Now you have all the Essential Ironman Gear and maybe some of the Very Useful Ironman Gear. I will now look at some of the performance related Item. This is all gear designed simply to make you faster. You will get round absolutely fine without but if fast time bragging rights are what you are after or if you are worried about cut-offs it may be the difference between you beating them or getting pulled from the race!
Nothing here is essential or in any way needed but they will help to get you moving faster and training better. Nothing beats the feeling of a load of high performance kit, making you feel every bit like the athlete you are. So here goes:
A basic Low budget wetsuit is all you need when starting out. This is more than capable to get you round the course and out the other end. High performance Swimming wetsuits do offer a noticeable improvement though. They are tight fitting to reduce drag and often lift you legs and lower half up in the water which can have a huge effect on drag. Drag is the number one enemy for swimmers and anything that reduces it increases speed for the same effort. The high end suits also off other enhanced features such as release panels to help removal, extra flexibility, and inbuilt support features. These are all very useful features but their worth is debatable, unlike the more head line features such as reduced drag and lower body lift which definitely improve performance significantly. The Huub Aegis II is a good entry level example of this kind of suit.
Pull Buoys, Kick boards, Fins, Paddles, Snorkels and many more are all great tools for enhancing your stroke and improving your technique. The also help break up the monotony of a swim session. However they need to be used correctly to make the full use of them. many people buy all the toys and don’t really know how to effectively get the best from them. The full range of drills and methods of utilising all these toys is far beyond the scope of this article. I intend to go in depth about this but for now you will need to consult a swim coach on how to use these swim aids effectively. I don’t recommend buying them for the sake of it just to fit in with other triathletes.
When I started out swimming we used the pace clock on the wall. Starting when the “red hands at the top” This technique gave minimal feedback into the pace of the swim. Nowadays we have waterproof swim Watches that record all types of different data to give you feed back on your swimming. My Pool even offers a free swim tag to record your data and view it online afterwards. A lot of the Multi sport watches have this function built in or there are specific watches just for swimming such as the Garmin Swim. This data is great for tracking progress and improvement, but understanding the data is key. Most people just wear the watch then upload the data to a Sport social media site and that’s about it. Its hardly a fruitful way of using this incredibly powerful tool. Again its not something to be addressed here, but a swim coach would be able to point you in the direction you need and help you understand and put to use the data you collect.
Unlike water air is thin. It still exists though and moving through it requires effort. Stick your hand out the car window as an experiment! At low speeds, such as running, air resistance is minimal and not really worth considering. As things begin to approach 20 MPH things start to get stickier. And so comes the Triathletes obsession with Aero Equipment. Anything designed to cut the air easier and results in a faster speed for a given effort. As a result the industry has delivered a myriad of products for Triathletes to purchase in the pursuit of Aero perfection.
The largest portion of air resistance comes from the actual body of the cyclist themselves. Sat Up right they are like a big sail hindering forward progress. Back to the car window, Hold your hand flat against the wind and feel how much resistance you have. Aero bars allow the rider to move the body into a flatter position. there by allowing a faster passage through the air. Once more with the car window lower your hand to a flat position and feel the reduction in resistance. This is the effect adopting the “aero” position that a set of aero bars allows.
The downside is the additional weight and also the position is difficult to hold for long periods. Persistent training allows you to adopt this position for longer and longer. The pay off really are worth it so its definitely worth considering. This is assuming you have chosen a standard road bike. You may opt for a Time Trial bike commonly known as a TT Bike.
or TT Bike:
These bike are designed from the ground up to be as fast as possible for solo riders. They are no compromise speed machines. Lightweight with integrated aero bars and lots of wind cheating features. Road bikes are primarily designed to ride in groups so the wind cheating properties are less required. But a Ironman bike leg is a solo effort so its in the riders interest to be as aero as possible. You will see on the Pro Cycling circuit, riders are on standard bike riding in groups, but as soon as its Time Trial day, they switch to TT Bikes.
The down side of TT bikes are they are not as controllable and when in the aero position you are not able to cover the brakes which makes them totally unsuited to group riding. But the Ironman bike leg is the perfect environment for a TT bike. The TT vs. Road bike debate is a long complicated one, but there is no doubt a TT bike can give a significant advantage to a rider on a flat Ironman course. Climbing they are usually slower as the position they make you ride in is less efficient and the slower speeds reduce the aero dynamic impact. But even on Hilly Bike courses like Tenby and Lanzarote the jury is still out to which is best.
Of course all this aero design doesn’t come cheap! TT bike range from a little under £1000 right up to £10s of thousands for the latest TT Super Bike.
