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Ask A Gear Guru: What Should I Really Be Panicking About?

You know the feeling: You’ve got X days until your race and you don’t have aerobars/a wetsuit/race wheels/new goggles. We’ll break down what’s worth freaking out about (and what’s not).

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Triathletes know all about panic. There’s panic training, there’s panic eating (or the lack thereof), there’s race-morning panic, sometimes we even have panic dreams—you know, the one where you’re first out of the water, and your bike is gone? I haven’t raced in a long time, and I still have that one. Panic is rarely a good thing, but sometimes there’s a reason your body is going into hyper-active mode. There are things you need to be worried about; there are things you don’t. While we can’t help with the dreams (Lord knows I’ve tried), we can help narrow that shotgun-blast panic into a thin, gear-focused laser beam of “actionable” concern.

Social Media Is Not Your Friend

This seems obvious, and everyone preaches it, but this is at the top for a reason: Your friends, the pros, tri influencers, and yes, even us here at Triathlete will always be winning the Great Gear Arms Race. We don’t do it to make you feel bad (well, we don’t, anyway), we’re just trying to keep everyone abreast of the latest and greatest so you’re not the last person to know about the new, secret Quintana Roo being released next month. (Oh, you didn’t know about that? You should subscribe to my membership newsletter 😏). But here’s the thing, your social media feed isn’t one person—it’s a bunch of them. And I promise you right now, I won’t show up to your local race with all of This Year’s Hottest Gear and outlean you for a podium spot. So don’t sweat the feed; use it as inspiration or as a list of that one thing you want to buy next season. No one has all of it, anyway.

There Are Some Things You Legit Need to Race Better/Faster/More Comfortably

This is still The Gear Guru, not comrade gearshvik, so of course there’s still some gear we recommend you should have that’ll make you stronger, faster, and have more fun. We’ll get to the specifics down below, but the important point here is that while some gear is just about splitting aerodynamic, Kammtail hairs, there is some stuff that you really should get. And if you don’t have it (and you have the means), you might be missing out on some extra fun from this sport. Love it or hate it, triathlon is a pretty gear-intensive sport, and while you can’t always escape gear panic, you can at least panic properly.

On Race Week, Panic Does You No Good

There is a time peg to this whole “let’s panic about the right stuff.” The old don’t-try-anything-new-on-race-day should actually extend to race week, in my opinion. There is very little gear that should be introduced on race week. Sure, if you don’t own a race belt, get a race belt on race week. Hell, get it two days before—that’s plenty of time to learn the “intricacies” of a snap button or a strand of bungee with a spring toggle. Even renting race wheels isn’t the dumbest thing to do on race week—assuming you’re not thinking about some crazy over-60mm beasts and you’re racing a technical, windy course for the first time. But everything else, for the most part, is off limits with seven days to go.

Without further ado, some gear that is worth panicking about (notice we’ve tried to keep things budget and essential only—you’re welcome):

Panic About: Not having good open-water goggles

TYR Nest Pro Goggles

$22, tyr.com

Notice I wrote “good open-water goggles.” Even if you were a bad*** college swimmer, those little Swedish things without any soft eye cups will be a bad choice in any open-water event. Picture: flailing limbs, heels akimbo, and bodies passing you and being passed. Also picture that buoy you need to sight blending into the similarly colored balloons on shore. You need a pair (or two, or three for different race-morning conditions) that are soft, indestructible, and give a wide range of vision. These basic TYR goggles do all three—buy a pair or two three weeks out from your race, make sure they fit your face, and feel at least somewhat comfortable that you won’t lose an eye or lose your way on race day.

Related: Ask A Gear Guru: Which Type of Goggles Should I Wear Today?

