Essential gear for Ironman 70.3

So you've signed up for Ironman 70.3 or even Ironman and you are relatively new to this environment. Watch out there is a lot of carbon bling and lot of things you can buy that might help you go a fraction quicker, but is it essential?  Well that is up to you and your budget and in this blog I want to run through some thoughts and considerations about setting yourself up for Ironman 70.3 or Ironman.   The intention here is to give an overview, not go into too much product detail as you can do that research once you decide on how you want to approach this.  

Training Preparation

In preparing for an event like this it is really useful to have some kind of plan that you will follow - there is a lot of information available online but if you don't understand it and how to apply it then it that can be challenging. There are three main choices you have to best prepare for your event. 

  • Read books or online articles about how to train for an event such as this and create your own training plan - you might come to some road blocks through the process and you might have a group of people that might able to help you. 
  • Template training plans are useful if you don't want a hands on personalized approach and are often a lot cheaper - you need to be able to understand the information provided and you need to hope that this is pitched at your level correctly, it won't evolve or change if situation arise like injury or if you are stronger in a specific discipline. 
  • A coach is a great option if you want to tap into their knowledge and experience as they guide you through the process toward your event. Most coaches require weekly or monthly payments for their services and comparatively more expensive but can really help individuals with accountability, feedback and much much more. 

Swimming

Squad vs Self Directed

You can choose to swim in a squad which is great way to meet other like minded people and get some direction with your swim training and receive some technique support.

  • You'll generally have a swim squad fee and some squads you'll have to also pay your entry fee to the pool.
  • Doing it on your own is obviously a bit cheaper but you'll have to share the lane with other random people doing there own thing which at times can be quite difficult.  You may choose to try and swim at off peak times to get a better session. 
  • You can get template swim programs or if you are working with a TRI COACH they should provide you with the session details if you are not swimming in a squad. 

Equipment

At the pool you are going to need some equipment but the bare essentials are togs and goggles (and a swim cap is useful for individuals with long hair).

  1. Togs 
  2. Goggles
  3. Cap 

Otherwise equipment that is often used in squads and in swim template programs

  1. Fins 
  2. Pull Buoy
  3. Paddles
  4. Kick board

Open Water

Beach Series Small.jpg

Wetsuits are very helpful in the open water as they provide a lot of buoyancy which really helps in triathlon. In most events in NZ you are generally expected to wear one. 

You may want to consider the type of swimmer you are when you choose a wetsuit as the wetsuits come with various numbers of panels and thicknesses, therefore can provide additional buoyancy and flexibility.  You don't always have to spend the most to get the best wetsuit for you. There are some very good middle range wetsuits that are perfect for many swimmers and there are also some very expensive wetsuits which are only good for certain types of swimmers.  Talk to your swim coach or local retailer about the best options based on how you swim.  

It's also helpful to have a good pair of goggles that you only use for the open water (that doesn't have the chlorine haze on them) - this will help you to sight in the open water much more easily.  It is also a good idea to have a suit lube (body glide) as often people chafe around their neck when wearing a wetsuit and also by using this around ankles/knees/elbows/shoulders it will help with the quick removal of the wetsuit in transition. 

  1. Wetsuit
  2. Brightly colored swim cap 
  3. Open water goggles 
  4. Wetsuit lube

Cycling

This a massive topic but I've broken this down into three areas and given some basic ideas around this.

  1. Clothing
  2. Bike
  3. Additional cycling equipment

Clothing

It is useful to have some cycle gear - a good set of cycle pants with a good comfortable chamois provides a huge amount of comfort when you are on the bike (remember don't wear underpants as well). A cycle top provides pockets conveniently located for your nutrition/phone etc when you are on the bike. Choose brighter colors as this will help you be seen when you are on the road. A helmet is a absolute must have and again you have a range of choices available - you may choose for events to use an aero helmet but this is not essential. Another essential item is cycle gloves - they provide comfort and grip when you are riding and if you happen to have an accident gloves will protect your hands from being torn up on the gravel.

Aero helmets usually have less air vents, covers more of the head often the ears and sometimes has a visor. A large number of people will use an aero helmet during a triathlon but is not a necessity. 

Aero helmets usually have less air vents, covers more of the head often the ears and sometimes has a visor. A large number of people will use an aero helmet during a triathlon but is not a necessity. 

A standard type helmet will have more vents and is more commonly used for training, cycling events and also acceptable to use in triathlon events. 

A standard type helmet will have more vents and is more commonly used for training, cycling events and also acceptable to use in triathlon events. 

Clip on shoes are going to be something you will have to get into at some stage but you can choose from getting a cheaper pair which usually have a plastic sole vs a carbon one.  A tri shoe will make it easier for you to get in and out of during a triathlon and when you are ready to leave your shoes on the bike for transition then you'll have the right type of shoe.. 

If you choose a cycle shoes then you can usually get shoes with Velcro straps or ratchet tightening options. When you are participating in triathlons when your feet are wet, a wider opening is easier to get your feet in and out of. 

Basic cycle shoe usually with 2-3 valcro straps and a plastic sole.

