A very common question from Ironman athletes is, “What should I put in my special needs bags?”
It depends. There are several factors that influence what one should put in their Bike and Run Special Needs bags. If you find yourself asking this very question let’s dive deeper.
Are you racing or are you more concerned with finishing? If you are racing you may want to contemplate skipping the use of the Special Needs all together. You can still put some emergency items in there and choose to not pick up your bag. The reason for this is that for those athletes racing the Special Needs area can eat up valuable time. If you are more concerned about finishing then an extra five or fifteen minutes spent here may not bother you. Some friends and I did Ironman Cozumel the very first year of the race in 2009 and the Bike Special Needs was a cluster. When I got there, they could not find my bag and after a minute or so I just rode off. One of my friends in the race personally sorted through all the bags to find his and it took fifteen minutes. In most cases, it goes much more smoothly.
A couple general rules of thumb. Don’t put anything in these bags you are willing to lose. Be careful at the Bike Special Needs as it can be a dangerous spot. Asking a triathlete with already suspect bike handling skills to ride a bike while trying to get items out of plastic bag at the same time is sketchy. Most of us aren’t Tour de France caliper cyclists with mad bike handling skills.
Is the food and hydration being served on course items you like? If so, use the on course nutrition as much as possible. If it’s nutrition that you either don’t like the taste of or does not agree with your stomach then your Special Needs bags may become a little more important to you as you may want to stock it with your go to items. It can also be good to add a special treat, something you’re really looking forward to eating or drinking several hours into the race. In Hawaii in 2013 I froze two bottles of Skratch, lemon-lime flavor, and when I got to Hawi they were still ice cold! Tasted so good! A cold bottle in Hawaii was extra great too.
For the Bike Special Needs it’s not a terrible idea to put a new bike tube or extra CO2 cartridge in the bag just in case it’s a rough day.
Daylight and temperature can impact your decisions as well. If you are going to be on the run course after the sun goes down and you are in a location where the temperature will drop considerably you may want to put a long sleeve shirt or pair of arm warmers in the Run Special Needs bags. There are some courses, like Ironman Wisconsin, where the run course is very poorly lit and a head lamp is highly recommended. Putting the light in the Run Special Needs bag allows you to pick it up when you need it and not run the first part of the marathon carrying extra unneeded gear. Maybe a pair of lightweight running gloves.
I’ve had friends who’ve put things like stomach antacids or Band-Aids in the Run Special Needs bag just in case. I wish I would have put a small tube of Vasoline in my bag for Hawaii as about 14 miles in I began chaffing in my arm pits something fierce. That has never happened to me before so it was probably the heat/humidity. I think one of the most creative ideas I’ve heard is people who put either an inspirational quote or a photo of someone in their Run Special Needs as a source of motivation.
In general I would say put items in your Special Needs bag that you’d LIKE to get and nothing you NEED.