I was at the grocery store the other day, zipping through the aisles during my lunch hour. Lately, it seems that my trips to the grocery store far outnumber my trips to any other store. But when you start doing 122 mile bike rides and 4000 yard swims and 22 mile runs, you start needing a lot of food.
I decided this would be the big run, the trip that would render my refrigerator impenetrable, with large packages and bottles blocking the light, bags of bread and containers of yogurt would rest stacked on top of each other, gallons of milk would stand in a soldier-like line, bags of spinach would fit snug in a drawer, condiments of butter, syrup, and salad dressing would be at risk of tumbling from the door, each item waiting with anxiety for what would likely be not too long before they were ravaged by my ravenous, Ironman hands.
Filling up my cart with the essentials, bread, bagels, milk, I was also finding it far too fun to fill my cart with the non-essentials. Essentially, the things that will give me hope everyday to last these long rides and long runs knowing that vanilla milk, or pudding, or salt and vinegar chips will be waiting at the end. So on my wild, wheeled mission to find the most desirable post-workout treats, I buzzed by a display towering with red boxes. And as I walked by, I thought to myself that I recognized that box and that it meant something special to me. Maybe it’s all of the water and wind in my ears, but I could swear that I heard something calling to me. A moment later, outloud to myself, I said CHEEZ-IT’S.
Immediately, the cart made a u-turn and we hauled back to the red boxes. I stood in a quiet but elated state, gazing fondly at the boxes before me. Why, it was my old friend Cheez-It’s. How long has it been? Nearly 10 years? Oh yes, I know Cheez-It’s quite well. These tiny little fake cheese-flavored crackers were possibly the only representative from the milk, dairy, cheese food group during my college years. My eating habits in college were proof that you could indeed survive on air-popped popcorn, Molly McButter, and frozen yogurt. And Cheez-It’s were literally my lifeline, my bread and butter. I remember many a Friday nights, sitting in a dorm room, listening to music, with my hand digging into a red box.
So as I stood in the store, in front of the Cheez-It boxes, I knew I had found, or relocated, something special for me. In fact, so special that I knew Cheez-It’s had instantly earned a spot in my special needs bag, a perfect occupant in the form on a small, square, orange cracker covered in salty goodness. Cheez-It’s, pack your bags because we’re Kona-bound.
Just a day before, I had been on a 122 mile ride. My nutrition plan had been going well as I happily snacked down my bars and gels and sports drink. And while I can trick my stomach and brain into thinking these bars and gels are the best thing we’ve had in a long time and we just can’t wait to have some more, at 90 miles into the ride my stomach/brain started to snicker, started to doubt, and started to have other thoughts. Something was missing - a flavor, a texture, a feeling. We pulled into a rest stop and I took a look around to find something to fill that void. As far as rest stops go, these were well-stocked. All of my favorites were there. Cups of salty nuts, bagels, peanut butter, brownies, banana bread, pasta salad, even turkey. I scanned all of these delicious product singing their siren song and tempting to succumb to their salty sweetness and blow even the best-planned nutrition plan. And then my eyes caught sight of something that trumped any other cup of nuts, spoonful of peanut butter or slice of home-baked pumpkin bread – Goldfish with nothing but salty, crunchy goodness trapped in a little fish-shaped cracker. I scooped up a handful. Wonderful glorious, rich, satisfying, salt, delicious, energizing, all of this and more flooded into my mouth. And I knew this would be the golden ticket - this was the flavor and feeling that was missing. If I could find these in my special needs bag halfway through my bike, I just might be able to roll effortlessly through the next 56 miles in a post-Goldfish glaze.
So imagine my delight when I rediscovered Cheez-It’s at the grocery store. Though I love Goldfish, the Cheez-It’s are sturdier and saltier which make them a sure shoe-in for the Kona trip. I looked at the calorie count – perfect, the carbohydrate count - good, and the sodium – 360 mg per serving even saltier than Goldfish. How could I have not have noticed these before? For weeks, I had been scouring the store looking for a salty treat with a solid texture to mix things up from the mushy and gelled texture of every other food item I’ll consume. Simply put, this was the best thing since sliced bread. I grabbed 2 boxes and knew I'd be back for more.
I suppose every person training for Ironman has an epiphany like this. The moment where it all comes together and all of a sudden a 112 mile ride in blistering heat seems within reach because you have found a 29 pieces of crunchy joy that will quell your brain’s pain, sending happy signals through the receptors and resetting all systems at go.
I suppose every person not training for Ironman would think an epiphany like this is completely lunatic. But it’s not. You need to find moments and feelings like this. You can gather all the nutrition advice in the world from past competitors, dieticians, coaches. They’ll tell you everything they’ve eaten, or what the books say but it’s nothing compared to the moment in the middle of a ride where you put something in your mouth and think this is it.
Driving home from the store, I had to fight myself from opening the box. If I did, I was sure I would consume the whole box in less than 5 miles. I got home, tore the top off, and, just like college, dug my hand inside the box. And the Cheez-It's were just as I remembered, salty, crunchy, tasty, and filling. I saw myself salivating upt to the halfway point thinking about this. I knew they would work.
Every person training for IM has a food item like this. The one thing they would work for, or look forward to during the ride or run. I read somewhere that some guy put jellybeans in his run bag. Mira was tempted by pumpkin bread. Susan has her teddy grahams. Jennifer swears by coke. Jerome did bananas. I’m sure along the course I’ll find some other golden ticket, like chicken soup broth, or flat coke, or candy. But for right now, I’m thinking as long as I have a baggie of Cheez-It’s in my back pocket, I might just keep running past the finish line far into Kona night.