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My Pre-Race Checklist and Gear

December 21, 2012

I’ve written extensively about my training and races themselves. But there’s a lot of preparation in the week ahead of the race to make sure I’m ready for race day. This post is about the gear I use and the steps I take to get ready. It’s written specifically to the Ironman, but a lot of it is similar for all races.

A week before the race, before even leaving Chicago, I got a deep tissue massage. I can’t afford this for all (or even most) of my races, but for the Ironman, it was worth it. I’m jealous of people that can afford these as a regular part of their training regimen! For the deep tissue massage to work right, it needs to be at least 5 or 6 days before the race. The massage promotes recovery and rebuilding of the muscle, but in the short term it puts a lot of stress on the muscles, so you don’t want to be racing the next day. Normally I also do light workouts most days in the week leading up to a race. I don’t want to stress my muscles too much, but do want to keep them fresh. The week leading up to the Ironman I felt warning signs of getting sick, so I skipped all workouts (fortunately I was completely healthy by the time I was in Arizona for race weekend). But I did do a swim and bike the day before the race — I always like to do a light workout the day before a race, because otherwise my muscles feel sluggish on race morning.

I also became more careful about my diet in the week leading up to the race. For some athletes, this could mean a major change in diet. Because I’m normally pretty good about my diet, it just means making sure I don’t have any “cheat days,” emphasizing water even more than usual, sprinkling salt on all my food, and letting myself eat a bit more (good) carbs than normal (e.g., fruit, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, rice).

There are other logistical details to take care of in that final week. Do I have directions to the course and hotel? How am I getting there? How is my bike getting there? What food/drink will be offered at aid stations on the course, and do I need to bring any food with me if I want something else? When and where is race check-in and packet pickup? Do I have my USA Triathlon card for packet pickup? Is my Garmin GPS watch fully charged for race morning? Where am I eating my final pre-race dinner? Can I get the kind of food I want / need there? Did I set an alarm on my phone and a hotel wake-up call before going to bed?

100_5798But now let’s turn to the main point of this post: my gear. The first time I did a triathlon, back in 2008, I think the only triathlon specific gear I bought was a pair of tri shorts. Even that was not really necessary. I definitely strongly believe in the “start with what you have” mantra for gear. But when you do embrace triathlon as a sport, it’s amazing how quickly the gear can multiply. And I spent only a small fraction of what some people spend on gear!

There is one key distinction between an Ironman and most triathlons for setting up our gear. For most triathlons, I would bring a large backpack (or triathlon bag) with all my gear in it. I would set up my bike on the bike racks (some races assign spots on the racks, others are first-come first-serve) and set up my run, bike, and any other gear on the ground next to my bike. For the Ironman, they gave us the five plastic bags pictured at left for our gear: bike gear, bike special needs, run gear, run special needs, and morning clothes. Each of these bags was about 12 x 18″. After the swim, a 100_5792volunteer would bring our bike gear bag. We would take our bike gear out of it and deposit our wetsuit and swim gear in it. After the bike, we would get our run gear bag, likewise taking out our run gear and depositing our bike gear. We would get the special needs bags half-way through the respective events. And the morning clothes bag we could pick up after the race (helpful for dry clothes, cell phones, etc). Overall this meant for less stress. But it did mean I could not use the same item (e.g., body glide) in both swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions.

My “base layers” for the triathlon (pictured at right) typically include De Soto bike bib shorts, a 2XU compression triathlon singlet, heart rate monitor chest strap, timing chip strap with chip, and compression calf sleeves. I put all of this on in the morning before leaving my hotel and wear it under my wetsuit on the swim. For most triathlons, I would wear this gear on the bike and run as well. But the Ironman gives us a chance to fully change between events (they have a changing tent). I did still wear this gear beneath my wetsuit for the Ironman, but I would fully change for the run. I also ended up not wearing my compression sleeves during the swim and instead putting on full compression socks for the bike and then changing into the compression sleeves for just the run.

