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Equipment Matters

May 22, 2011 Fitness 1 Comment

I don’t claim to be any kind of expert when it comes to triathlon — gear, training, nutrition, racing. I feel like these are largely very personal things that each athlete will need to work out for him/herself. But there is truth in the adage that we should learn from the mistakes of others because we don’t have time to make them all ourselves.

Behold! Here are my equipment mistakes at Wildflower:

NEW SHOES
I bought new running shoes four days before my race. For the first time in three years, I went with a different model. I made the decision based largely on how super cute they are and the lightweight form factor. These shoes are an unknown quantity. But don’t get ahead of yourself, condemning me for breaking Racing Rule #1: Never Try Anything New On Race Day.

They’re cute, amiright? But I didn’t run in them. I didn’t even bring them to the race. They’re all shiny and new and I didn’t want to get them dirty! I ran in them once during taper week, but packed my old faithfuls for the dusty 10K race. As I was setting up my transition area, I pulled my old shoes out and lo! I had stolen the SuperFeet insoles from these to put in the new pair and forgot to replace them!

Luckily, I also use a SuperFeet insole in my cycling shoes, so I made the decision to ride 25 miles on a plastic-bottom cycling shoe rather than run 6.2 miles with no insole in my well-beyond-needing-replaced running shoes.

Workable, but not ideal.

HELMET HEAD
In the transition area, I set my helmet atop my handlebars with my sunglasses in it, ready to go. Admittedly, I finished my swim three minutes faster than last year, but I didn’t get a big head about it …

Or did I?

You see, I usually have my hair pulled back into a slick ponytail for bike rides, and my hair is dry when I start. I did not account for messy wet hair coming out of the swim and my helmet did not fit. At all. Rookie move!

I set the helmet on my head and buckled it under my chin as I was running out of the transition area. I hit the quick-release button, thinking it would let go a notch and things would be fine. Things were not fine. It let all the notches go! My helmet was basically bobbing on my head like I was a little kid playing dress-up. Since I was working so hard to improve my transition times, I kept going rather than stopping to fix it.

Time first, safety second?!

It’s a steep climb up Lynch Hill immediately out of the transition area and I spent all of it trying to one-handedly get the notched strap back into the other thingy so that my helmet would render effective in the event of an accident. My wet stringy hair was getting in the way. I can’t ride uphill with no hands. (Who am I kidding? I can’t ride on a flat road with no hands.) I finally got it to a point where it wasn’t falling into my eyes every time I looked down. It would have to do.

Please, folks. This one is not about comfort, it’s about safety. Learn from this mistake and adjust your helmet accordingly!

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
I bought a tri suit prior to last year’s Half Ironman in Vancouver. I was guilty of Trying Something New in that race, but it wasn’t like I was screwing around with important things like nutrition or hydration (because I didn’t have either of those figured out – as evidenced by the 60 oz of fluid you can see in my bladder in the below photo. Also, I obviously have not mastered peeing on the bike…). Anyway, as far as the tri suit idea goes, it was a winner. I really like having a one-piece so that my top isn’t riding up and everything is more streamlined in general. But you get what you pay for. I bought a nothing-special suit at REI. There was minimal selection and I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money. That tri suit left a chafe mark at every seam and showers for the three days following the event were pretty miserable. Of course, the showering was also miserable because I FELL DOWN and scuffed my knees and elbows…

I fixed the chafing issue with multiple washes and have been happy with the tri suit in the two races I’ve done since Vancouver. Problem solved! Except I realized a new problem at Wildflower. I applied two layers of waterproof/sweatproof sunscreen before the race. My wave didn’t start until 10:35 AM, so I knew I’d be in the midday sun for most of my race. I had Greg spray me liberally, making sure to get hard-to-reach places like the backs of my shoulders, triceps, ears, and neck. My tri suit covered the rest of me.

When I got back to camp after the race, I changed into a tank top and shorts. Everyone remarked on how sunburned my chest was. FOR THE LOVE OF AGE SPOTS!! I immediately admonished my sunscreen-applier for his sloppy work! And then I realized that my tri suit zips up to my collarbone. I got a sunburn through the fabric!

There are manufacturers who make tri suits that have SPF in them. There are even some that have some magical cooling feature to bring your body temperature down. If I had to guess, I would imagine these high-end suits don’t leave chafe marks at every seam… I’ll say it again: you get what you pay for. I’m saving up for a better tri suit, and in the meantime, I’m applying sunscreen even where the sun seemingly doesn’t shine.

None of these were dealbreakers and I still pulled off a better-than-expected finish, but they are simple things that could have been prevented. My next race is another Half Ironman (if I can get the shoulder injury under control) and I definitely won’t make these blunders again. Do you have mistakes I can learn from?

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