Nothing new on race day. That is the cardinal rule of triathlon. Don't scarf down a breakfast burrito race morning when you've been training on oatmeal. Don't wear compression socks if you've never put them on before. And don't swim in a wetsuit you haven't taken for a considerable test swim.
I've been racing tris for six years, so I should have known better than to make race day at Ironman Arizona my first swim in a new wetsuit. I didn't have the chance to swim in open water while training and was afraid the lifeguards at the local rec center would tackle me if I tried to jump in their pool dressed like a human tire.
But I was making an educated guess. In 2006, I bought my first triathlon wetsuit: a Quintana Roo Superfull. It was the morning of a race in Ventura, Calif., and a guy from a local tri shop told me I would either freeze or sink or both without one. So he brought me the QR Superfull and made me pay later (I believe about $375). I wore that suit every weekend for ocean swims and through almost five seasons of racing before I ripped it down the side putting it on last September. The suit's coloring--a big silver V down the front--made me look like a whale, but I didn't care; the suit made me swim like one, too. I had to try out the new version.
For peace of mind, I pulled on the 2010 QR Superfull the day before the race, then jumped into a 55-degree private pool. I took two strokes before I deemed myself ready for Ironman--I hate cold water.
My first impression: Damn, this suit is hot! As in,"Erin, you look smokin' hot!" I posed for a photo (see above). In the 2010 suit, the whale design is replaced by a sexy, technical-looking blue and silver motif. I thought I looked like an intimidating triathlete who knows what she's doing. The QR passed my first test of women-specific tri products: must look hot. But how would it perform?
In my search for a replacement for Whalie, let's call her, I strayed to other manufacturers. I hyperventilated in one suit because the neck felt like it was choking me--the material in that area was too stiff and I couldn't swim in it. I was paranoid a similar strangling sensation would destroy my Ironman swim. That, and under-training. I wanted the suit to make up for my anemic yardage, too.
At about 6:45am last Sunday, I popped on my purple cap and jumped into the newly-filled, reportedly 61-degree Tempe Town Lake. I swam out to the front of the line, believing I deserved to be there because I was ready to kick some serious butt. Some guy came up to a group of us and asked if we were the "Hour Crew." "That's the goal!" I replied. An hour to swim 2.4 miles. That would be rad.
There was no countdown. No 10...9...8. All of the sudden, the canon went off (my mom pulled the trigger!) and I sprinted all out to keep the dudes behind me from clobbering me or sinking their nails into my beautiful wetsuit.
I managed to stay ahead of the crowd through the initial sprint. "You got this Erin, just chill," I said to myself on every stroke.
At the turn-around, the wind picked up and a current pushed us out and away from the swim exit. I put my head down and focused on my technique. I cruised on, swimming over people and getting molested by an errant competitor every once in a while.
When I reached the exit steps, I threw my arms up and someone grabbed them and hoisted me out of the water. At the top of the steps, someone else opened the velcro at my neck and unzipped me. I ripped off the top of my suit, then jumped onto my butt and stuck my feet in the air while two people tore the wetsuit off of me and stuffed it into my arms. I sprinted for T2.
During the entire swim, I never thought about anything else but swimming. The Superfull was like an extension of me--a more buoyant, efficient extension of me. The chest and shoulders are made of Type 40 neoprene, so they're soft and flexible. (The trade off for flexibility is durability. Thicker, more durable material will last longer.)
The neck is high enough that no water gushed down my torso, but is noticeably softer material than other parts of the suit, eliminating the gag/strangle sensation. The suit is also incredibly easy to get off--without having to cut the ankles. That's a major improvement over the 2006 version. And sizing is spot-on. I'm 5'7" and the medium fit great.
The suit also features "sharkskin" panels on the forearms to help propel you forward and what QR dubs "Virtual Pull Buoy" technology. Material is more "floaty" on the inner thighs than on the outer thighs, encouraging better rotation and keeping hips high in the water.
When I was swimming, I didn't notice the sharkskin or the VPB. I just felt awesome. Maybe that's how it's supposed to work; I was number 200 out of 2771 competitors to exit the water. My time? 1:01:36. Not too shabby.
The women's Quintana Roo Superfull wetsuit retails for $550.