It’s been 12 years since an American stood atop the Ironman World Championship podium in Kona, but Timothy O’Donnell aims to end that drought this month. The 33-year-old triathlete has got his training plan dialed, he’s mentally prepared—and he’s built a gear closet with some of the best tri equipment on the planet.
I caught up with him two days before he flew to Hawaii to talk about his gear setup and to glean some race tips for us mere mortals.
OUTSIDE: How do you dial in your equipment for race day?
O’DONNELL: Prep your gear the night before. One of the biggest things both my wife and fellow triathlete, Mirinda Carfrae, are strict about is keeping track of our gear because if we can’t find it come race day, we’re in a world of trouble.
Do you have any tips to give our readers an edge on race day?
Choose gear that will help speed your transitions from swim to bike and bike to run. I use the Aqua Sphere Energize Compression Speedsuit, which has a break-away zipper on the back that makes my transition very fast. Under my Aqua Sphere Speedsuit, I wear Castelli’s T1 Stealth triathlon top. I’ve found I can comfortably wear this combo for an entire race.
There’s a rule of thumb in triathlon that I follow: Never use anything during a race that you haven’t used in training.
When does quality gear make the most difference and what equipment is worth saving up for?
Hands down, I recommend investing in high-quality swim gear. It’s the first thing to invest in before you start training. I prefer Aqua Sphere’s Energize Compression Speedsuit and its K180+ goggles because they’re designed to be easy to use and comfortable, which can help speed your transition times. For beginner triathletes, a good pair of goggles can make a big difference in the swim event, which is often the hardest event to improve in.
Are there any pieces of triathlon gear we can get away with not splurging on?
Elastic laces on running shoe make it easier to get shoes on in transition. I always bring electrical tape because you never know when you will need it. Petroleum jelly helps prevent wetsuit or speedsuit rubbing. I also have a straight-edge razor blade. If you flat with a tubular, it’s easier and faster to cut the tire from the rim rather than rip off the glued tire. Make a cut perpendicular to the tread of the tire, then grab the inside of the tire, and peel it off of the wheel. And KINeSYS Performance Sunscreen. It’s a scorcher out on the Queen K and you have to stay protected with sunscreen.
Any tips for people who travel to races with bikes?
I use TriBike Transport whenever I can when I’m traveling to races. They’re a fantastic company that lets you drop off your bike and gear at any local bike shop partner before the race. [TriBike then transports the equipment to the event, ready for pickup at race headquarters or near the transition area.] No disassembly or assembly at the event required! After the race, you drop off the gear and pick it up back at your local bike shop.
If I have to fly with my bike, I like to use a hard bike case for maximum protection. Be prepared to pay the extra charge from the airline and give yourself a bit of extra time at the airport. For actual travel and accommodations, Ken Glah’s Endurance Sports Travel is truly incredible when it comes to looking after all the details.
We know Kona is going to be hot—how do you stay hydrated during the race?
I use salt sticks before the race to get my electrolytes. During the ride, I use CLIF Shot gels and CLIF shot hydration drinks, and 20-ounce water bottles. On the run, I rely more on CLIF shot gels and Coke, and I use seven-ounce FuelBelt flasks.