IMCDA: Panda Speedo Trumps Pocket Bacon

I had only just existed the mile-eight aid station. I was already feeling too hot and a little nauseous. I could feel the shade of a lone tree pulling me, but I pushed my gaze down the gentle waves of the shimmering black bike path ahead of me.

I took a few more steps toward the mirage of the next mile marker and, more sub-consciously than anything, made a sharp left turn into the shade.

Good thing I had some bacon in my jersey pocket. As I pulled two strips out of the plastic bag, pallid runners passed me with confusion, then envy, in their eyes. I laid each strip out on the asphalt just outside my shade, and they sizzled tears into my competitors’ eyes.

The aroma of salt, meat, and grease wafted in the still air. The sounds of grease popping and pork sizzling permeated the otherwise silent parade of overheated triathletes. I knew getting to the finish line of Ironman Hades strong — and easily qualifying for Kona in the process — would be no problem now.

This could have been the story of my recent big race, but alas, I left my emergency pocket bacon back on the shelf in the grocery store. I probably would have remembered it if a sponsor had sent a pack directly to me.

No, instead I had to make the hard-fought, doubt-ridden battle to the finish line of Ironman Coeur d’Alene with only salt tabs, themed aid stations, the bottomless kindness of strangers, and the perfectly tailored and sundry support of friends and family.

The swim, which started an hour earlier than originally scheduled in light of the forecast of 108 degrees, was uneventful. By staying a bit to the outside instead of my usual tactic of hugging the corners, I skirted an hour-long boxing match and cut five minutes from my first Ironman time.

So approximately an hour and five minutes earlier than last year, I saddled up and headed out for the second 112-mile bike ride of my life. The mantra of the day: “you can eat bacon later.”

No, that’s not right. Oh yeah, the day’s mantra was, “you can go faster later.” Knowing the high temps would be draining and unfamiliar to this mountain girl packing a little extra insulation, I acknowledged it would take patience to reach the finish line; all thoughts of a PR had gone out the window the moment the 10-day forecast for race day went live.

At mile 30, it started to warm up. At mile 70, it got downright hot.

At the mile-83 aid station, which Ironman placed approximately 800 miles and 10,000 vertical feet after the mile-70 aid station, I realized the implications of the heat as I tripled my typical water use.
I dumped at least one bottle under my super-covert shield hat at mile 83. Photo by Mom.

The hot wind made our Gatorade boil and our tires melt, and the sun on my back pocket pre-cooked my bacon for the run. That’s a slight exaggeration, but the sun’s stare and the blazing wind on the second lap did demand that I slow to allow my body to keep up with the demands of cooling, digesting carbs and electrolytes, and covering 140.6. I knew this was a day to listen and respond to every clue or request my body gave me.*

I stepped off my bike prepared mentally and physically for the balancing act of turning in my best performance possible given the circumstances and not giving myself heat stroke.

See, if I got heat stroke, I’d get Jell-O and an IV in the hospital instead of a bacon burger and chardonnay in an air-conditioned hotel room.
Still smiling 100 yards into the run! (I’m the one with the sleeves.) Photo by Mom.

I set a careful pace and made a point of taking care of myself at aid stations. Fistfuls of ice went down the front, down the back, and into the buff around my neck; water went over my head. In true Casey fashion, I double-fisted food, as well. Guzzling Gatorade, ice water, GU, and, once, a handful of potato chips seemed wise. Oddly, I felt a tad sick after each scarfing.

And then the shade at mile nine sucked me up. In reality, I found strength not in fresh bacon (which I now have proof would have been possible), but in my mom, my husband, and a fellow racer who was about to lap me.

Quitting IS an option, and that’s what makes continuing in the face of adversity a very real test.

After a brief exchange of encouragement for reassurance that I was okay, coupled with a moment to allow the non-bacon fuel to settle, I shuffled off down the exposed path. I adjusted my fuel intake (still no bacon), my husband made his second appearance in a panda-face speedo, I spotted tri heroine Linsey Corbin and had the wherewithal to breathlessly and with a childlike-near-lisp shout “Linseeeeeey!” The temperature ticked higher, and the miles slowly slogged by. My first lap of the marathon saw an average temperature of 100 degrees and lasted about two hours and 40 minutes.

The temperature climbed a bit more on the second lap, my spirit panda made his third appearance on my husband’s booty, the new slow and steady fueling tactic took effect, and the final miles passed with pain. The average temperature during my second lap was 104, but the patience early on paid off in the form of a 20-minute negative split of about 2:20** (but seriously, could I have gone slower than 2:40?).

Countless volunteers, spectators with hoses and kiddie pools of ice water, the pre-race gift of a cooling towel/sopping cape (believe what you see on TV— it works!), the words and presence of so many loved ones, and my patient and dry-humored coach all made it possible for me to tear up as I crossed the finish line, just 30 minutes slower than last year. Only a personalized package of bacon (and, subsequently my slot at Kona) could have made it better.

*It asked for bacon. I could not acquiesce.

**My husband made me include this humble brag.

I can’t believe you made it all the way to the end! I’d like to thank you for reading and invite you to recommend anything you like, follow this blog, and send bacon sponsor leads (or just packages of bacon) my way.

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