The Three Best Investments I Have Ever Made in Triathlon

Posted on November 12, 2014. Filed under: cycle, first time ironman, ironman, run, swim |

It’s the season of goodwill. Again.

I can’t help but notice that the newspaper supplements and glossy magazines are full of gift guides. These are not random shit lists, hell no, they are targeted more effectively than a Tomahawk missile chasing down a goat herder in the desert. “Christmas Book Choices For the 13 Year Old Boy Who Likes Lord of the Rings But Doesn’t Like Harry Potter”. “Secret Santa Suggestions For The Letchy Guy From Accounts Who Lives With His Mum and Three Hamsters”. And so on.

However, I find myself in a special circle of hell when it comes to gift guides for the Triathlete Who Has Everything.

There are two very valid reasons why these frustrate me. Well, they are valid in my head anyway. And that’s important. To me.

Firstly, no self respecting triathlete will ever admit that they don’t have everything. No way. No chance. Never. Not not even if they had to mortgage their kids and turn their family home into a cannabis plantation to fund their kit obsession. They have at least one of everything but, extrapolating the fundamental bicycle principle of n+1, they MUST upgrade their featherlight-aero-widget from carbon fibre to space grade carbo-nucleo-polymers. Or something pseudo-sciencey like that.

But more importantly, if you added all of the claimed percentage time improvements from The Triathlete’s Gift Guide up, the lucky triathlete would actually finish an ironman before they start. In fact, I doubt Santa could even stop the sleigh with all that aero gift packaging and Rudolph off his tits on flapjack.

So, let’s stop the sleigh there for a moment, pause the last minute Christmas wiggle order, call the least favourite child back from their job cleaning chimneys.

When it comes to triathlon gear I am the curmudgeonly, bah humbug, Scrooge. When someone asks “what do you think about [insert latest shiny phallic gizmo with wildly sexy advertising] to improve my ironman bike split by 3 hours?”, I normally respond (probably really unhelpfully without asking about said gizmo’s marginal vital statistics), “But do you really, really want one?”. Because that’s what it is mainly about.

I have one basic principle – if I need it or will get great joy from owning it, riding it or eating it then I will buy it. If I start shopping with the loony perception that it is going to bring me the advertised speed savings then I immediately close the browser window and get the chimney cleaning kid to roll me another giant spliff from my own domestic dope farm.

However, all that said, I made some vague statement a while back when I wrote What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then – Tips For a First Time Ironman that I would write a post about my three best ever investments in triathlon. Then I realised it was a very dull subject for me and forgot about it for 6 months. Then I had nothing else to write about so I exhumed it. And here it is.

The first couple of years that I did triathlon I avidly studied the Tri magazines and collected kit like a magpie. “Ooooh, shiny! Here’s my MasterCard”. Then at some point I realised the Tri magazines pretty worked on a 6 month editorial cycle and I’d read everything they had published and most of their content was advertising. About the same time I realised that I wasn’t getting the expected compound improvements from each incremental piece of kit. In fact, more importantly, I noticed a more direct correlation between speed and training.

So I stopped buying shiny new stuff and just bought what I needed. For example, as a swimmer my wetsuit is one of my favourite bits of kit. While wetsuit technology has marched on relentlessly, I continue to wear my 6 year old Orca which now has so many nicks and abrasions in the neoprene that I could probably flog it on eBay as “cutting edge porous sharkskin technology” or some other hydrodynamicbollocks. I will probably be forced to upgrade it soon anyway as it seems to have shrunk as it/I have aged. ūüėČ

In my own personal messed up world of triathlon a tailored coaching plan and a good bike fit are triathlon 101. If this was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs a coach and a bike fit would be the equivalent of shelter and food so I haven’t included them on the list. And then the old triathlon rules kinda insist that we need the very, absolute basics of a bicycle, bike helmet, trainers and a wetsuit. We can obviously pour glitter all over the basics to make them faster/lighter/sexier but that’s not really what this post is about.