Basic cycle shoe usually with 2-3 valcro straps and a plastic sole.

Advance cycle shoe with carbon soles and tightening straps or ratchet type system to help provide a very secure fitting shoe.

Advance cycle shoe with carbon soles and tightening straps or ratchet type system to help provide a very secure fitting shoe.

Triathlon shoe - usually with 1-2 velcro straps but also has a hook on the heel to help get your feet in and also to secure your shoe on your bike in an upright position in T1.

Triathlon shoe - usually with 1-2 velcro straps but also has a hook on the heel to help get your feet in and also to secure your shoe on your bike in an upright position in T1.

Highly recommend

  1. Cycle pants with a good chamois
  2. Cycle Top 
  3. Helmet 
  4. Gloves 
  5. Cycle/Tri Shoes

Other additions to clothing 

  1. Sunglasses - protect your eyes when you are on the bike
  2. Jackets/ Vests
  3. Arm Warmers/ Leg Warmers 
  4. Thermals in the winter

The Bike 

This itself is an even bigger topic and I don't want to make this overly complicated. Firstly figure out what your budget is and then try to stick to it but remember there are quite a few additional requirements once you are shopping for a bike and you can easily add on an addition $300+ to the cost of the bike. 

Road bike with tri bars

  • The geometry of the bike is a little harder to work with when putting on tri bars to get optimal position but if that's what you've got, then do the best you can.
  • If you are converting your current road bike for triathlon you may want to consider shortening the stem and pushing the seat forward. 
  • If you going to purchase a road bike and bolt on the tri bars then changing gears is a little bit of a hassle as you have to move your arms off the tri bars to the shifters on the side of the handle bars.
  • The road bike option with tri bars has a less aggressive postion and can be more comfortable and stable for many people. Your weight is more toward the mid to back of the bike.
  • If you are purchasing a new bike make sure you tell the bike shop you intend to use it for triathlon so they can help you make the best decision on the road bike you choose as you probably don't want carbon handle bars if you are going to try bolt on aero bars without risk of cracking the carbon. 
A road bike with TT bars and standard wheels. 

A road bike with TT bars and standard wheels. 

A road bike with TT bars and race wheels

A road bike with TT bars and race wheels

TT bars are bolted onto the handle bars

TT bars are bolted onto the handle bars

Tri bike/ time trial bike

  • The geometry of the bike is perfect for long distance triathlons where more time is spent on the aero bars
  • Getting the right size is key so don't always look for the same size frame as what you would be on your road bike (possibly a size smaller)
  • Get the bike set-up checked thoroughly to get the most comfort in the TT position - some TT bikes have more room for adjustments than others.
  • The position is more aggressive and can take some getting used to as your weight is more toward the front of the bike. To start with riding downhill and coming into turns while using your brakes (prior to corners) can feel a little scary. 
  • You need to always being looking ahead to make the correct gear changes as the gears are generally at the end of the aero bars (although there is an option to have them next to the brakes as well)
Time trial bike mainly used for triathlon events 

Time trial bike mainly used for triathlon events 

Time trial bike with disc wheel and a deep dish 1080 on the front

Time trial bike with disc wheel and a deep dish 1080 on the front

Bike Fit

Getting a bike fit is essential to purchasing a bike. Most shops will offer this service when you purchase a bike but it maybe something that evolves over time and getting another fit after riding the bike for 4-6 weeks can be a good investment and using a specific bike fit expert can be very helpful. Choose a the right person for your bike fit - you need to tell them the distance of the event you are doing, your current ability and amount of riding you are doing. There is no point in being in the most aerodynamic position if you body is not flexible enough to hold that position for 90-180km. You are better off to be less aggressive in your bike fit and be able to maintain a position for longer than having to constantly get off the aero bars due to lack of comfort.  Two of the trusted providers that I use are Ben Marshall at Performance Bicycle Tuning or David Bowden at Speed Theory. 

Additions to the cost of the bike

The bike will come with a set of wheels which should be all you need if you just want to get started but you may choose to upgrade to better wheels (lighter and more aerodynamic) or having a set of "race wheels" then they'll be additional cost and choices to that. Usually the tires that come with most bikes are good for the short term but I would always factor in a new set of tires at some stage. If you are going to use the tires on a wind trainer (WT) that has the tire directly on the roller then you'll find that it will wear thin quickly - so would recommend sacrificing one tire for the WT and having a better one for when you are out on the road.

Bike Computer - you can get basic bike computers for $100-$150 they provide speed, cadence and distance. If you are working with a coach or if you like to record the data from your training an investment into a watch with GPS, ANT+ or Bluetooth sensors will help you to record your training.  If you choose this then you'd want to get something that is multi functional so has the ability to help you with data and information for all the disciplines (swim, bike, run) not just the bike.

Power Meter - training with power adds a whole new dimension to the training process and there are huge range of options available and a cost upward of $1000.  If you don't know what these and aren't particularly analytical in your training process then this isn't for you. If you are working with a coach then this tool is hugely beneficial and your development can become very specific. 

