Gear

Ask A Gear Guru: What Do I Need For My “First Race Back?”

As races slowly start to get the green light, your next race might look absolutely nothing like your last—here’s what you need to know (and have).

In case you haven’t heard, (some) racing is back. Whether it’s the first pro race on U.S. soil since the pandemic struck, held at a small race in southern Idaho, or the possibility of a much much larger 70.3 Arizona in October (as well as Ironman Florida and Ironman Arizona in November), there’s a chance that triathletes might be racing in 2020. And if you feel comfortable with a race’s safety policies, the area’s infection rates, and your questionable fitness, there are still a few things you should know about “coming back.” 

First, know that racing during and after the pandemic will look fairly different from your last race, but also know that despite the best policies and practices on paper people will still do unexpected (and possibly disappointing) things. If you’ve flown at all in the last few months, you probably already know that travelers are not always huge fans of masks or personal space, so you might see spotty adherence to both principles at a race as well. (You should, yourself, follow all race rules and protocols, but if 100% adherence from others is paramount to your decision to race, then know you probably shouldn’t count on that.) While you can’t control everything and everyone around you, we’ve got a few quick strategies below to help, and we’ll break down the new gear you might need in this new world order.

Expect The Unexpected

Even if the race website says everyone needs to stay in their car until it’s time for their start, don’t be surprised if there’s a gaggle of people at the water’s edge as the staggered starts go off. No spectators allowed? Certainly don’t bring spectators with you (!), but don’t be surprised if some other racers’ friends, family, and loved ones are out on the course anyway. Masks on at all times? Some races/areas are better at understand what “all” means than others. Do follow the rules, but also be ready for delayed starts (dress warmly and expect to not have anyone there to sherpa), pack well for transition, bring a mask, and quite simply be prepared to deal with any inevitable rule-breakers.

Take It With You

While many races are doing modified aid stations with volunteers simply stocking tables and not handing out food, others are on the far end of the spectrum and asking racers to support themselves. Remember, if you’re uncomfortable with contact and crowds, there’s nothing that says you can’t support yourself no matter what—aid stations available or no. If this is you, you’ll need to plan ahead a lot more, particularly if you’re racing a long-course event. We’ll cover the gear to help you below, but if you’re trying to stay entirely self-supported, it’ll require bike add-ons, a pack, and maybe even a food/water drop on the course (check with the race organization before doing this).

Sherpa Lite

Lots of races right now are asking people to leave their support squad at home to eliminate spectators and minimize unnecessary crowds. This means you might not be able to toss your pre-swim clothing/shoes to your designated race sherpa before the gun goes off, and it might mean less helping hands at the finish line when you’re in an…extremely fatigued state. This means even more planning ahead, actually thinking about where to put stuff and when. Though you’ll want to be careful, pandemic-wise, you may want to buy some either extremely cheap or maybe even some thrift-store clothing you’re good with ditching pre-race, and bring more post-race food than you’re used to. Post-race vittles might be either missing, hard to come by, or not a great idea.

As each situation will be different, it’s important that you read up on your next race’s policies—whether that event is in a week or early next year. With these tips in mind, here are a few pieces of gear that’ll help make your next race both safe and comfortable.

Primal Face Mask 2.0 Filter + Frame Bundle

$22, primalwear.com

If you head out to race, no matter what you believe, you need to be wearing a mask. It’s not just for your protection, but for the volunteers, race staff, and others who are there to help you out. It’s also a requirement at just about every race currently going on. While you obviously won’t be asked to wear a mask while you’re racing, it’s key you wear one at all other times. We like Primal’s fun prints, but we really love their included filter system and X-Frame that helps keep the mask far more comfortable than most. Rewash and reuse the NT3D filter up to 10 times, but be sure to get extras, as you should be washing and replacing often.

Sporti Comfort Fleece-Lined Swim Parka

$72, swimoutlet.com

OK, just trust us on this one. Anyone who has done competitive swimming knows that there’s nothing more important than a trusty swim parka while you’re on the pool deck, or at the water’s edge, or sitting in your car waiting for your start. It’s not particularly expensive, it’s huge enough to fit on over a wetsuit, and you can wear it post-race without fear of making it funky (machine wash cold). Think of this fleece-lined gem as your personal sherpa comfort valet.

TYR Elite Convoy Transition Backpack

$180, amazon.com

If ever there was a time to pack a lot—pre-race food, on-course nutrition, extra water for the bike, parka (see above), post-race food, etc—now is the time. While you don’t have to bring everything with you, with this bag from TYR you can. Boasting a staggering 75-liter capacity that would be enough for a night or two of overnight backpacking, this bag also has compartments for organization, a removable wet bag, and loads of pockets for the little things. Even if you’re not camping in a field alongside a lake in Idaho before your race, you’ll still have the option to be self-supported if that helps your comfort level.

Osprey Katari (men’s) and Kitsuma (women’s) 3

$65, rei.com

While it’s not exactly de rigueur for triathletes to wear hydration packs on the bike—even less so in a race—if you’re truly looking to minimize contact and still get through your race without finishing in the med tent, then it’s time to suck it up and get something like the Katari 3. Though it’s designed for mountain biking, this 3L pack comes with a massive 2.5-liter reservoir that should be enough—when combined with on-bike water—for almost any distance. The good news is you can fill the remaining space with any outerwear you might need and/or nutrition to make it through without an aid station. If you’re looking for a pack that’ll work for both bike and run fairly well, check out Osprey’s Duro (men’s) or Dyna (women’s) 6 that costs $110 and also includes a 1.5-liter reservoir with more of a vest-like construction for the run.

Scicon Cooler Bags Pro

Starting at $60, sciconsports.com

Available in three sizes that fit either nine, 15, or 28 water bottles, these cooler bags from cycling brand Scicon are designed to transport water bottles for the pro peloton, but also work extremely well in the age-group post/pre-race food attack situation. Internal pockets in the bag itself allow you to tuck in reusable cooling blocks without making a huge mess. Even once we (someday) return to normal racing, you may even find that the best post-race food ends up being what you bring with you in a bag like this.