An Interview with Cason Crane: On Completing his 6th IRONMAN & the Importance of Mental Fortitude

I sat down with our founder and CEO Cason Crane a week after he finished his sixth IRONMAN race. Cason raced alongside his fiancé, Fran, who was competing in his first ever IRONMAN. For those of us less familiar with endurance challenges, an IRONMAN is a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26 mile run. We sat down in the kitchen and discussed over Cason's homemade specialty: stuffed bell peppers. 

LA: What were your emotions going into the IRONMAN? What kind of anticipatory feelings did you have?

CC: I was definitely nervous. I think I started to realize how much latent anxiety had been building up, in part, because it's a big race. But also in part because I hadn't been training for it. The lack of training doesn't mean you can't finish a race, it just means it will be more painful to get to the finish line. I was starting to get pretty anxious about how painful it would be. I was also excited, though. I was really excited for Fran who has been training. It was his first iron man and that's always an amazing feeling. Being there with someone who's embarking on their first Ironman is just an incredible experience, and I was really excited for him. 

LA: Once the race actually started, did your feelings change? How did you feel once the IRONMAN began?

CC: The Ironman starts with a 2.4 mile swim. And it's funny because I feel like I always have the exact same reaction when I start the swim in an Ironman, which is, the first 10 minutes are brutal. You're like, this is taking forever. I'm going to be swimming for forever. It feels like time just slows down. Every stroke feels like an eternity. But then your mind has to go into zen mode, and from there, the swim speeds by. I think one other thing that I observed was the water was very warm. I wasn't even wearing a wet suit. It was very warm and pleasant. So I thought the swim was lovely until the very end. The last mile of the swim was directly in the sun, and it made it very hard to see the buoys. So it was hard to know which way to go, and to make sure you're swimming in a straight line. But, other than that, it really was a perfect swim and great start to the race.

LA: What was it like representing your company at the IRONMAN?

CC: It was a great experience. During the race, a lot of people were like, oh, there's the coffee guy, which was cool. My favorite moment was--there's a hill on the run--it's a three loop run course, and on my second loop, I was walking up the hill, and one of the guys cheering said, if you run up this hill, I'll buy your coffee. So of course I ran up the hill. I hope he bought the coffee. I'm not sure if he ended up doing it, but, it definitely gave me some ideas for the next race I do.

LA: Have you ever drank cold brew or any type of caffeinated beverage during an IRONMAN, or in an endurance race before?

CC: This was my first race drinking Explorer, but it's certainly not the first race where I've needed a caffeine boost. Nutrition and caffeine in particular  are really important aspects to your race plan in an Ironman, and in a lot of other races. I actually consume a ton of caffeine throughout the race in various forms, but this was my first time drinking my own product. And honestly, it was great. It was partially inspired by a customer, Rhonda, who emailed me awhile back after she had finished a 100 mile bike ride. She said that she stashed a bottle of Extra Caf in her bike jersey, and she drank it two thirds of the way through the race. She said she would not have finished that 100 mile ride if not for Explorer. And so that was part of my inspiration. While it's not our primary use case, it's a fun thing to keep in mind for the endurance athletes out there, if they're looking for a real boost caffeine. One Extra Caf has about ten times as much caffeine as one caffeinated Gus.

LA: What was your favorite part of the IRONMAN experience?

CC: My favorite part of the experience was seeing my fiancé Fran at the finish line, and knowing he'd made it across. He finished ahead of me by about 45 minutes. So I didn't see him cross the line in real time, but, seeing him beaming at the end, it was clear that he was still in that post race, endorphins high, and that was really sweet.

LA: What draws you to an event like the IRONMAN?

CC: I'm drawn to ultra endurance challenges because I think it's really fun to push your body and your mind outside of what you think its limits are. An Ironman is a classic example of that. I mean, it is a long day for even the fittest people. But it's so much more mental than physical, just recognizing that it's about putting one foot in front of the other throughout the entire race. Also you get a ton of positive energy from the crowd, from the spectators, and from the other racers. It's such a  positive environment, and it gets pretty addictive.

LA: Is there anything you'd tell yourself or that you think of when you're at the toughest moments of the race?

CC: I think I've gotten very good at breaking down big races into smaller chunks, and big challenges in general into smaller pieces. I think that's true in an Ironman. It's also true in running a small business. In fact, I found myself more mentally prepared to do this Ironman than the previous ones because of the challenges I've experienced building a small business. On the final part of the race, you just have to break down the 26.2 miles into the aid stations at every mile and a half. You tell yourself, okay, I can go another mile and a half. That's only 15 to 20 minutes. And then you get to that station, and you go to the next one. In an Ironman, everyone's going a little bit slower than they would if it were just a marathon. So you can chat with people along the way, and meet new people. That helps pass the time as well. But from a pure mental fortitude standpoint, it's really just about focusing on breaking it down into the leg that you're doing, and then breaking that leg down into even more bite-size chunks. I would jog to the next shadowed area, and then jog through the parts that weren't in the shadows, and then walk to the next shadows, and then jog, or I'd walk up a hill and then jog the downhill, etc.

LA: What would you say to anyone who was thinking of doing an IRONMAN?

CC: Do it. Truly. It is one of the most incredible experiences. It's not easy for anyone, but that's the thing. It's not easy even for fit people, right? It's so much less physical than people think. Obviously there's a baseline of physical exertion that you need to be willing to commit to, to complete it. But it is so mental. I think a lot of people only realize this once they've been to one, even if they're not competing in it. Go check one out and look at the people competing, and regardless of your physical health background, you will see someone that looks shockingly like you, on any range of fitness or physical health. You just have to commit. You have to choose to do it and be willing to put yourself through up to 17 hours of pain and misery. But you come out the other side feeling like it was well worth it.

LA: What was your first meal post IRONMAN?

CC: We went out for dinner after. Fran was too nauseous to eat anything; he threw up. But I wolfed down a chicken parm. Throughout the race, you're eating and drinking all this like sweet stuff. The Gus, the shot blocks, the Gatorade. Like all of it is very sweet, so by the end, you're just craving savory food. You want like a real hearty pot roast. My chicken parm was delicious. I had a pizza as well.