  1. Pedals
  2. Drink bottle cages
  3. Spare tubes
  4. Track pump (to pump tires up to the right pressure at home)
  5. Bike pump or Co2 (to take with you on the bike)
  6. Spare tubes with the correct valve length (if you have deeper wheels you'll need longer valves)
  7. Tire leavers (to help with changing tubes that have punctures or changing tires)
  8. Bento box (carry food and clips/straps onto the top tube)
  9. Saddle bag (to carry spare tubes and Co2 etc)
  10. Bike computer or watch that includes bike functions (see above)
  11. Wind trainer
  12. Bike lights 
  13. Chamois Cream
  14. Power Meter

 Running 

In comparison to cycling running is pretty straight forward. A comfortable t-shirt or singlet, shorts, a number of good pairs of running socks and a set of running shoes is the basics.

Essential 

  1. Run Shorts 
  2. T-shirt/ Singlet
  3. Run Shoes 
  4. Socks

Optional

  1. Stretchy Laces
  2. Watch 
  3. Hat
  4. Sunglasses

The right shoe

I would highly recommend getting your running gait analysed from a shoe shop first to at least get the right type of shoe for you.  There are a number of shoe shops that offer this type of service but a video analysis is probably the most useful to see how you impact the ground as you run.  

Find a comfortable running shoes especially for an Ironman. A lot of people's running technique changes over time and with fatigue, so often a shoe with a little more cushioning and a higher profile is a better option than a racing flat (lower profile shoe). 

Find a comfortable running shoes especially for an Ironman. A lot of people's running technique changes over time and with fatigue, so often a shoe with a little more cushioning and a higher profile is a better option than a racing flat (lower profile shoe). 

A racing flat is a nice and light shoe with a lower profile. They often feel great to run in but I'd recommend these more for advanced runners, especially for events like Ironman distance events. You won't get quite as many KM in racing flats.

A racing flat is a nice and light shoe with a lower profile. They often feel great to run in but I'd recommend these more for advanced runners, especially for events like Ironman distance events. You won't get quite as many KM in racing flats.

Be prepared to buy 2-3 pairs of running shoes over the journey - a pair of running shoes will last somewhere between 400-800km so ask about this when you purchase your specific pair of shoes.  There are a number of brands and nearly every brand will offer a shoe fit for your running style and purpose so choose the most comfortable option for you and don't be afraid to ask the retailer why they recommend a particular shoe.

Elastic Laces

A fast transition is pretty helpful and by using eleastic/stretchy laces you won't have to worry about tying shoe laces in transition or having them come undone through your run. If you choose this option get them on your shoes early as it can be a bit of process to adjust them to get the right amount of pressure/support around your foot (it is very easy to have them too tight and that can be very uncomfortable). 

Watch

My personal recommendation is the Polar V800 for triathlon training and racing. 

My personal recommendation is the Polar V800 for triathlon training and racing. 

As mentioned above - a multi purpose watch is great way to record information such as heart rate, cadence, distance, speed, time etc so see if you can get a watch that will provide you this information if you want it. More basic stop watch options are available if you simply just want a stop watch or heart rate. Just make sure you look at the functionality of cheaper options as many have limited screen views and information available - as your needs increase you may find this quite frustrating and you'll possibly be back for a new one.  

Tri Specific Clothing

Ideally you want to have tri suit that you can wear under your wetsuit for the swim, on the bike and then on the run.  You can get two piece tri suits or one piece tri suits - so see what you will be most comfortable wearing by trying them on for size first in stores. 

In some events they provide change tents at transition for you to put on other apparel if you want. Some people may choose to wear cycling clothing when they are on the bike and run shorts and singlet/t-shirt on the run. If you choose to do this then be prepared for a much longer transition time. 

You may feel a little self conscious about wearing this the first time but generally everyone wears this so it's probably only you that has to get your head around your new lycra look :-) 

Coaches Note

When I first started triathlon I trained with a group of people that often had the latest and greatest things to hit the tri world.  It would have been easy to follow the crowd (maybe not on the wallet) and continually purchase new equipment that saved me a few less grams in weight or an aerodynamic benefit of 2min if perfectly positioned over 180km but I chose to work with what I had and evolve my equipment when I was ready. 

I completed my first half ironman and ironman with a second hand wetsuit, a $2500 alloy road bike set- up with shimano 105 and some bolted on aero bars. I finished my first ironman in 10:08 and have to admit I was pretty in-secure prior to the race with my equipment but that was not enough to hold me back from beating 100s of people with much better gear than me. 

I wanted to go faster and loved being a part of the sport and was lucky enough to b e provided Blueseventy Helix Wetsuits which I still have and use to this day and over the years invested in a carbon time trial bike, power meter, race wheels and other bits of carbon which certainly helped bring down my time for my next few half ironman and ironman events with greater ease. At the same time I spent a lot of additional hours training with the guidance from a coach and that I am sure helped a whole lot more. 

This sport is fun and addictive and if you have the ability and budget to get it all - then go for it, but remember you are the engine and if you train that well and look after it then it will get you to the finish line.