Packing for Ironman is like packing for a month long trip. There are so many things you could, would, might need that you may as well just dump everything you own in a bag and go. The only good part about packing for the Ironman in Hawaii is that chances are you won’t need your arm warmers, leg warmers, tights, balaclava, or fleece mittens. But don’t you even think for one moment that I didn’t throw such items into my suitcase last year just in case.
So here it is, my Ironman packing list. Take from it what you need!
THINGS YOU NEED TO PACK FOR THE RACE:
They will have a bag for you to check your gear into before the race.
*Race suit options, race belt, watch, heart rate monitor & strap, pins.
Pack several options. For one thing, you never know what the weather will be. For another, you met get out there and change your mind. Last year I traveled to Hawaii with three race suits. Each day before the race, I practiced in a different suit to see which felt the best in the ocean. None of them did so I spent the next 3 days running around our hotel room to imagine what would feel the best over 140.6 miles. Finally, I settled on the two piece suit.
Most importantly, decide if you are going to race in the same suit you swim in or change for the bike. Changing is not a problem and it won’t take long. Don’t worry yourself with nightmares about getting tangled in your own web of a wet bra top with no way out forced to run the rest of Ironman with your boobs hanging out and your arms knotted about your head. As soon as you walk into the changing tent there will be 20 of your new best friends waiting to rip your clothes off of you and help you redress.
Along with racing suit, you’ll need your race number and belt. Put it on in the beginning and keep it there. Pin it to a belt, wrap the number around the belt, and wear it for the swim. No, you will not chafe. If it is not a wetsuit swim, tuck the race belt into your shorts/bottoms. Unroll it slightly for the bike (don’t let it flap) and fully for the run. You have to remember a lot of things during Ironman. The less you have to remember to put on, take off, bring along – the better off you’ll be so it’s nice to know your number is on.
Some people need/want to race with a heart rate monitor. I did this once during a half IM and almost tossed the thing when I couldn’t get it to stop beeping. A watch will help you stay on track for your nutrition/hydration schedule. Other than that, don’t get too caught up in time. The time will pass, it always does. Quickly or slowly depends on how successfully you implement and stick to your race plan.
*Two pairs of goggles, Body Glide.
If possible, swim as many days as possible before the race. It will put your mind at rest and it will feel good. Once you are done with your swim, get the hell out of that water. Don’t sit there and commiserate about the course/distance with others. By all means resist the urge to people watch. Everyone will look fitter and faster than you. They probably are.
If you think you'll chafe, wipe yourself down with Body Glide.
Always bring two pairs of goggles. You can always give the extra pair to a spectator before the race but it’s nice to know that if your other pairs breaks you are prepared. My sports doctor told me a story about pro at Kona. One year she got swatted at during the swim and her goggles broke. To keep her mind at ease, the next year she carried an extra pair of goggles through the swim. Not sure what this does for drag but if it works for peace of mind it might be worth it.
*Helmet, cycling shoes, two pairs of socks, baby powder, Bento Box, bike nutrition/hydration, water bottles, sunglasses, little bag or cloth to wipe your sunglasses, Aquaphor or Body Glide, chammy butter, 2 spare tires, 2 inner tubes, levers, way to inflate your tubes, salt tabs/electrolyte tubes, black electrical tape, gloves.
If you wear socks when you race, bring two pairs for the bike. Throw baby powder in your shoes and socks before you put them on to keep them from sliding. Put an extra pair of socks in your special needs bag just in case. You dump a lot of crap on your head in Ironman as you ride – and there is no guarantee that maybe once in a moment of Ironman-induced dumb-ass-attack you dump Gatorade on your head instead of water. Wet, sticky feet might not be fun for 56 miles.
After you accidentally dump Gatorade on your head, it will also help to have something to wipe your sunglasses off with – resist the urge to use your race suit or jersey. At the halfway point, you can ask a kind volunteer to use their shirt or bring a little cloth bag in your special needs bag.
If you’re worried about chafing on your seat, use chammy butter or Body Glide. You can also cover the sides of your seat up with Aquaphor. Keeps the seat slippery and keeps the chafe away. Put a small tube of it in your special needs bag in case you are having chafe issues.
Use your Bento Box to its fullest capacity. Plan out how you will pack every inch of that box with something you might need. If possible, carry all of your nutrition on your bike. There’s always the chance that you may not get your special needs bag. The less you rely on others, the more success is within yourself and your own reach. You can cram a lot of bars and gels into one Bento Box, in pockets, taping them to your top tube. Unless you plan on eating a veggie sub at the halfway point, most of what you eat should be easy to carry on your bike.