So, without further ado, the Luddite Triathlete Equipment Hit Parade:


2250As when St John had his donkey fried on the road to Damascus (they only called him John back then), buying a bicycle stand was transformational for me.  Pre bike stand, the thought of washing my bike was the ultimate ball ache.  Post my metaphorical donkey frying, the days of balancing the bike on the forks and rear derailleur while I washed it were past. Now I am uber bike geek РI properly strip it down, clean it and lube it and, bizarrely, actually look forward to doing it. Like a weirdo.

And then, even more weirdly, just from the pleasure derived from general fettling, I got interested in how the bike worked and arranged to “shadow” my local bike mechanic when he next serviced my bike. ¬†The result is that I can now maintain everything on my bike myself and, more importantly, I can do roadside repairs that will get allow me to limp home from any mechanical.

A bike stand is not sexy. It is sturdy and dependable. As my bike now is. Having waited at the side of the road for a lift I am all for dependable bikes.




I think on my alternative grumpy Santa gift guide, the single best thing that I have spent money is having a physiological assessment done. ¬†Which is quite surprising, really, as it involves getting naked, a man drawing on your body, attacking you with calipers, repeatedly piercing your fingers and then telling you that you are fat. ¬†Well, that’s what happened to me anyway.

I am a strong believer that every training session should have a purpose and the physiological assessment is the third part of the holy trinity after a heart rate monitor and a good coach.  Basically a coach sets your programme for your objective, you monitor it with the HRM and the physiological assessment advises what you are monitoring.

What my testing told me was that I ran too hard when I should have been running easy and I didn’t push myself hard enough for a really hard session. ¬†So basically I was a very enthusiastic headless chicken. Indeed I would have been significantly more effective doing a vigorous funky chicken.

It’s not an essential investment if you really understand your perceived exertion. But I don’t. When I am deeper into the season I am more aware of my intensity levels but I need to work religiously with my HRM early in the season to recalibrate my perspective. For about ¬£100, it transformed how I trained and I recommend it. Like some kinda multisport Victor Kiam.




OK. A caveat before I start here. I’m about to mention brands but I ain’t no brand ambassador. Indeed I shall even mention Garmin positively though I wrote Dear Garmin (You Chubby Ginger Tosser) which was hardly, as you can probably imagine from the title, a glowing endorsement.

Back when I was a lad, and swimming pools were basically puddles with roofs, I trained up to 12 hours a week, every week for about 15 years. And my life was rigidly controlled by a black speedo clock, with a yellow sweep hand with a red tip on one end. The 25 times table was hard coded into my soul and I could calculate times and rest periods in an instant.

Many years later, I returned to the pool for triathlon and I could barely see the clock and I doubt I ever completed a 200 because I always lost count somewhere between 1 and 8 from which you can draw your own conclusions about the quality of chartered accountancy training. Alternatively I may just have forgotten the number of the previous length on account of my glacial pace.

Anyway, I got a Garmin swim to count lengths for me. It was brilliant, and as an added bonus because I was recording real time swim data for the first time ever it kept my pacing and rest intervals honest. I’ve still got my Garmin Swim but on account of GingerTosserGate I now also have a Suunto Ambit. If I can work out how to staple a heart rate belt to me in the pool I will also get HR data in the pool. The swim tech revolution is happening.



And that’s about it. Buy it if you love it, but unless you are up front bothering the Lead Bikes, don’t expect the marginal gains to book your seat to Kona. Somewhat dully, the formula for that is still train hard, train smart, train consistently and recover.

Have a jolly merry Christmas and, if you have got a pointy helmet as a gift, rejoice that your new tolerance for outrageous headwear means that you didn’t really look such a tit wearing the hat from the cracker in the past.


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2 Responses to “The Three Best Investments I Have Ever Made in Triathlon”

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Entertaining as always. Best to you in this holiday season, and best wishes for a Healthy New Year, Gerry


Thanks for the comment Gerry. Same to you buddy! Hope everything is well.


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