Loading Your Bike for Race Day
What do put on your bike in transition for race day and where do you put it? This question is one I’ve encountered throughout the years of racing and I have seen many interesting combinations before a race start. Initially the athlete really needs to know how much nutrition they will need for a given distance; of course, they will need to know which foods will work best for their bodies at those distances. For example, during a sprint triathlon I may only use a single water bottle and take the rest of the cages off my bike to minimize weight and maximize aerodynamics. For an Olympic Distance in hot weather I may use a single large water bottle with a carbohydrate blend. A half-iron distance race usually will have me loading up Salt Stick tabs into the Salt Sticks and a couple large water bottles filled with Infinit Nutrition on my frame or in my Beaker Concepts behind-the-seat bottle holder. This should provide enough nutrition for me throughout the entire bike leg. For iron distance, I normally have three large bottles of Infinit Nutrition packed (one on my down tube) and two behind the saddle. With enough calories packed in each of them, to get me well beyond the Special Needs Bag pickup zone where I have a fourth bottle waiting of equal calories. As long as I get the Special Needs Bag, I should have enough calories for the entire bike leg of even the Hawaii Ironman.
This can backfire though, as this year I chose to continue after missing the Special Needs Bag in Hawaii—and basically ran out of steam quickly. If you stop though, there should not be a problem (next time I will stop). A few configurations I may try in 2010 are a Profile type bottle between the arm pads or a new bar mounted system, with a Beaker Concepts H.5 mount behind the saddle.
I do not think that bikes such as the Cervelo P4 are designed with enough thought for Ironman racing from a drinking standpoint, as once your “V-frame bottle” is exhausted, you cannot fit in a round bottle at the aid stations as the cage is specific to only Cervelo bottles. If you use a concentrated drink, you need to monitor how much water you have on board (a distraction not needed when fatigued). There is always the risk of running out of water on hot days, and then you know that you may have 10 miles before another aid station to get water. I find it much better to begin the day with the proper drinkable strength of Infinit Nutrition so the guesswork of concentrated formula to water combination isn’t an issue. Load up the Salt Stick & that has seemed to be enough for most occasions.
Pros & Cons of bars and gels: Gels simply add a bit much sweetness near the end of a long race like Ironman. As a race gets longer, your palate is more sensitive to sweets.
Most gels, especially chocolate flavor seem to be too sweet for my liking. They are a quick convenient way of packing in some extra calories, but only with lots of water to dilute it in the stomach. Bars are simply too hard to open and of course, eat and digest. Controlling the bike even on windy days takes enough concentration without having to peel an environmentally damaging foil or plastic wrapper that most bars come in. Your nutrition is best had in liquid form as it is easily digestible and absorbed into the bloodstream. Even in 2009 Hawaii Ironman, I have seen gel packets taped to the top tubes of bikes, where the hot Kona sun melts the glue on the tape, leaving a mess on thousands of dollars of equipment. Additionally, I have seen completely unwrapped energy bars laid out on top tubes, sticking to the frames which make it difficult to not only peel off during the race, but make for a nightmare of cleaning once the race is over. Another problematic situation of bars/gels taped or placed on the bike, is the added weight loss of aerodynamics. Why spend so many dollars on a nice bike with flowing aero wheels and tube sets, only to negate it by placing jagged foil wrapped gels and tape all over it? It is best in my opinion, to start the day with everything you need on board—and in the Special Needs Bag for distance races. For me, that means easy digestible, accessible and highly nutritional products like Infinit and Salt Stick. If along the way you want to grab a gel or banana on the bike at an aid station, then can be done when you get to that point.
One issue I ran into after missing 25% of my bike calories in Hawaii this year was trying to get enough nutrition from the aid stations. Gatorade is not only weak in calories, but is too sweet to handle without discomfort at some point. The longer the race the more important it is to nail down what you take in during the day to sustain yourself. Gatorade just doesn’t cut it, especially as hot weather will likely send many competitors to the side of the road vomiting from discomfort. The bottles at Ironman races often are handed to you with warm water or Gatorade, and only partially filled. If you depend on aid stations to get calories the entire race, you may be endangering your race by getting a warm, half filled bottle, which may only amount to around 75-100 calories. That is expected to keep you going for the next 10 miles? I don’t think so. Best to have your own formula on board that you have trained with and know works for you. Another point here is that the concentration of on course formula provided by races varies. Some are really weak and some are very strong in strength, which alone can upset your stomach come time for the marathon.
Of course these are all a matter of experimentation and opinion, but these are conclusions to the day which I have arrived at. In time, with more products coming on the market, those conclusions may in fact be altered. Hopefully this will help you think more about what and where to use nutrition on your races, whether a sprint or iron distance race.