Resist the urge to put salt tabs in a baggie. Here’s why – baggies take flight faster than a 747. You will lose this baggie along the way. As an alternative, you can tape salt tabs to your aero bars with black electrical tape (but could get wet), or get a little zippered pouch from Fuel Belt. This pouch fits nicely into a large Bento Box and you can secure it in place with a large safety pin. It has a zipper that can be zipped up easily to keep everything dry. Or, you can keep it slightly unzipped to pull out tabs or pills easily as you ride.
How to carry spare tires, inner tubes, tools – the easiest way obviously is a little bag under your seat. Or, I saw this at a race and thought it was a good idea: store them in an empty water bottle on your rear bottle cage. Just be sure you don’t toss that bottle at the bottle drop.
By all means practice changing a flat before the race. You have trained for months, you have paid all the money, traveled all the way – don’t let your race end with a flat tire. Practice both front and rear tire. Again. Practice AGAIN.
Trust me you will want cycling gloves. You will spend 112 miles wiping your nose, blowing your nose, dribbling sports drink all over yourself, accidentally exploding gels on to your hands, touching sticky bars. Your hands will be a gooey mess. You will try to wipe off your messy hands on to a wet and sweaty race suit. And if you’ve tried this you know it doesn’t work. The gloves are great. They are like a towel wrapped around your hand plus keep your hands firmly on the bars (which will get slippery as you go).
Even if it’s hot, if you have an aero helmet, wear it. You will not get hot. Your head will not explode. You will save time. It will be worth it.
*Shoes, lace lock system, two pairs of socks, sunglasses, Aquaphor, Body Glide, salt tabs, baby powder, button baggie, visor/hat, pins, run nutrition.
Last year I wore midweight racing flats. But any light shoe will do. Be sure to put baby powder into your shoes and socks. Also, smear Aquaphor all over the heel, tongue, and insides of the shoe. Your foot will slide nicely. Obviously don’t try this on race day. Practice a few times.
Lace locks/elastic laces are a must. Don’t fiddle with laces!
Salt tabs/electrolyte pills are best stored in button baggies or small snack baggies for the run (those little baggies that extra buttons come in on new clothes). Baggies can be pinned to your race belt (if you use a different one separately for the run) or your visor/hat. Aside from the flop, flop of the bag, you can be sure that you don’t forget them because they are securely on your hat/visor. You can always unpin them as you are running and then carry them or stuff them in your top.
If you carry your own gels, a handy trick I use it to take 3 – 4 gels and bound them together with a hair rubberband. This makes carrying them much easier. Some people pin them on to their race belt – but I found that they flop around too much like this. I like carrying things when I run so the bunch in my hand works well.
With that said, if possible don’t carry your own gels because of the extra weight and hassle. If you’ve trained with what’s on the course, then use what’s on the course. I had no problem getting gels on the course. Of course, they were all of my least favorite flavors but at least I didn’t have to carry them. Same goes for using a Fuel Belt. If at all possible, don’t carry extra weight. If you can survive on the water or Gatorade on the course, then use that.
You might want to consider bringing a different pair of sunglasses for the run (if you have them). Again, you will muck up your glasses with sweat, gel, water, Gatorade, etc. It’s nice to have clear vision on the run – or, at least start with it.
Also, throw extra socks in your special needs bag, baby powder, Aquaphor or Body Glide for chafing, extra salt tabs (in case you drop them). I once read that Heather Gollnick puts an extra pair of shoes in her special needs bag. Not a bad idea considering you’ll be dumping water all over your head and your shoes will get wet.
THINGS YOU (PROBABLY) DON’T NEED TO PACK:
Sunscreen. Dear god I have never seen so much sunscreen in my life. Maybe it’s just because I did the IM in Hawaii but you could have walked out of the changing tents looking like the marshmallow puff man. They have giant vats of that stuff that you will get sprayed down with if you so desire.
Towels. The first thing they handed me in the changing tent was a cup of water and a towel. No need to cram your bag with one if it will already be there.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
You will actually need half of what you pack and use even less. I was surprised at how little I used from my special needs bag. I didn’t even open my run special needs bag. Most of what you need is on the course. If you’re not sure if it will be there, then ask.
A successful IM athlete once said expect anything, prepare for everything. True, but don’t feel like you need to bring the whole kit and caboodle to be prepared. Keep it simple so you can stay on task. Think through what you’ll need and when you’ll need it. Don’t bog down your bags with a bunch of stuff you might need that end up getting mixed up with the things you absolutely must have.
Let the packing begin!