Managing your special needs.

Managing your special needs.

“First ask yourself: ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” – Dale Carnegie

When I read that quote it made me think about race day planning for Ironman, especially Special Needs Bags (SNBs).  They are, after all, called “special needs” not “regularly planned items” bags.  With that in mind, how do we best utilize them for race day?

To do our best, we must prepare for the worst. It is important to consider what can go wrong on race day and then prepare to mitigate and recover from those potential scenarios. Think of your SNBs as a lifeline or “get out of jail free” card.  What “jail” might you find yourself in halfway through the bike course or entering the back half of the run?

With that thought process let’s take a look at some strategies to employ regarding your SNBs. In our next post, we will dive deeper into what items you may, or may not, want in your two bags.

There are two key strategies to keep in mind and the first one requires us to go back to the original premise “what is the worst that can happen…accept it.”  Prepare yourself for the chance that you may never see your SNB during the race or afterwards – this means two things. 

  • First, don’t make your race dependent upon the items in your bag.

Let’s say you put 50% of your nutrition needs in the Bike SNB because you don’t want to carry it for the first half.  What then are you going to do if/when your bag gets lost or accidently taken by another athlete?  Now you don’t have your specific nutrition for the last half of the bike. Do you switch to the on-course nutrition?  It is likely you have not trained your body to use these products and this could lead to disaster later. Maybe you take on the equally scary challenge of surviving on water alone until you get back to T2.  Neither of these are great scenarios.

We now know the worst scenario, how do we plan to mitigate the repercussions? There are a couple of things you can do. Carry your own nutrition for the entire day from the beginning and/or teach your body to use the on-course nutrition. 

How do you carry enough nutrition for the whole day from the start?  One way is to avoid using the storage on your bike for water.  Most Ironman events have water every 10-15 miles, or roughly 10 aid stations for the bike.  If you carry four bottles with 24 ounces of your liquid nutrition and you take 16 ounces of water at each aid station you will consume roughly 256 ounces of water over the 112 miles.  The typical human, and this can vary for each person, can absorb roughly 4 cups, or 32 ounces, of fluid every hour.  Unless you take more than 8 hours to complete the bike course, you will have plenty. 

Additionally, the 96 ounces of your liquid nutrition should offer a great deal of the calories you need for the day as most brands pack in 200+ calories per serving.  Stash a few gels/bars or other solid foods in your pockets and not only do you have the entire days’ worth of nutrition from the beginning, but you don’t have a ton of stuff ruining your aerodynamics because you have stuff taped all over your bike frame.

  • Second, don’t put anything in your bag unless you are willing to say goodbye to it forever.

Ironman morning breaks and it looks like the weather could take a turn for the worse midday. It could rain and/or get cold. Putting that $185 cycling rain jacket in your bag sounds like a great idea in case the weather flips. Or, maybe the weather stays nice and you leave it in your bag but then your Bike SNB never makes it back to transition. Maybe your late Great Aunt Bertha is your motivation behind doing your first Ironman. To keep you going late in the race, you decide to put a little memento of her in your Run SNB to serve as a little motivation. So you tuck that silver, family heirloom, locket into Run SNB.  Remember, there is a decent chance your bag will get lost on the way to the pickup point or another athlete will mistakenly take it or it won’t make it back to you after the race.

Prepare for the worst and have a plan.  Let your SNBs be “special help” not additional stress. In our next post, we will consider what to put into your bags.

Until then, keep going.