, during club track, I never really had a powerful start; I was always more of a 200/400 runner. Freshman year I was mainly doing the 100 and 200 (along with the 55 and 300 indoors), but I realized I wasn't because so many people were in the similar time range (7.50 and 41-42). Over time I took a look at the longer sprints and realized that I had more talent in those events.
During my junior year I really started focusing on the 400 and 500 because I realized that I'm a runner who has a lot of heart, and races like the 400 and 500 take strategy, speed and fight, because they are difficult events. My rankings were higher in the longer events as opposed to the shorter sprints so I tend to focus more on those events. My training also shifts whenever I switch from event to event because it took awhile for me to find out what races I truly excel in. Once I figured it out, we stuck to it.
MS: Which event(s) do you consider to be your specialty (both indoors and outdoors)? Which event(s) are your favorites? Has the answer to either question changed over the course of your high school career?
KL: I would say my specialty events are the 300 and 500 indoors and the 400 outdoors. My favorite event used to be the 200 because I always felt it was the perfect distance for me, but my performances have shown that the 400 was my stronger event when it came to placing at meets. This year I definitely feel stronger than I did any other high school season, so the 200 and 400 might become my primary events (as opposed to just the 400).
MS: Which race(s) or moments during training represented setbacks that have been the hardest to overcome?
KL: I think, over the years, my 200 meter performances represented setbacks to me. Going into high school it was my favorite event, since I ran 25.14 when I was 13. All of high school I was trying to run that time again, but it was difficult because I was always hitting 25.5 or 25.6 and it definitely shifted my motivation in that event - until last year, when I ran 25.11 at the Gator Invitational. My overall goal before I graduate is to break 25 seconds.
MS: You guys won both the 4x100 and 4x200 state titles last season, and you also won your first individual title in the 400 meter dash. Were you surprised in the way you (individually) and the rest of the team performed at the state meet after not winning any of those races at regionals? Did anything about your gameplan or mental outlook on Saturday's races change after you guys won the 4x200 on Friday night?
KL: I think states was definitely our big break because each year our relay placed second at regionals in the 4x200. We knew we had the potential to win so it definitely frustrated us, and since it was half of the relays' last meet, we all told each other to run as hard as we possibly can and I promised them that I would anchor the race as best as I could.
Words cannot express how how proud we were when we won the 4x200! After that race it definitely gave us confidence going into Saturday; winning the 400 and 4x100 were definitely shocking but exciting wins.
MS: Thanks to Twitter we can tell that you and some of your teammates have been busy this season rearranging the school record board for indoor track. How do you feel knowing that each time you guys are up to compete, it's a chance to do something no other Quince Orchard athlete has ever done? Has it given you guys any extra motivation or goals to hit?
KL: We definitely have big goals for ourselves this season because we did a lot of preseason training. The bar has definitely been raised and we are very motivated to place at each meet that we are entered in. Knowing that the hard work is finally paying off motivates us every time we step onto the track. Since it's my senior year my goal is to ensure that my school records last a long time after I graduate.
MS: Where are you planning on running track in college?
KL: I received a full ride from Delaware State University and committed on November 13. I'm very excited and looking forward to the experience!
Lyles (right) and Richard Montgomery's Caia Gelli (center) in the 400 meter dash at last year's 4A West regionals. (Photo by Dasam Gill)
MS: Over the course of your high school career, is there anyone who you've run against frequently who you have come to view as one of your top competitors? IS there anyone who you've raced against throughout high school who you've looked up to competitively?
KL: I have a lot of top competitors who I race frequently. [Richard Montgomery's] Caia Gelli and [Gaithersburg's] K.C. Ashiogwu run similar events as I do and I race them a lot, so they definitely push me, and I love competing against them.
MS: What are your goals heading into the championship phase of the indoor season? How about the outdoor season?
KL: My goals heading into championship season are to run personal bests in both the 300 and 500 meter dashes and to medal at counties, regionals and states in both events. My outdoor goals include defending my 400 meter state title, running more 200s and personal bests in both events. I also want to medal in every meet I run in.
Hardest workout you've ever done?
Any cross country workout, because I'm not used to running long distances. It paid off in the end, and I'm glad I did them, though.
Furthest you've ever traveled for a track meet?
Houston, Texas, for nationals in 2014.
Favorite subject in school or anticipated major in college?
My favorite subject is currently philosophy, because it is so interesting discussing life and how everything came to be. In college I plan on majoring in criminology or the law.
Favorite sport outside of track and field?
Gymnastics - it's so fun and interesting to watch. If I had the ability to excel in it, it would definitely be my dream sport.
Zakaiyah [Bright] was a member on the relay last year, and I'd definitely consider her the funniest teammate because we were really close, always made each other laugh and we had a lot of inside jokes.