Everything You Need for Race Day – Pack Like an Ironman
Race day is approaching. Whether this is your first Ironman race or your fifteenth, the pre-race excitement is already pulsing through you. You’ve trained you a** off the last few months and you’re ready to crush it. All those hours spent in the saddle, in the pool, in the zone…they’re all about to become very very worth it. Mentally, you’re ready. Physically, you’re ready. But what the heck do you need to pack? We put together this Ironman Packing List to help you achieve peace of mind that you have everything you need to have a great day on race day.
There’s no worse feeling than training for months on end, only to show up on race day to realize that you forget your bike shoes, or your goggles, or your water bottles. Sure, most stuff you can buy replacements for last minute. But is that added stress and rushed activity really something you need before lining up to the starting line? Probably not.
Use this Ironman packing list to make sure you’ve packed everything you need for your Ironman or Half Ironman race. That way you can focus your attention exclusively on one thing: having your best possible performance on race day.
Let’s get into it.
What to Pack for the Swim
Assuming that wetsuits are allowed for the Ironman race that you’re doing, of course. Be sure to inspect your wetsuit for tears or potential damage. And never, ever use a wetsuit for the first time on race day. Always get out in the lake or ocean for some practice swims first to ensure fit and comfort. The TYR Hurricane Cat 1 is the wetsuit I use. Great performance for the price, really impressed with the mobility through the shoulders! Here is our complete guide to finding the best wetsuit for you.
Depending on the weather conditions – sunny vs overcast – you may want to have two different pairs of goggles. Tinted goggles make a big difference on sunny days. As with all your gear, inspect the bands for potential tearing or damage before packing. Here are my old reliables.
3. Swim Cap
Although you’ll be provided with a colour-coded swim cap at the Ironman event, it’s always good to have an extra swim cap so that you can do a tune-up swim the day before the race. They’re cheap and never really change. Stock up on a few.
If you’re someone who prefers swimming with earplugs – like me – then don’t forget to pack them! Being such a small item they can be easy to misplace or forget. I pack my earplugs case inside my swim cap so that they’re better protected and easier to locate. If you need extra, here are the ones I use.
5. Chamois Cream
If your wetsuit chafes, not only will it impact your swim, but it could cause discomfort for the rest of your race. For that reason, be sure to pack your Chamois Butt’r and apply it to all the potential chafe areas – hips, shoulders, arms, neck – before wetsuiting up.
6. Flip Flops
In all likelihood, you’ll have a bit of a walk from the transition zone to the start of the swim course. At many Ironman races, that involves walking on a gravel, dirt, or asphalt road, which can be uncomfortable. Plus, imagine you cut or bruised the bottom of foot walking to the start of the swim course? That’s going to hurt in a few hours out on the run. Pack a pair of old flip flops for basic protection.
What to Pack for the Bike
Obviously you’ll have this on under your wetsuit, but I put it in the bike section as that’s the first time you’ll be happy you’ve got it! Personally I’m a big fan of the one-piece trisuits. They’re more comfortable and allow for better movement. Again, this is something that you don’t want to wear for the first time on race day. Test out biking and running in it a couple of times well before your Ironman. I’m currently using the Zone 3 Mens Activate Plus. Plenty of mobility and comfort at a great, middle of the pack price point.
Yeah, don’t leave this at home. Just as important as having your bike on your Ironman packing list is having a bike tun-up on the list. Typically I’d recommend doing a tune-up of your bike before your race so that it’s performing optimally. You also want to inspect everything for potential damage, especially your tires.
9. Bike Shoes
Once you’ve arrived at your Ironman locale, it’s best to clip these bad boys into your bike. That way, they can’t go walking away from you! Plus, if you practice mounting your bike with the shoes already attached, this can save you some time in T1. And make you look like a pro. Just make sure you practice it first. The Pearl Izumis are my bike shoes du jour.
The right type of socks is very personal. For me, I prefer short length socks like these, while others swear by mid-length or long socks. At any rate, you won’t be happy if you forget to pack your socks!
Ironman will not let you race without a helmet, so be sure to pack it. As always, safety first! Feeling like you’re due for a new one? Check out the Smith Portal MIPS.
Look fast, go fast. Sunglasses are key for protecting your eyes from the sun and wind over the course of many hours spent outside during an Ironman race. The Smith Trackstands and the Oakley Radar EV Paths are a couple of my favourites for cycling and running.
13. Trip Computer
Having your trip computer is key to tracking your speed, distance, and splits during your ride. On the bike, you’ll have plenty of time to forecast your race time based on current performance, and a trip computer is one of the best ways to stick to your plan. Wahoo just released a really cool trip computer that’s worth checking out.
14. Fitness Watch
Another key component of sticking to your race plan if your fitness watch. For many people, this replaces the need for a trip computer on the bike while also allowing you to monitor your swim and run performance. I use the very basic Fitbit Ionic, which you can get at a great price and does everything you need it to do. But I currently have my sights on an upgrade to the world of Garmin.
15. Water Bottles
Note the plural! The weather is the biggest factor in determining how much you’ll need to drink. But at a minimum, be prepared with three water bottles, with some combination of electrolyte drink (i.e. Skratch) and water depending on what works for you. Two for your bike and then one in your transition area that you can sip on pre-race and if you need a quick hit during transitions.
An absolute can’t-forget item on your Ironman packing list. This is something you should always have in a small carrier under your seat. Parts can shift around while transporting your bike, so having a multi-tool on hand to tighten and adjust components is key. Something basic like this one from Crank Brothers will do.
