Since this is what I am dealing with…here is a bit more regarding the nuts and bolts of staging your gear so you know what to expect when you do your first Ironman race. It is not quite as simple as a single transition area for a shorter race, and even that isn’t exactly simple. Things will vary race to race, but the Ironman branded races seem to follow the same type of system, and so far it has worked very well.
Everything will be set up ahead of time, but I will go through it as you will grab your gear on race day, including how and when you would have staged each item.
Hopefully you slept at least a little bit, but will have a very early morning on race day. After food and coffee, or whatever your routine, you will want to wear whatever you will have under a wetsuit (if wearing one), along with any extra layers you may want. You will also put on your race tattoos if you haven’t already (numbers on each arm and a letter indicating your age group on your left calf).
In tow in the early morning, you will bring everything you want for your swim – cap, goggles, timing chip, maybe earplugs, maybe food for sometime before the race start. You will also have access to your bike so you probably want to bring the items you will store on your bike, such as water bottles and food; and possibly a pump for a last-minute fill. You will have left your bike the day (maybe even two) before and it is recommended that you deflate the tires slightly so that they do not pop with the temperature changes throughout the day and evening. There will be many pumps around that you can probably borrow if you do not bring your pump, however many races do not have pump storage, so you will need to give it to a friend or family member if you want to see it again.
After you get your bike situated, you will have to leave the transition area by a certain time and head over to the swim start. Near the swim start there will be a place to drop off a bag with any extra clothes and shoes that you wore to the race but that you do not want on the swim. This will be a designated bag that you were given at check-in, along with your number to attach to the bag.
Then you will swim. Probably in a mass start, maybe a rolling start, maybe in waves.
When you exit the swim, there will likely be showers to clean off in. This is particularly useful if you swim in salt water. You will head to a tent where you will have stashed a bag with your number on it full of the gear you want for your bike (see photos below of the bag I just stashed for my run…your bike bag will be blue). You will bring your bag to a changing tent which will be designated by gender.
In this tent, you will transition from swim clothing to bike clothing – or however that will work for you. In the bag you picked up, which you dropped off the day before, you will have stashed anything you want for the bike – maybe shoes, socks, helmet, sunglasses, food, gels to reduce chaffing, etc – whatever you want. Everything you take off from the swim will go into your bag, and one of the amazingly nice volunteers will take it for you and you will be able to pick it up after the race. The volunteers in the changing tent will likely help you out of a wetsuit, if you want, I have even had help putting sunscreen on while I change my shoes, etc. Some people bring nice thank you gifts for these amazing volunteers. In these gender-specific tents, you are allowed to totally change. Some people choose to change entirely for the bike and run. There is also usually water and the on-course electrolyte beverage before or after the changing tent, as well as sunscreen inside.
From that tent, you will head out to your bike, pick it up, and head to the bike exit to begin your ride.
On course you will have many aid stations, and there will also be access to a special needs bag. This will probably be about halfway through the bike. This bag will have been dropped off by you the morning of the race (or possibly the day before), and will also be a designated bag you were given at check-in with your number on it. You can stash extra food/nutrition etc, and clothing you think you might want access to. You may, but may not, see this bag ever again, so do not leave anything valuable in it after you get access to it.
After your ride, a volunteer will likely take your bike from you immediately so you do not have to rack it yourself. Then you will go to a rack similar to T1 to pick up another bag, also with your number, that you left at least a day before (photos of my stash below). You will have put all of your run gear in this bag – shoes, socks, hat, run number, possibly a race belt with stored food in it. Whatever you will want. Again, you will take your bag into a gender-specific tent, with great volunteers to help you out. You will put any bike gear you do not want on the run back into that bag, to retrieve after the race.
On the run course, in addition to the many aid stations, you will have access to your run special needs bag, at least once about in the middle of the course. Again you will have given this to a volunteer either that morning or the day before, and again you may not see it again after you pick it up on course. You can store nutrition or extra layers in your special needs bag – or anything else to cheer you up mid-race.
After the run, you will enter into an athletes-only area. This kind of stinks if you have friends and family with you because they cannot cross the finish line with you and cannot enter this area. However, this area can be really important to spend some recovery time in. I recommend that you plan to spend time here and to let your family know ahead of time that they will not see you immediately after the race. I didn’t hang around my first race and regretted it. You will get your medal, your finisher shirt, they will have lots of food, massage, and maybe other things you might want after crossing the finish line. There will also be medical personnel to check up on you. You can likely pick up your clothes bag right here.
On my first race I was able to pick up my bike and the two transition bags the following day, along with my bike pump and special needs bags (which I was able to see again). This coming race, they require you to get it that evening. However, you get a ticket to give to someone if you have a friend or family member, and they can pick up your bike and bags for you.
To recap – that’s five bags that you stash ahead of time. 1 = what you want for T1; 2 = what you want on the bike course (if anything); 3 = what you want for T2; 4 = what you want on the run course (if anything); and 5 = what you want to leave behind right before the race begins.
This post email will be going out Sunday morning just before I begin. (#1294 in Ironman Cozumel). Stay tuned for an exciting guest post for Monday’s email…I found a gracious helper since I will be rather occupied almost all of the hours that I would have to post myself.