100_5791For the swim, I have a triathlon wetsuit, two pairs of goggles, suit juice, swim cap (always race provided), and neoprene booties. The triathlon wetsuit is thinner than a diving wetsuit, particularly in the shoulders, for swim flexibility. in addition to warmth (the water was 64 degrees!), it provides buoyancy. I typically wear the tinted goggles in a race (especially Arizona, where we swim towards the rising sun). But I bring my pool goggles as backup in case the tinted goggles break. The Ironman was the first time I used booties in a race. They are only legal if the water is 65 degrees or colder. So glad I got these. They meant that my feet were not numb and frozen all day after the swim!

100_5794My bike gear includes computer (left on the bike itself), socks (rolled up to easily pull onto wet feet), bike shoes, race number and belt, chamois cream (to avoid skin chafing), heart rate monitor, sunglasses, bike gloves, and helmet. Elites don’t take the time to pull cycling gloves on, but the extra cushioning and better grip is worth the extra 30 seconds for me! In some races, we only have to wear our number on the run (our number is prominent on our helmet and taped to our bikes already), but in the Ironman we need to wear it on the bike and run. By putting the number on an elastic belt, it is easy to pull on and move it from my back to my front when I transition bike to run. My bike shoes tighten with a dial on the side, making it easy to tighten them quickly when I first pull them on and even adjust while sitting on the bike if I have to! As previously noted, I ended up using my calf-length compression socks on the bike instead of the socks pictured here.

100_5705My saddle bag (pictured with contents at left) would be on my bike itself, right under my saddle. It has a spare tube, tire levers, CO2 cartridges (for fast inflation of tires), CO2 inflator, spare screws for my cleats (I’ve had cleat problems in the past), and a patch kit (doubt I would ever actually use that in a race). For the Ironman, I ended up adding a third CO2 cartridge to what’s pictured here and duct-taping a second spare tube to my bike frame. Fortunately, I did not need any of it during the race. (I always say that if I am way over-prepared, I won’t need it.)

100_5795For the run (gear pictured at right), I always have my running shoes, patella knee braces, GPS watch, and hat (not pictured). For the Ironman, I also had fresh shorts, tri jersey, socks, and nutrition. My shoes are Brooks Pure Cadence. I love them. Light weight and only 4 mm heel-to-toe drop (designed to encourage a mid foot strike instead of a heel strike) but with enough cushioning for a long run. I have elastic shoe laces on them that let me just pull the shoes on and go — I haven’t adjusted the laces at all in months. I put the second pair of socks pictured here in my run special needs bag so that I could change socks mid-way through the run.

100_5797There is food and water/drinks on course at aid stations, but anything specific I want I need to bring. The odd shaped “profile design” bottle in the photo goes between my handlebars and is the primary bottle I drink out of while on the bike. It has a mesh top that lets me drain a water bottle into it without getting off the bike. The salt stick (white capsules in the plastic baggie) and Fizz (tablets that dissolve in water) both have salt, potassium, magnesium, and other minerals that I lose in my sweat. I put the cookies in my special needs bags for little on-course pick-me-ups. And I used the honey stinger for energy on the run. In Ironman (and half Ironman) races, at the bike aid stations they give us disposable plastic sports water bottles (like the kind you would get at the grocery store), so I only put one of my bike water bottles on my bike with my carb-protein sports drink (and a second bottle of that drink waiting in my bike special needs bag) so that I had an empty water bottle cage on my bike for the fresh water.

Learning to change gear between events is a skill unto itself. I’ve done my best this year, but my transitions are still slow. The professionals do these transitions in no more than a couple minutes each. Definitely something I can continue to work on as I continue with triathlon.

34 days since Ironman Arizona.


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  1. ironmanandrew permalink

    great photos! i have a blog about triathlon: is a lot of crap and I could take a few pointers from you here. very well done my friend.

    • Jeff Kosbie permalink

      Don’t sell yourself short. Your blog looks good too!

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