Health

Wednesday 27 August 2014

You can't put a price on place at Ironman finals

Participants in an Ironman contest. Photo: Getty Images.
Participants in an Ironman contest. Photo: Getty Images.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that triathletes are gear monsters. If you tell us a widget or gadget will shave a minute off a 10 or 12-hour race time, or 50g from our race bike weight, we will buy it, irrespective of the price.

Well, some of us will. Triathletes as a whole tend to be from higher socio-economic backgrounds and that spare cash (where we have it – austerity and the economy notwithstanding) to spend on new go-faster stuff makes us a marketer's dream. If you've ever been to the exposition at a big triathlon event, the sight of alpha males in compression socks and visors furiously shopping is a sight to behold.

I've invested enough money in triathlon products over the years to know what I like and what works. My friend, Susan, in Mountain View is launching a business with a new triathlon gear bag, so I applied to be a beta tester (basically take the bag, fill it with stuff, batter the hell out of it over a week or two of training and report back). I was pleased to be chosen to be a tester, and it arrived in a large box last Thursday, so my Project Beta Bag Test is under way.

If you're just getting into the sport of triathlon, things like 'a really nice triathlon/ wetsuit bag' are clearly on the nice-to-have rather than the must-have list. It took me several years to build up my triathlon kit fully, starting with the 'must-haves'. Get the basics right first: good running shoes, a wetsuit, a bike (with clip pedals) that meets your race goals, bike shoes and a functional bike helmet.

Once you're confident you're going to keep racing triathlons and you are happy to keep investing, then you can gradually build up the go-faster kit and technology, remembering that only building your own engine will get you big gains: carbon bike components, GPS technology, power meters, race wheels, compression kit, recovery boots, exotic nutritional supplements – the list is both endless and expensive.

It took me five years in the sport to invest in a time trial bike, another three to purchase an aerodynamic race helmet and only a few weeks ago, in my ninth year of competing in triathlons, I finally put money down on bike race wheels. I'm still holding off on the expensive toy that is the power meter, until technology develops enough to bring the price down a bit more.

Winning a place at the Ironman World Championships: priceless (well, $700 (€513) entry fee plus the money-can't-buy qualification speed). For everything else, there's Mastercard or Visa.

If you play the word association game with triathletes, the first word that they will shout when you say 'Hawaii' is 'Kona' – the home of the Ironman Triathlon World Championships, a goal – or pipe dream – for so many of us.

I have notions of making it there someday, but in the meantime, as I am closer to Hawaii while working on the west coast of the US, I decided to take a trip to neighbouring Maui to do some sightseeing and triathlon training.

True, it's not exactly prescribed marathon training, spending a week pedalling up the great mountains of Maui and swimming in the Pacific, but it's far enough away from the Boston Marathon that I can use it as an aerobic boost without worrying about it denting my marathon performance.

I arrived in Maui on Saturday (with the triathlon test bag and bike in tow) to overcast, windy but warm weather. I couldn't prevent a frisson of excitement as I looked at the palm trees, thinking of the Ironman World Championships. One day. In the meantime I have the ascent of the Haleakala Volcano to deal with. I'll report back next week . . .

Irish Independent

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