It's December, and the forcast is the same here in Washington state as it has been the last two months: rain, wind, 36 degrees. It will be for three more months. But the new triathlon buyers’ guides are out once again, so I picked one up, dreaming of summer. As I was flipping through, once again drooling over all the new technology, I asked myself that all important question so many tri-athletes ask themselves: what does a tri-athlete really need? Do we really need all this expensive gear? As I mused over the question, I came up with a significantly different list than the magazine promoted, and I would like to propose the following. I think my list will apply to many more readers.
I live in western Washington, about 200 miles away from the beautiful sun-drenched side of the state, a geographical phenomenon that allows them to boast 300 days of sun a year. While I’m not sure what we have on our side, I would like to guess that we boast about 300 days of rain a year, making most of these products unnecessary, and, frankly, ridiculous. I mean, just take my last 30 biking commutes to and from work in rain so cold, heavy and nasty that the featured products would make little difference to my performance, and may even get me killed. Here’s what I mean:
I could purchase a carbon bottle holder that adds only a few grams of weight to my bike, but since I gain ten pounds of rain-soaked water weight by the time I get to work, I suggest rather taking the bottle rack off all together and just opening my mouth every once in awhile. That will save me money and weight, and give me all the hydration I need. Throw in the mud, gravel and various other debris constantly flying in my face, and I could also get rid of the nutrition bars (they taste about the same as gravel) and take in the free, organic road-nutrients instead. And who needs a bike helmet that weighs just a few grams? They still leak. Mine leaks just fine, causing a constant flow of water to go down my back and inside all my expensive waterproof gear, right into my expensive riding shoes. Actually, my “waterproof” jacket and “waterproof” pants leak, as well. Thus, I get totally soaked. The only thing that doesn’t leak is my shoe booties, but they fill up with water from the stream running down my legs and trap the water in my shoes. All this expensive, high-tech water-proof gear is useless. My solution—a one-piece wetsuit with a helmet, chamois, footies, and bike cleats all built in. Then, bring on the rain—I’ll be warm. Better yet, just give me full scuba gear—with oxygen tank. That would help on the hills.
Now, I did take interest in that Finis swim mp3 gadget, but I would use it for the bike, too, since my ride is usually like being under water. I could just leave it on for my whole brick workout. Also, I think goggles with wiper-blades would be just prime and work for the swim, the bike and possibly the run, as well. I mean, those cool, expensive self-adjusting sun glasses are tempting, but they wouldn’t work. I can’t see at all out of the clear glasses I have now because they are covered with water and mud and gravel and road slime. Throw in my dark, windy 6:00 AM commutes, and it makes for near total blindness. Those expensive glasses would only make it worse.
What about bikes? I ride a ten year-old mountain bike because it’s slower and heavier than my road bike. If I had one of those light, fast, ten thousand dollar tri-bikes I’d just get blown into traffic and run over by a garbage truck. No, I’ll take my slow, heavy mountain bike any day. It doesn’t blow sideways in the wind, and it’s slow enough that when I approach an intersection with cars going 50 miles an hour, I can actually see them (they look like something out of the twilight zone through my foggy, rain-covered glasses) before they crush me like a possum. And those gear sets and battery-powered auto-shifters are just beautiful, but since I can’t see my gears anyway, what good is that? I can’t even tell what ring I’m oi—I just shift around until my legs quit screaming at me—that’s how I do gears. Plus, the sticks, rocks, glass, and road grime would just destroy them, and then I’d be mad I spent so much. No, give me my 10 year old chain set—it’s just as easy to pressure wash as anything else. What—you don’t think one should pressure wash their chain and gears? You must live in Tucson or Kona.
What else do I need? Those Zoot running shoes are pretty, but one good training run and they would be filth-covered black, brown and gray, falling apart, coming unglued and worthless. I would take them off, disgusted at the fact that I had just spent so much on such worthless shoes. I would throw them on the mud room floor, and go for a hot shower, at which point my dog would chew them to oblivion. More wasted money. No, what I need is a good pair of rubber boots—farm style—with a running sole. Come on Nike, you’re from Portland. Stop giving us these pretty, two-hundred-dollar, one-session running shoes and come up with Northwest functional—a running, farm boot. Something that could make it through D-Day, Iwo Jima, or a one-hour Western Washington bike commute. Perhaps just a rubber running shoe bottom with bike cleat attached to the wetsuit (see above), and I could do the whole race in one costume, cutting my transition times considerably. I’m understanding, as I learn about the sport of triathlon, that transition is where most tri-athletes waste their time and do most of their cursing, anyway.
Oh, I have other ideas: a heart-rate monitor that works underwater—again—good for all three events. A light that actually shines through rain and mud and gravel. Water-wicking gear that is rated in (GPM) gallons per minute. And to be truthful, I’m not just being Northwest ego-centric. Most of the rest of the country finds this new gear worthless, as well. Northerners need bikes with spiky tires or tires that blow snow. Perhaps they could use a dog-sled team, an ice-cutting tool and a wetsuit good to 30 below. Mid-westerners need a tornado kit with an entrenching tool. Perhaps they could use a bike-bubble to protect them from 70 mph winds that transport them three lanes over in one second where they get crushed by a garbage truck. Northeasterners, especially in NYC and Philadelphia, need handlebar weaponry (just 50 cal. stuff to keep the weight down--maybe full carbon). They may also need wetsuits with pollution detox kits built in. I mean—where does one swim in the Northeast? The Hudson? The Harbor? Water has been polluted there for a hundred years.
To conclude—I think magazines need to start advertising gear for the real tri-athlete. Most of us don’t live and train in Kona or Arizona—we live in the real world, with rain and snow and wind and traffic and garbage tucks of death lurking around every corner. For my money, a Glad trash bag and some Rain-ex has it over almost everything in these magazines. I don’t need an expensive tri-bike, or a fancy Calistoga or Tuscan tri-camp complete with wind-tunnel training and mud bath therapy. That’s what most of us train in every day, and we get it for free.