Transitions & Special Needs Bags… what are they for?
IRONMAN gives you several bags that are worthy of discussion. One of the unique features of Ironman racing is the concept of “special needs” and the associated race day bag. By their definition, a “special need” is something that is athlete specific during the course of the day or the race that the athlete needs access to at certain parts of the race. These bags become your little helpers throughout the day and can bring a little slice of home when you need it most. When properly supplied, they can both assist you mentally and physically to ensure you are prepared and enjoy your race day. Alternatively, if you don’t pay attention to the bag, your day can quickly turn into a nightmare.
During Athlete Check-In, athletes receive the following five bags:
- White – Morning Clothes
- Blue – T1 / Bike Gear
- Orange – Bike Special Needs
- Red – T2 / Run Gear
- Black – Run Special Needs
You will also get your race number on small stickers. Each one of these bags should have your number on it. I also like to use a sharpie to put the numbers on it as a backup. Every athlete is different but there are core items that need to go into these bags.
Within these bags, I will have smaller bags to organize the big bags, because as triathletes we are all type A, so things MUST stay organized. Typically I use various sizes of Ziplock bags or plastic grocery bags. The Ziplock varieties that I use:
- Snack bags for smaller items like pills.
- Quart bags for phones, wet-wipes, etc.
- Gallon bags for shoes, clothing towels, etc.
Using interior bags not only keeps me organized, but also ensures that my items inside stay DRY! Just in case there is condensation or an overnight shower, because at most races these bags tend to be stored out in the elements. I know it’s off topic, but while we’re on condensation, throw an old BRIGHT swim cap on your bike saddle, it will help you find it, and keep it dry.
This bag is for you to store all your pre-race stuff you want back. Basically any clothing you’re wearing prior to swim start, left over nutrition, etc. Whatever your pre-race routine is, this is where that stuff is stored. Now if you wear glasses like me, then you should include a nice hard case to protect them as you get this stuff back post-race. Here are some other items that I typically pack:
- Body Glide to help protect you from wetsuit chafing
- Flip flops to walk around in pre-race
- Hard glasses case
- Ziplock bag for cell phone (also turn it off so you have some juice post-race)
- Sharpie Marker for any last minute marking
- Extra hair ties, just a suggestion, personally I have very short hair, but my fiancée reminds me that women race too.
- Swim Cap
- Swim Goggles
- Goggle Anti-fog (if you don’t use spit)
- Extra Swim Goggle
- Nutrition considerations:
- Your go to Race breakfast, mine is Peanut Butter and honey sandwich on Ezekiel bread.
- Bottles of liquid nutrition for the bike
- Gu’s, Gels, anything you plan to take before the swim
Here is the list I like to have in my T1 bag that you get in the transition tent. Most times you will have a volunteer help you so I always like to have a little reminder in there of not only the order of events by using an instruction card, but a little reminder to always say thank you to the volunteers, I’ve even heard of folks putting $5 gift cards to Starbucks for their volunteers, while this isn’t necessary I’m willing to bet it would make their day! Think about it without all of the support of our family and perfect strangers, we would not be able to race. Using my bag in bag system here’s what I do:
- Gallon Ziploc(s):
- Tri Kit; Bike Jersey and Bike bib’s
- Cycling Gloves
- Hand towel (in additional bag)
- Sunglasses in hard case
- Arm Coolers (or arm warmers, depending on the race)
- Plastic Grocery Bag:
- Tri Cycling Shoes
- Aero Helmet
- Butt’er Tube (or whatever your chamois cream of choice is)
- T1 Nutrition or Nutrition to go into your kit
- Rx Baggy (discuss later in more detail)
- T1 Instruction Card
T1 Instruction Card
One of the things I like is to have a laminated instruction card to help me check off the steps I need to do. This tip was provided to me for my first Ironman to help with nerves and such and I have been a firm believer in them ever since. You could even hand it to your volunteer and have them read it to you just to be sure you get it all. Here is what my instruction card looks like:
- Dry off
- Change if you’re going to change into Tri / Cycling Kit
- Apply Butt’er
- Put on Socks
- Put on race belt
- Put on helmet and latch it
- Put on sunglasses
- Put on gloves
- Put nutrition in kit
- Take any nutrition you’re going to take during T1
- Smile & Thank your volunteer
- (Go Pee, get your bike and remember save it for the run)
Bike Special Needs Bag
In a two loop bike course, you get to your special needs bag about 1/2 way thru the ride. This gives you a chance to restock, get some nutrition you do not carry with you on the bike, etc. This bike bag may get tossed away after the race, so do NOT put anything in here that you want to keep but are unwilling to pack back to T2. Check the Athletes Guide to confirm if you get these back or not as it’s race dependent. Here is what I have in that bag:
- Nutrition that you have trained with. Here is what I have:
- Sandwich (I prefer PB & Honey on a multi grain bread)
- Sweet Tea
- Kind / Cliff Bars
- Wet Wipe (in zip lock) to clean your face, etc. as salt and nutrition start to build up
- Butt’er Packets (reapplying highly recommended)
- Extra Socks (in zip lock bags in case it rains so you have dry socks)
- CO2 / Tubes (in case you flat and need to have more supplies)
- Bike Special needs instruction card
Bike Special Needs Instruction Card
Again, we have a laminated card that is our go to check list to help us manage thru the race adrenalin also you can see why you want some of these in a very specific order:
- Eat Sandwich
- Drink Tea
- Apply Butt’er
- Wipe mouth w/wet wipe
- Change socks (if raining or want happier feet)
- Put Chomps into bento box
- Put Kind/Cliff Bar in kit / bento
- Load CO2 / Tubes as necessary
- AND THANK THE VOLUNTEERS
- GO! And remember save it for the run!!!!
