As I said in the first of this series of posts, I can only comment on the experiences I actually had. However, a lot of the mystery is in what comes before the race rather than what’s in it and in that regard, I do have what I think is helpful advice.
A full Ironman (or competitor’s equivalent) will have special needs bags during the run and the bike? What goes in this bag? You decide. That said, some choices are better than others.
I’m going to work on the assumption that you will be dropping off your bag on the morning of the race prior to arriving at the starting area. In the case of Boulder, the drop-off location is downtown near Boulder High School and before you get on the bus that takes you out to the reservoir for the start. Last year, my brother and I dropped ours off in the wee hours of the morning (like 4:00 or so) and caught one of the first shuttles (school buses) from Boulder High out to the reservoir.
Personal preference plays into this quite a bit but here are few general tips that I’ve come up with based on my experiences last year.
1) You won’t get it back. Don’t put anything of real value in the bag because it won’t be given back to you. All unclaimed items end up in the trash. It’s not a terrible idea to have an extra pair of socks, for example, but make it an older pair that you won’t mind losing. Hopefully you won’t need them anyway.
2) If it can melt, don’t pack it. I put a couple of KIND bars in my bag, one of which had chocolate and the other had a PBJ mixture. Both delicious and both a big gooey mess. Bags are stored outside and in the potentially hot sun. Unless you have a high level of confidence that it won’t be warm on your race day, I would avoid such items.
3) Don’t pack course-supported items. This ought to be obvious but I’ve heard stories of folks packing things that are provided by the race. I can’t speak to other brands, but a WTC, Ironman branded event will be very well supported (it’s part of what the hefty entry fee goes toward). Take advantage of what’s free at the aid stations and pack unique items they don’t offer.
4) Not just food. As I indicated in item 1 above, you might pack a spare pair of socks or if you are legitimately concerned about cold, a hat or gloves (unlikely to be needed in most races but there are exceptions). My brother had notes from his kids providing encouragement. You don’t need much but a few minor items like that are helpful.
5) Quick to eat. Something that you can chomp down in a minute or less is best. Odds are you’re going to be dry mouthed and your stomach will probably have shrunk down to the size of an orange so abundant or hard to chew items may be difficult. What’s best is something you can eat as you ride or run along, but keep in mind, you may need water to wash it down as well.
6) Don’t plan around it. Special Needs Bags can provide some welcome relief, even something to look forward to, but things happen and a race plan that depends on items in the bag is flawed. I could have lived without my KIND bars last year. Sure they were better than the gels I had been eating but they also did not make my day. Thinking of your special needs bag as an insurance policy is a better way to go. If things go really wrong (like your feet are soaked or you are demoralized and need a message from a family member) then it will help. Otherwise, be ready to treat it like any other race.
At an Ironman event, you’ll get a number of color-coded bags including two special needs for bike and run. They’re about the size of a standard shopping bag. Spend some time thinking about what you want to add and have everything organized for race morning. It will be one less thing to stress about.
Like my other advice, this is pretty specific and will not apply to all people nor all situations. However, with any luck, I’ve given you something to think about.
Thanks for reading!