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Road to Ironman: Essential Triathlon Gear

What to pack, what to use

Editor’s Note: Let’s start with honesty. Triathlons aren’t an everyman sport. 95% of participants in Ironman Louisville had a post-secondary education. Triathlons are a big commitment in terms of training time and resources committed to everything from gear to nutrition. The longer the race, the greater the commitment. In Road to Ironman, Jeremy has taken a sensible approach: high quality gear, but only the essentials. That means no storm trooper helmet to shave a few seconds off the bike ride, no compression socks, and no blood doping.

Triathlon is an event for gear freaks. Even a competitor who fancies himself a minimalist, this author included, will delight in the quantity and specificity of the gear available for each discipline.

But all the gear in the world does not a multi-sport athlete make. Some people accessorize their tri bikes like they’re trying to impress Anna Wintour. Five bottle holders? Salt pill dispensers? A bike mount for your race number? Relax. Let us know when there’s an anti-chafe gremlin that hangs under the bike seat and applies lube at mile 80. Bonus points if he’s a good conversationalist.

That leaves plenty of things that are important. We’ve got them all for you after the jump.

Road to Ironman
Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Conversation with Phillip Bauman, MD | Part 3: Swim, Bike, Run, Eat | Part 4: Training with a USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year | Part 5: Welcome to Midterms | Part 6: Triathlon Essentials

Specialized Shiv Expert


Some people who’ve rode the Shiv call it a rocket ship. Some people who see it cruise by just say “Whoa.” We’ve taken to calling it the “Treats Truck” after a dessert truck in New York where we get oatmeal jammies, peanut butter sandwiches, and pecan butterscotch bars between swim and bike workouts.

The first thing to know is that in designing the Shiv, Specialized ignored International Cycling Union rules. What does that mean? The UCI is the Switzerland-based governing body for cycling, overseeing practically all the major events across the various cycling disciplines (road, mountain, track, so on). They establish rules so a rider can’t show up to the Tour de France with some self-propelled DARPA prototype that dusts the competition (that’d be like Super PACs being legal… oh wait.) Triathlons are governed by a totally different set of standards, handed down by the International Triathlon Union, USA Triathlon and World Triathlon Corporation, which owns Ironman.


The rules are different because the sport is different. In USAT and WTC events, drafting isn’t legal, so having a very aerodynamic bike becomes essential on long rides. In designing a bike that’s tri-specific, Specialized could really focus on making a super fast, wind-cheating demon. That’s exactly what the Shiv is.

It also turned out to be a great bike to take us from beginner to Ironman. We went through the Specialized Body Geometry custom fit to adjust everything from the saddle height to stance width to the position of the aero bars, which all adds up to a greater conversion of effort to power on the bike.

An added bonus on the Shiv is a hydration system integrated into the downtube, giving riders one fewer water bottle to fumble. It’s also a good place to stash your passport and a few bills should you need to drop off the RADAR for a while.


Pedals:We’re using the Speedplay Zero Pedal System, which we recommend very highly. The best thing about Speedplay pedals is that they’re so adaptable: rotational float is changeable within 15 degrees, and foot axis adjustments can all be made independently of each other. The more adjustability the better when you’re trying to fine-tune your stance.

Buy Now: $4,400

Timex Ironman Run Trainer GPS HRM


Timex is practically synonymous with Ironman. The brand is a key sponsor of both the race and multi-sport athletes (including Chris Thomas, who we interviewed for this series), and they make high-end training gear.

The truth is we overlooked the importance of training with a device that records workouts and monitors your heart-rate. It wasn’t until we met with Chris Thomas that we learned how much more effective training could be if we were logging workouts and using Training Peaks software. The way it works is that you create or buy a plan that will result in meeting a goal, whether that’s a 5K or an Ironman. Each workout in the plan has a purpose — increasing your speed, say, or actively recovering from a hard workout — the sum of which is to maximize total performance by making each session meaningful. The watch keeps track of your performance and vitals, all of which gets downloaded into Training Peaks to make sure nobody’s stopping for burgers on the long runs.

If you have a coach, he’ll probably suggest getting one of these. If you’re coaching yourself, like we did, get this watch or something like it.

Buy Now: $275

New Balance NBx Minimus Singlet , New Balance NBx Minimus Split Short, Zoot Ultra Tri Race Suit , Aquasphere Wetsuit


What you wear on race day will probably be a little different than what you train in, with the exception of long workouts and bricks (swim + bike, bike + run, etc.) where you’re trying to simulate triathlon conditions. The New Balance singlet and shorts are super lightweight and great looking — ideal for showing off the guns you’ve built up in the pool.

Zoot was born in Kona, home of the Ironman World Championship, and they’re tier-1 for endurance- and tri-specific gear. This race suit has the thoughtful fit of a finely-tailored Martin Greenfield suit — moisture wicking and insanely quick-drying, muscle support, a comfortable hem with no leg-gripper, a bike pad that’s effective but almost unnoticeable — plus you can pee in it without taking it to the dry cleaner. Take our word for it. Swim, bike, run — all in this suit.

A word on wetsuit rules: Ironman rules allow wetsuits no thicker than 5mm in water up to 76.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Between 76.1 and 83.8 degrees, wetsuits are allowed but athletes choosing to wear them are not eligible for awards. Above 83.8 (e.g., Louisville), no wetsuits at all.

