As I see Fit: Packing an Ironman special needs bag

Q: "I'm preparing for my first Ironman triathlon. What should I pack in my special needs bags? And, do you recommend a full change of clothes after the bike?" — Sarah B., Granite Springs, NY

A: Like wetsuit strippers and bike catchers, the "special needs bags" have, according to, come to be known as "something that characterizes the M-dot experience." Along with three gear bags — one for each leg of the race — and one race morning clothes bag, each Ironman triathlete receives two "special needs bags" that are available midway through the bike and the run. The common thinking with regard to these bags, as one athlete reported on, is that "it's better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it." Athletes typically use these bags to pack anything they may need during the course of the race.


It is important to note, however, that items packed in special needs bags are not guaranteed to be returned, so you should not pack anything in these bags that you want to get back. Athletes have been known to pack anything and everything in these bags, from practical "toolbox" items, such as CO2 cartridges and tubes, to inspirational notes, spare socks, salt tabs and a wide variety of coveted foods ranging from sodas and candy bars to entire cheeseburgers and thermoses of soup. As for my own special needs bags, I primarily packed foods and nutrition items I wanted to replenish, such as mini Snickers, dried pineapple, Hammer Gels and Infinit. I also packed a stick of Body Glide, Vaseline, Band-Aids, sunscreen and ibuprofen.

Changing tents are available as you transition from one leg to another but, in my opinion, making a full change of clothes is not necessary. Other than swapping my helmet for a visor and my cycling shoes for running shoes, the only clothing I changed after the bike was my shorts and socks.

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As I See Fit

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Westminster, MD 21157

Sherri Leimkuhler is from Eldersburg and is an Ironman triathlete with extensive experience in fitness and health. Her column appears on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month.