After the Frame and the body the next area of concern for the Aero enthusiast it the wheels. Deep section Rims allow the wheels to cut the air more efficiently and provide less drag. As to why wheels are so poor at cutting the air in the first place takes a physics degree and a good understanding of fluid dynamics. But test after test has shown Deep section rims do provide a significant advantage over standard wheels. The down side is they can be heavier, not a problem on flat races, and also side winds can make handling, terrifying. and there is the cost.
Disc wheels are also popular this is where the whole wheel is solid material giving the perfect aero profile. this is only acceptable on the rear as any wind gusts would lead to an accident if fitted to the front.
The Helmet is another significant area of drag formation. All the vents on a normal helmet create quite a bit of drag along with the overall shape being pretty inefficient. Enter the Point Hat loved by triathletes. These slippery helmets are designed to cut the air better giving you an overall faster speed. Down sides are the lack of vents can lead to overheating in hot races, and they are awkward to get on and cumbersome. You also look a pillock so best saved for race day which means the added expense of another helmet. They do provide a measurable advantage though.
Shaved legs ? If you like but don’t expect much of improvement in aerodynamics. No by making yourself aero I mean clothing. Tight fitting Lycra race clothing is far faster than baggy, flappy jackets or tops. Most people are wearing cycle shorts for the padding. But baggy loose fitting clothing up top can be a significant drag. By making sure everything is tight it helps the body cut the wind a lot more smoothly.
In isolation all these bits of aero kit only add up to a modest improvement. Combined however and the result can be 2-3 mph faster! over the distance of an ironman bike leg that could be getting on an whole HOUR faster bike time. Its also FREE speed. Not free as in $$$ but effort. You are expending no more energy in return for your extra speed.
The Newest toy for Triathletes and Biker is the Power-Meter. This device actually measures the force you are applying to the pedals. This has revolutionised how people train and race. On its own its completely useless but with the knowledge to understand the data is probably the most powerful tool a cyclist can have. Its WAY beyond this article however. You could probably write a whole book about this subject… in fact they have <link>
Prices are coming down and soon I think the power-meter will be almost standard kit. For now they are still a preserve of the more serious cyclist. Also Smart Turbo Trainers and Virtual power meters are allowing many of the aspects of training with power to be available to the more modest user. Although to have that data available while racing still and always will require an actual power-meter.
Running is such a purist sport, its just the human body against the terrain. and as such there isn’t too much you can spend your money on. That is the appeal of running for many. The biggest gains in Running come from just doing more. And the key to a fast ironman run is the pacing. All things money can’t buy.
The best money you can spend to make your running faster is to get a coach to look at your technique. Many people think running is just a natural movement we can all do from birth. In some ways that is correct. However most of us can do a lot to make ourselves run far more efficiently. It can be hard to understand and spot out our technique flaws and as such a good running coach can help you understand what you are doing right and wrong.
Proper technique also reduce the risk of injury. A injury free runner will be ALOT faster than a crocked one!
Race / Minimalist shoes:
I’m not sure I should even be mentioning this here but I am a big convert of the minimalist running community. I wear very light racing shoes with minimal sole for all my long runs. And there is little doubt a light shoe help running. The debate stems from weather the cushioning provided by expensive Stability shoes is needed or indeed actually harmful. This is a huge debate that is raging on but most Pro athletes do wear the lighter more minimal shoes, so if you are determined in your quest for speed they are worth a look.
Bike and Swim Kit:
Didn’t I cover this? Well yes I did, but just wanted to mention that getting to the run fresher is probably the single biggest thing you can do to have a good ironman marathon. so money spent on the first two disciplines will pay off here as well.
With all this kit you really are looking like you belong at the front of the race now. But its not just the speed freaks at the front that can benefit from this kit. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are kit that makes you faster makes YOU faster. The other way of looking at it is it could make the day easier. You could put in less effort to get the same time! Used in the right way there is very little down side to most of the above kit. Its just what you have available to spend and how much you are willing to spend.
There is no requirement to buy anything on the above list. You will still have a perfectly fine day. But I just want you to be aware this kit exists and what the advantages and disadvantages are. You will certainly see a lot of people with this gear on the day. Normally the guys at the front. Its important to understand though: They are not at the front because they bought all the gear. They bought (or were given) all the gear because they are at the front.
You don’t need it. Tuning your engine is number 1 priority. If you want some fancy gear though that’s fine too.
So what do you think? have you used any of my suggested performance gear? Do you think I have over or understated any of the advantages or disadvantages? Have I missed any thing out? Feel free to comment below.