Now that we have finished the swim and bike, we need to settle in and switch to the run. In T2, this is where all your run stuff goes. Here is what I like in this bag:
- Grocery Bag:
- Running Shoes (in plastic grocery bag that is tied shut in case it rains)
- Ziploc Gallon Size:
- Rx Bag (see details below)
- Run belt w/bib
- Hand towel
- Body Glide Stick
- Wet Wipes
- T2 Instruction Card
T2 Card Instructions
- Smile! Yes, it really helps
- Dry off legs
- Take off bike shoes and socks
- Take off Helmet
- Change into Running Clothes
- Apply Glide to Feet
- Change into new socks
- Put on running shoes
- Wipe mouth w/wet wipe
- Put on Visor
- Put Rx bag in kit
- Put on race belt
- Smile & Thank your volunteer!
- (Go Pee, run fast!)
Run Special Needs Bag
Similar in concept to the bike special needs, this bag can save your life, okay so not really but with 13.1 miles to go and 127 done sometimes you need a pick me up. Same thing applies, whatever is in this bag you don’t generally get back so be mindful of that. Using the bag in bag storage method:
- Ziploc Gallon Bag:
- Fresh Socks
- Any other soft goods that could get wet like extra tops, layers, etc.
- A few wetwipes
- Body Glide
- Butt’r packs (just in case you need something to help with chafing)
- Note from loved ones, I can’t say enough how a thoughtful card from my kids or my fiancée can really pick me up at this point.
- Rx baggy (see details below)
- TREAT – Ice Tea / Cookie
- Run Special Needs Instruction Card
Run Special Needs Instructions
Again, we have a laminated card that is our go to check list to help us manage thru the race adrenalin and a fatigue starts to set in:
- Remove shoes and socks
- Apply Glide to Feet (I tend to blister so I always reapply)
- Put Fresh Socks on
- Glide nipples
- Glide anything that feels hot, sometimes it’s my inner upper arm from rubbing against my kit.
- Wipe mouth w/wet wipe
- Put Rx baggie in kit
- Grab TREAT
- Smile and Thank Volunteer
- Finish what you started!
As stated above, I love to have little Ziploc bags (snack size) as they fit well in your kit and you always have something to keep you going.
- Tums (2-4 per bag)
- Ibuprofen (1-2 per bag if 800 mg)
- Salt pills (1 per 30 min you expect to be on the course for or until the next bag)
- Imodium (if your prone to GI stress and related issues)
- You can also drop these bags by accident so I tend to have these everywhere just in case I lose a bag or another athlete is in need to share so I tend to overdo these.
Race Specific Considerations
- Some items that you might want to consider depending on the race are the following:
- Poncho or Large trash bag in the T2 and/or Run Special needs if they are calling for high winds or rain. You should pre-cut the arm and head holes to help get it on.
- Extra salt pills if you have a high sweat rate or the weather really heats up.
- If you have a Sherpa that can get your bike, make sure you give them the card to get into transition to get your gear.
- If they are calling for cold weather, having extra layers in the respective bags might be prudent.
- If you race using HR, then you should include your HR strap in the T1 bag or have it on prior to your swim. I ride using power then fall back on RPE vs. HR.
- If you have sensitive skin and racing in a climate with a strong sun, you should put your own sunscreen in each bag to reapply.
There are also stories that athletes put in M&M or other forms of candy in various bags as a mental distraction to look forward to the next milestone of the race. When you see TREAT in my list, I put in Sweet tea and chocolate chip cookies, but put in something that will keep you looking forward to the next pit stop.
Race day is just the day where you pick up your medal of achievement for all the training that you’re done for 16-20 weeks. While our bodies will take us to the finish line, it’s about doing the race with heart and passion. If you miss a few small things in your gear bags it’s not the end of the world, but having an organized plan tends to lead to success. The one key item that I must have is the love notes from my family. They help me focus on what is important, and their smiles and cheers at the finish line are the best part of the day! In IMFL, I actually put the Ziploc bag of the love notes inside my kit, and it helped block the wind to keep me warm. My finisher photo shows the outline so that memory will always be attached to that accomplishment.