17. Spare Tire
Another thing that’s worth having strapped to your bike frame or under your seat is a space tire. Although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, flats do happen during Ironman races. It sucks, but you need to be able to deal with it. This again emphasizes the importance of inspecting your tires before race day to look for any tears or embedded objects that could cause problems. Still, packing a spare inner tube and an emergency CO2 cartridge is a good idea. Of course, knowing how to use it is also important…File this under the “Hope to never need it” section of your Ironman packing list.
What to Pack for the Run
18. Running Shoes
So you had a great swim and a strong bike. You pull into your transition spot and…you left your running shoes at home. Don’t let this happen! Pack your running shoes. If you use a different, super lightweight pair for race day, make sure to dig them out of the closet!
19. Race Belt
This is a key item that will cost you only $25 and save you precious time during T2. You don’t want to be fumbling around with safety pins when you’re transitioning from the bike to the run. Pack yourself a race belt and save that time (and energy) to help you finish strong.
Whether you’re doing a Half Ironman or a Full, there’s a good chance you’re going to be spending a decent amount of time running in the sun. On top of that you’ll likely be tired and hot from the swim and the bike. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a lightweight, breathable hat – like the Outdoor Research Vantage Cap – to throw on the for run.
When it comes to Ironman nutrition, the same rule applies as with gear. Don’t try something for the first time on race day. It shouldn’t be on your Ironman packing list if you’ve never used it during your training sessions. “GI issues” could be the kiss of death to your race performance.
Everyone’s got their own preference here. Personally I’m a big fan of Skratch. If I’m filling three bottles I’ll do one with water, two with Skratch, with one of the Skratch bottles being more potent than the other. Either way, you need something beyond just water to replace all that you lose through hours of sweating.
22. Chews, Gels, Blocks
Again, this is a personal preference. My favourites are Clif Gels and Clif Bloks. I usually consume one gel 15 minutes into the bike and then one every hour on the bike after that. On top of that, I’ll consume roughly one sleeve of Clif Bloks per hour on the bike. You’ll find all varieties of these products available at the Ironman village in case you forget to pack them.
23. Pre-race Meals
Depending on which Ironman or Ironman 70.3 event you’re doing, there may or may not be many good restaurant and grocery options available. Even if there are, smaller towns tend to get over-run with crowds coming in for these large events and so getting a reservation at the place that you want could be tough. Since you want to guarantee that you’ll be fueling your body with good food the day before and the day of your race, you may want to pack meals to take with you.
Transition Zone Essentials
Although these aren’t items you’ll be racing with, we’ve included these on our Ironman packing list since they can be game-changers when setting up your spot in the transition zone.
24. Bike Pump
“Clear eyes, full tires, can’t lose.” It’s always a good idea to inflate your tires to the optimal pressure on the morning of race day. If it’s a sunny or warm day the day before the race, then it’s a good idea to remove some of the air in your tires before leaving it in the transition zone. This will reduce the strain on your tires as the air inside heats up and expands, in turn reducing the chance of getting a flat. Simply re-inflate in the morning and you’ll be ready to ride! The Crank Brothers Gem Pump is a handy bike pump to have at home and pack for travel.
25. Towel and/or Mat
At most Ironman events the transition area is either a parking lot or a field. Therefore, it’s a good idea to pack something that you can stand on in your bare feet. Having a towel is handy for wiping the dirt off your feet after the swim before you put your socks and/or shoes on.
Ironman races take require you to be outside for multiple hours. Outside there is sun. Sun causes sunburns. Sunburns cause pain and skin cancer. Don’t get skin cancer. Pack sunscreen. And wear it. Spray-on active sunscreen is ideal as it’s fast to apply and is effective on sweaty people.
27. Light Jacket
Most Ironman races require a very early start. During these early mornings, it can often be much chillier than the rest of the day. Additionally, if it’s a colder day in general or a rainy day, then you may want some added level of warmth on the bike and/or run. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a lightweight jacket that you easily pack in your bag to have on hand if need be. Look to the Salomon RS Softshell for inspiration.
Don’t forget to pack these for when it’s all over and you left it all out on the course.
28. Foam Roller
Those legs worked hard today. Proper stretching and rolling out your legs after the race can help immensely with recovery. Pack something like this TriggerPoint Roller for that post-race stretch-out.
29. Ice Packs
See: Roller, Foam. There’s no doubt you’ll be sore crossing the finish line. Having ice packs on hand for post-race can help alleviate some of that pain and reduce inflammation in your muscles and joints.
30. Warm Clothes / Thermal Blanket
When you cross the finish line and finally stop moving after hours and hours of hard work, your body temperature can drop quite quickly. This can be dangerous, especially when you’re depleted of energy, hydration, and electrolytes. Therefore, if it’s a cooler day make sure you’ll have warm clothes accessible to you to help keep the heat in. You can leave them in your transition zone spot or leave them with one of your supporters.
The last, but certainly not least, item on our Ironman packing list is: beer. You worked hard today. Scratch that, you’ve worked hard for months to get here. Completing an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 race is no easy feat. Therefore, it’s important to celebrate your accomplishment. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something that tastes better than an ice cold beer with friends after completing an Ironman race. Plus, beer has electrolytes, right?
There you have it, the ultimate Ironman packing list. Did I miss anything? Any other tips and tricks you want to share with everyone when it comes to packing for an Ironman race? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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