Our experience with Aqua Sphere’s Racer is that it increases buoyancy significantly and cuts down on drag, making your open-water swim easier and faster. It’s meant to fit very snugly, which takes a few swims to get used to, but the 1mm stretch zones mean you can move quite freely. Words of wisdom for new triathletes: practice as if you won’t be allowed to wear a wetsuit. You want to be confident and comfortable in the swim with or without the suit. But absolutely wear it in races where it’s allowed, especially long-distance tris.

Buy Now: NBx Minimus Singlet: $50, NBx Minimus Split Short $55, Tri Race Suit $200, Wetsuit $499

Light & Motion Taz 800, Light & Motion Solite 100



We tested the Taz 800 (a prototype of the Taz 1200) and Solite 100, designed and made by Light & Motion in Monterey, California. If you’re going to invest in good lights, it’s the type of company you want to support: local, environmentally-friendly, built by people who use the stuff.

On to the gear. Both of these lights charge with a micro USB cable. The Taz mounts on your handlebars and runs anywhere from 1.5 hours (on high) to 18 hours (on flash). It’s exceptionally bright; don’t shine it in your buddy’s face. The Solite is super versatile. It’s light-weight, bright, runs for 2.5 hours on high on up to 100 hours on the lowest setting (“read”), and attaches right on to your helmet (use it as a headlamp when you’re hiking). We also strapped it onto a backpack for use as a rear bike light when riding in traffic. Red-filtered side lighting on the Taz and the Solite improve your visibility to other bikers, vehicles, pedestrians, and wild animals. In New York, this means cars will have an easier time ID-ing you and running you off the road. Elsewhere, we hope, it’s a safety boon.

For riders looking to do long trips at night, consider getting an after-market backup battery pack.

Buy Now: Taz 800 $299, Solite 100 $100



Mandatory for all spectators. If you do not have one, one will be provided for you.

Buy Now: $10

Body Glide


Looks like a deodorant stick but it’s even better: hypoallergenic, non-petroleum based lubricant. Put it on anywhere that chafes, blisters or sticks. Honorable mention to Chamois Butt’r. And here’s a free tip: Don’t eat the communal pretzels or chips on the run course. This stuff doesn’t get inside people’s butts on its own.

Buy Now: $10

Uvex Xenova Race


Ironman requires racers to wear helmets certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This is a pretty straight-forward, low-profile helmet with a dial in the back to adjust the size. We picked it up in NH after forgetting to pack a helmet on race day.

Buy Now: $89

Mavic Tourmaline


Mavic is a French company that makes all kinds of bike systems, wheels, rims, computers, pedals and helmets that are much cooler looking than our Uvex. The Tourmaline is their entry-level road shoe, which we’ve worn barefoot for nearly 1,000 miles without a problem. We did make some modifications to the right shoe to compensate for a slightly shorter right leg (who knew) and high arches. The fix? A cleat stacker for height and the Specialized BG Performance Footbeds for more arch support.

Buy Now: $120

Smith PivLock V2


Anyone planning to get on a bike in the middle of the day for 6-7 hours needs sunglasses, principally for the sun, but also for the insects that get a whole lot more dangerous to your eyeball at speeds of 30mph+. These are unimpeachable. They’ve got an unobstructed field of view and a set of three easily-changeable lenses that snap out by simply pivoting the earpiece and sliding the nosepiece down. This design, coupled with the hydroleophobic coating, also makes the PivLock lenses very easy to clean.

Buy Now: $159

TYR Special Ops Goggles and Swimcap


Any latex swimcap will do, better if it’s a souvenir from a previous race. If you’re wondering, “Do I need a swimcap?” Most pools require them for lap swim, and they keep goggles in place.

The goggles pictured here are from Aqua Sphere, but we’ve since been converted by the Special Ops goggles from TYR, which have polarized lenses, anti-fog, and the most comfortable gaskets we’ve ever strapped on our eyes for several hours at a time. Goggles fit is really a matter of personal preference, so always try them on before buying.

Buy Now: $30

New Balance Minimus Trail


For triathletes, the end of the race is the beginning of the run, and it had better be comfortable. Without getting too deep into the minimalist running debate, we’re advocates of shoes that provide a little bit of padding and let our feet do the rest. In our very personal, individual experience, this approach leads to a better stride, fewer injuries, and more fun.

The NB Minimus trail is basically a foot sleeve with knobby Vibram sole. It’s super comfortable on trails, on the road, and just walking around the house. However, even though this is one of our favorite shoes to train in, we ended up running Mascoma Man in the Skora Form, which, with its asymmetric lacing and tongueless construction, fit really comfortably without socks. In Louisville, we’re switching to the Adidas Adizero Feather 2.0 because we’ve had a lot of luck with the first version of this shoe and suspect we’ll want a touch more padding during the last leg of Ironman. (Here again, we made a slight footwear modification, cutting 1/2″ off the back of the Feather 2.0 because it was drawing blood in the achilles region. A real shame to cut up such nice kicks.) The other shoe we really like for longer distances is the ECCO Biom B, which is very comfortable and expensive enough that you won’t want to make any capricious modifications.

Buy Now: $109

Road to Ironman

Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Conversation with Phillip Bauman, MD | Part 3: Swim, Bike, Run, Eat | Part 4: Training with a USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year | Part 5: Welcome to Midterms | Part 6: Triathlon Essentials

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