Panic About: Not having a wetsuit

Roka Maverick

$250, roka.com

If you’re doing a race—Olympic or over—and the water is under 70 degrees F, you really need to get your hands on a wetsuit. If you get too cold in the water, it’s tough to have a good bike or run, and the added floatation will help pretty much everyone get out of the water faster than without a wetsuit. While there are (slightly) cheaper wetsuits out there, most of them don’t provide the warmth and floatation you’ll need. This new suit from fancy-wetsuit-brand Roka is a budget version of their expensive Maverick line. If you’re only going to do one triathlon ever, maybe rent a wetsuit or borrow a friends, but if you’re going to do more than one, get this, and let it last you a few comfortable seasons before upgrading.

Related: Reviewed: Roka Maverick Wetsuit

Panic About: Not having body lube

Body Glide

Starting at $5, bodyglide.com

Sure, you’ll be able to finish your race without body lube, but at what cost? You’ll be alive, but what’s your quality of life going to look like with deep, chafing rashes in all of the creases and folds of your body? This is another one of those “yes, if you don’t have this on race day, freak the f out and find some” things. Hell, even borrow some from someone in transition if they’re so kind—pandemic be damned (joking, only kind of). Put this on anything that’ll contact a wetsuit or clothing hem or fold—or a saddle. Panic if you don’t.

Panic About: Not having a tuned-up bike

Your Local Bike Shop

Usually $40 and up

Ok, you spent at least $100 on your race entry fee, probably well over 10 times that on your bike, and you’re being too cheap to get your well-used bike tuned up? Don’t be lazycheap, here. For all of the hours you spent training, when you could have been working or being with loved ones or finding the love of your life (or maybe you found the love of your life while training! That’s great!), you owe it to your bike, nay, yourself to man- or lady-up and make sure you don’t run into any mechanical problems on race day. Pro tip: When you sign up for your race, put in your credit card info, then reach for the phone, and make an appointment with your local bike mechanic to have your bike tuned up 14 days out from race day. Panic no more.

Panic About: An old helmet

POC Omne Air Spin

$150, pocsports.com

While the CPSC certification organization recommends replacing your helmet every five to 10 years, the SNELL group (another certification org) has a strong five year stop. I’d lean more toward the latter, because, you know, it’s literally your head on the line. The dome-protecting foam in your helmet deteriorates over time and eventually will render it near useless. Unless you just like the feeling of a helmet on your head, the entire point of wearing a helmet is to protect your precious skull. If it’s not doing that, it’s just an ugly hat. The relatively new POC Omne Air Spin is an inside-industry favorite because it’s super ventilated, has the unique SPIN safety system, and is as lightweight as helmets that cost twice the price. This is a high-end helmet that somehow got mispriced. While it won’t be aero (at all), it’ll protect your noggin a thousand times better than that rotting hunk of foam in your garage.

Related: Spring 2021 Triathlete Buyer’s Guide: Helmets

Panic About: Not having a race belt

DeSoto Race Number Belt 2

$15, desotosport.com

No matter what tri you’re doing, you’ll need to wear a number at least during the run, and potentially during the bike. No one—I repeat no one—takes the time in transition to pin their race number on their shirt. While you can pin it to your shirt before and change into the shirt on the run, it’s still way faster to attach your race number (and gels if you need them) to a race belt on race morning, then just grab the belt and go on the bike or run. This isn’t something you only need if you’re trying to go fast, this is something you need if you’re trying to finish without forgetting your number and not getting a finishing time.

Panic About: Worn-out run shoes

Hoka One One Clifton 8

$130, hoka.com

If you’re over three weeks out from your race and your outsoles are worn to the foam, get new shoes. Just do it. If the foam on your super cushy Hokas looks like it’s lost an inch of height, get new shoes. Because if you’re seeing that level of damage on the outside of your shoes, the important part inside has been wrecked for weeks. Every day you keep running on those shoes simply brings you a day closer to your race and a day closer to potential injury. Shoes like the Clifton are an excellent all-around trainer that fits a variety of running gaits and styles. While there are better shoes for race day, replacing whatever worn-out garbage you have with a pair of these will pull you back from the brink of injury.

Related: The 21 Best Running Shoes For Every Kind of Run