The fifth discipline

Given the current trend to include strength and conditioning as the fourth discipline in triathlon (see an article on this part of training for the Dutch national triathlon team in this month’s edition of Transition), I’ve decided to document the overlooked fifth discipline: stuff.

Scuba diving is nothing in comparison; triathlon really involves a large amount of stuff!  About 8 months into this adventure, having worked hard to fit all the training into my schedule and develop new  routines, I’m facing up to the little discussed fact that the material culture of triathlon requires a substantial chunk of time and energy.  (And money–but I’m not going there for now.) This dawned on me a couple of days ago, when I spent half a day reorganising my closet, in order to make room for and optimize the clothing portion of the triathlon stuff. And that’s only the textile department.

So what is the fifth discipline all about? First, you need to figure out what you need and prioritize the purchases. Granted,  this is something that website, blogs and magazines do talk about–but it is only the beginning!!! Even expose-style, let it all hang out, nitty-gritty accounts of starting to tri (including this hilarious read) DO NOT TELL YOU THE TRUTH ABOUT THE STUFF.  So in the coming period, I’m going to be doing some deep, embedded research as to why has this aspect of triathlon is not more explicitly discussed: Why the conspiracy of silence around the triathlon stuff?

You’ve been warned, major revelations follow.

This first step of figuring out what you need means delving into the nearly endless possibilities–the cost of triathlon stuff seems to be highly variable,  and it appears that for each item, there is a range to chose from that covers orders of magnitude, going from 20 to 200 euros or from 200 to 2000, from 2000 to 20 000. What does this mean in practice: while I’m pretty sure that I don’t need a triathlon bike worth 20 000 euros,  should I go for the cheapest option? Or will I outgrow that too quickly and should I invest in an upper lower-range model? There’s a few evening’s worth of internet research going into that one. Then there is the ordering, receiving delivery, sizing issues and potential returns. So there you have some substantial information gathering, shopping, decision-making, and logistics of deliveries and fitting required by the stuff.

But– and I know I’m repeating myself– this is only the beginning: once your stuff, in the right size, has come in, you have to find a place to store it. Think cleaning out the shed to make room for yet another bike, go to the municipal solid waste disposal facility (“la dompe” as we use to say when I was little), and install some sort of hanging system so that it will be stored reasonably out of the way of the rest of the family.

Phew. Well done.

But these are necessary one-offs, you might say, investments that are part of starting up a new sport.

And you would be wrong.

Because this carefully selected gear needs to be cleaned, maintained and repaired. So, sticking with the bicycle example, you need degreaser (biodegradable), cleaner, oil (pick the one for wet conditions, this being the Netherlands). And a super handy contraption to clean your bike chain–the contraption also needs assembling and cleaning, make no mistake. A kit to change flats (tire irons, CO2 cartridge and spare inner tube) that all fits into a special streamlined bag under your saddle (how do I secure that on precisely?) so that you can have this stuff at hand during a race. Yes, we’re a few instructional youTube videos further.

Need I go on? A laundry rack for the fine hand-washables has now become a permanent fixture in the bedroom. There is half a shelf in the kitchen reserved for water bottles. A largish basket in our entrance hall holds various bits of equipment needed on the way out (helmet, fluorescent bits and bobs and reflector bands, ziploc for the phone, special earphones) as though that part of the house isn’t already cluttered enough.

To end, here is a picture of some of the recent stuff, some visual evidence so you don’t have to take my word for it. Granted, this is for someone tri-ing in a relatively cool climate. Not like my cousine d’Australie who can do it all wearing a singlet, a cap and a pair of shades. Oh, and probably three kinds of sunblock.


No wonder triathlon doesn’t seem to be short of sponsors!



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