My First Ironman: Lilian Iskander Breaks Down Ironman Santa Rosa

Posted by casey weaver on

It seems rare, almost unheard of that when you speak to someone immediately after completing their first Ironman, their responses to questions about the difficulty of the race, the emotional ups and downs, and the overall physical toll on the body are so nonchalant and even tempered as when I spoke to Lilian.  But Ironman racing is not for the erratic and frantic - to say the least.  It is a LONG day, no matter who you are, that wears on you mentally, physically, and emotionally.  And when you speak to someone who has completed an Ironman, let alone their first, with nothing too dramatic to say, the only possible explanation is one of good planning, great execution, and being a mental beast!

Lilian is a Swarm Collective member who started racing triathlon 6 years ago on a whim.  In fact, she's spent the vast majority of her life as a "non-athlete," to put in plainly.  She did not even get into endurance sports until her 30s when she casually picked up jogging.  From there she eventually found herself in a triathlon at the nudging of a friend and as the result of a lottery spot giveaway.  Baby steps eventually led to Ironman and a whole new understanding of who she is as a mom, as a person, and as an athlete.  

And yes, of course Lilian used our Primo Smoothie as a central part of her Ironman training nutrition and Ironman pre-race breakfast.  Knowing the demands that training for Ironman put on her body, Primo played a key role day in and day out in making sure she was getting the protein she needed for recovery and the macro and micro nutrients she needed to support the physical demands of her training.  On race day, 1 scoop of Primo with some grape juice, along with a few other things, made up her breakfast.

Read Lilian's answers to some of our questions below to learn first hand how she ended up in this crazy sport, why she decided to race Ironman in the first place, and how her race day unfolded!

Congrats, Lilian.  YOU are an Ironman!

When did you start doing triathlon, why did you decide to race Ironman, and when did you decide to commit to the race?

My first tri was 6 years ago when I did the 2012 NYC Olympic Triathlon.  My friend convinced me to enter the lottery - I got in but she didn’t.  I took a swim class at the YMCA, borrowed a bike, and just began training on my own.  I moved to California in 2014 from the east coast and joined a tri club where I started to train a little more seriously.  I had access to all year round good weather and an amazing network of support.  By the spring of 2017, I had completed 3 half Ironman distance races and reached a level of fitness that left me wanting more.  The timing felt right, for a number of other reasons as well, so I took the plunge and signed up for Ironman Santa Rosa 2018. 

Can you talk about some of the sacrifices you made the past year to get ready to race, and what that was like?

The biggest sacrifice during any training season is the weekends with my family.  With the full IM, my weekend workouts were pretty major, so I’d be up and out of the house before they were even sitting down to have breakfast.  And, there were so many days that I wish I could sleep in, have a hot cup of coffee, and make pancakes with my kids (especially on those cold winter mornings).  While I’d be out doing my long rides, I would be missing out on my daughter’s soccer games and rock climbing with my son.  Saturdays consisted of triple workouts (long bike rides all morning, a spin workout in the late afternoon, followed by a 40+ minute brick run), so by the time I’d be finished with my workout, it’d be dark and I’d be too exhausted for anything else.  It’s not just time but also energy that I couldn’t give to my family.  But, my husband and I agreed that this is just how we’d function for a few months.  He was the saving grace.  Not only would he be running daddy day care all weekend long, but he would usually also have dinner ready and waiting for me.  There wasn’t much else outside of training and family, I hardly had a social life.  But, most of my friends in the area are triathletes so they get it.  If we wanted to see each other, it would have to be during a training ride or run.  

 How did the race stack up to expectations - harder than you expected, easier, more fun etc?

Honestly, I am still processing the race.  In a nutshell, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.  I definitely don’t want to use the word “easy” to describe Ironman, but let’s just say that it was doable and I had no trouble crossing the finish, which was the main goal for my first.  For next time, though, I will raise the bar and hold higher expectations of myself.  I worked hard all winter long and was well prepared for this race, but execution could’ve gone a little better and I don’t think my race finish time accurately represented all that hard work. 

 What did it mean to you to be racing on Mother's day weekend and have your family out there to support you?

Motherhood is what got me into this mess in the first place!  Being a mom and a triathlete both make me tougher (mentally, emotionally, and physically).  For me personally, I am better at one job because I also do the other.  This year, I got to celebrate 10 years of being a mom, and I couldn’t think of a better way than to do an Ironman.  Having my family see me cross the finish, after all the sacrifices that they’ve made, was imperative because they deserve the glory just as much as I do.

What were the high point and low point of the race for you...and anything significant in between?

Race day is filled with ups and downs.  Especially for a first time at Ironman, I think it would’ve been silly for me to expect for things to go perfectly.  However, even going in with that mindset, I was caught by surprise.  The biggest low point during the race was when I realized that I had made a wrong turn on the run course.  By the time I became aware and corrected my mistake, I had added 1.5 miles to my marathon.  It took me some time to get over it and with 18 + 1.5 more miles to go, I had plenty of time.  Given that I had paced myself pretty well throughout the day, though, I still had plenty of legs left and got to pick up the pace towards the last few miles.  It felt good to finish strong.  

How did you feel immediately after the race, and in the days thereafter?

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel totally destroyed.  For this, I credit my coach who gave me a solid training plan and my being on top of my nutrition throughout training season.  I gained strength, endurance, and speed without overtraining, getting injured, or fatigued, and any athlete understands that is key to a successful season.  There are so many intricacies and it’s easy to miss a beat.  I’m really happy with the way things went in the months leading to Ironman.  

Is there anything else you'd like to add about the overall experience and how it's affected you?

I came into the world of fitness a little late in life (a late bloomer who started “jogging” in her mid 30s with no real previous background in other sports).  Each time that I reach a milestone, I surprise myself and am opened to a whole new world of possibilities.  I thought that completing Ironman would sort of feel like graduation, like I made it to the top of my fitness career and it would be time to start a new chapter in my life.  I know that’s no longer true for me.  In fact, graduation feels more like orientation.  I’ve once again realized that the limit I once faced is a thing of the past and now it is time to continue the journey ahead.  

What's next?

I am overwhelmed with the love and support that I have received from family, friends, and the tri community.  I also feel like it’s mostly been about me these last few months, so now it’s time to give back and make it about someone else.  This doesn’t mean that I’m done for the season.  I have two Olympic distance races, one of which is USAT Nationals.  I’ll just scale back on training, especially on the weekends.  As for Ironman, I already have my eye on Boulder for next year, but I will wait a couple of months before bringing it up with my husband! 


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