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The Benefits Of The Special Needs Bag

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published June 7, 2011

A lot of pros choose to use the special needs bags on race day, but Age Groupers tend to shun them. Why? The special needs bag can be an invaluable tool that will propel you to – and even beyond – your target time. But what should you have in them?

Written By: Pip Taylor
Special-needs bags are not just for those with food intolerances or special nutritional requirements—they offer an opportunity to restock; a back-up plan “just in case”; and/or they allow you to race lean and mean without the weight of extra bottles and food.

Once you have your race nutrition calculated, lay out each item in front of you as a visual. For an Ironman race there will be quite a number of bottles, gels, bars, salts and more. Ask yourself if you could (or want to) carry all of that. Also think about any extras that you might want to have as a “just in case”: a special candy treat? Your favourite salty crisps? A peanut butter and jam sandwich? An iron-distance race is a long day, and flavour fatigue can be a very real issue. Craving something solid or “real” to chew can be a very welcome respite, and sometimes just knowing that this bag is out there can act as a reassuring safety net.

Pack more than you think is necessary, along with some options. But also make sure that if you do miss the pick-up, you’re not compromised and are able to make use of your on-board nutrition and fluid as well as the aid stations. I asked two iron-distance athletes for their recommendations when it comes to packing The Bags.

Belinda Granger
Belinda Granger has perhaps the most experience when it comes to special- needs bags, as winner of 14 iron-distance events: “For most races I do not rely on my special-needs bag on the bike—even in Kona if I do happen to miss it or drop it, I know I have enough calories on me to get through. However, my special-needs bag on the run is a necessity. The good thing is that it would be extremely unlikely for me to miss my special needs on the run as it is easy to slow down and get it.”
Bike bag: Bottle of Carbo-Pro and two
PowerGels Run bag: Four caffeinated PowerGels and five salt tabs

David Thompson
Offering a different take is David Thompson, a new iron-distance athlete who debuted with a third-place finish at the 2010 Rev3 Full at Cedar Point. “I would try to limit what you carry with you and plan on picking up your special- needs bag if you can’t get what you need at the aid stations. At well-supported races I wouldn’t carry more than two bottles on my bike. Liquid is heavy—a 50ml bottle is 0.75kg.
Bike bag: One high-calorie blueberry muffin; one Snickers (King size)
Run bag: One McDouble (frozen overnight) cut in half; one high-calorie blueberry muffin; two gels with extra sodium and caffeine

“I didn’t end up using my bike special-needs bag but I did use my run special-needs bag. I ate the blueberry muffin. It basically melted in my mouth. Hardly any chewing was necessary.”

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.