The Elusive Non-Gadget Mailbag

Since I started doing the Slowtwitch Weekly Mailbag’s last year, I realized I’d been slowly building up a pile of non-gadget related questions.  See, before the Slowtwitch mailbags conversion, I ended up answering all sorts of randomness that would float into my e-mail mailbox.  Everything from nutrition to travel, cooking an egg, and how I plan for races and training.

Since the conversion though, I just answer those in e-mail (well, I try and answer them anyway, sometimes I get behind a bit).  But after I send them, they ultimately just hang out in my sent items.  So I figured I might as well sift through them and find some that were interesting or otherwise entertaining.

This won’t be a weekly column, bur rather just a once in a while sorta thing.  You know, like freshly baked cookies.  Unless, you get freshly baked cookies made every week…in which case I’ll need to know your address and oven opening time…pronto!

Question #1: Nutrition and puking

“I searched your blog and found some good tidbits, but what really peaked my interest was your first tri response and how you puked up your race drink.  I later noticed you said you would tweak you mixtures till you got it right. I realize this is different than giving a review on technology because everyone’s fueling needs are different, but your thoughts on different types of fuels, and why take them at given times would benefit many.”

Ahh yes, nutrition and I have a long and storied history.  Sorta like the old FaceBook relationship status of: It’s complicated.

In general I find that nutrition options that work for me at certain effort levels (i.e. easy, moderate, etc…) don’t always work for me at much harder efforts.  And sometimes those that work all season in training don’t work in racing.


(For those of you not familiar with my waterboy style carrying cases, see this way-old school post on my great search for these.)

Of course, the best I can do is to train with it, and train in some capacity like I race.  Between those two things that’s the most I can do when it comes to arriving at a start line with what I hope is my race-day solution.  But you also have to have backup plans.  For example, I’ve been using EFS Liquid Shot Gel (the vanilla one tastes like cupcake batter!) for a while now, and it seems to work for me.  It is a pain to carry in large quantities, but that’s alright.  I basically just use the gel and water during the workout/race.  It’s also nice in that I have no messy drink powders to mix the night prior.

By the same token I also try out other random stuff here and there during less important workouts, just to see how well it would work in the event I have to go to Plan B during a race.  For example, Gatorade is widely available in most races, so I mix that in a bit – primarily during the offseason.  It’s also of course far cheaper than EFS stuff, so that helps save a bit here and there when I can.

Lastly, as far as tweaking mixtures – the one company that I’ve used that allows you to do that is Infinite Nutrition, which I used a portion of last year and the previous year.  Ultimately I puked more often than not in races, hence the move to EFS.  But you can tweak the mixtures to your caloric needs, which is pretty cool.  I’m pretty sure the puking was just my body, and not a general thing – many folks have much success with Infinite.

Question #2: Travelling triathletes and finding rooms

“You’ve mentioned a few times that traveling athletes couch surf. I’m interested in hosting some people. How do athletes find reputable places (and how do places hook up with non-crazies)? I’ve had a blast the last couple of years meeting lots of people at marathons.”

As for finding places to stay – in most cases it’s through networks of friends.  You’d be amazed if you poke around at your FaceBook friends how many of them might now live in far off lands.  Same goes for family.  I’m lucky in that I’ve got family in New England for those races, Seattle for ones in the Pacific Northwest, and if I’m headed up to Newfoundland, got folks there too!  It’s all about the connections!

However, I’ve often seen pleas for rooms on forums like Slowtwitch, TriFuel, or Beginner Triathlete.  Once people have posted enough general/helpful posts about triathlon, you’ll find that others are often happy to lend a hand.  Beyond that, I’d agree it could be a bit difficult to ensure you get a non-crazy – so always be a bit careful there.

Question #3: What do you think about XYZ bike components?

Consolidated Question: “What do you think about XYZ bike components, frames, wheels, or tires?”

Ok, I have a confession to make.  I have no idea.

In general, my bike is actually much like my car.  Both have wheels.  Both go when I say/do things to make them go forward.  And both are rather mysterious to me from a technical standpoint.  Sure, I understand all the bike components at a high level (not so much on the car front I suppose), but not enough to know the different brands super well.  To me, when I look at bikes and components I probably fall more in the camp of: Does it look pretty?  Sorry, let me rephrase that in a more manly tone.  Does it looks really damn cool?


See, some folks obsess about bike componentry…I instead focus that energy on bike gadgets.  In addition, I find that in general raw fitness will usually out-power any bike component swap from a weight standpoint (and failing that, I could just forego those cookies I mentioned earlier).

I am learning more about componentry…but for the most part, as long as the wheels don’t fall off…I’m happy. :)

Question #4: What’s a good place to start for marathon training?

Consolidated question: “I’m training for my first marathon and I’m looking for a good training plan – do you have any recommendations?”

I still think that for the novice runner, the best all around resource for running a marathon is Hal Higdon’s site.  First off…it’s free.  Second, it’s dead simple to follow.  Yes, the website looks like it was designed in 1994 using Windows 3.1 with WordPad and a 8-bit color palette…but that’s what makes it great.  It’s just so easy to understand, print out, and follow.

It’s also what I used for my first marathon, so I have some affinity to it.  And, it’s not intimidating.  So many programs insert all sorts of fancy running jargon in there that just doesn’t frankly make a lot of sense.  In reality, running programs in general can be most easily broken down to: Run long, Run Fast/Hard, Run Easy.  There are then endless variations based on that theme.

The site also has free (did I mention you don’t even have to register or anything, just browse to the different pages) training plans for everything from 5K to Half-Marathon, as well as different levels for each type of runner (advanced, novice, etc…).  He sells books and stuff too, but honestly everything’s free on his site…so…uhh…yeah.

If you’re looking for triathlon training plans, you’ll fall into one of two categories.  For folks looking for completely planned out easy to follow guides I recommend the Triathlete Magazine Week by Week Training guide (all race distances).  For folks that want to really understand the science behind it all and create their own training plan, there is no better resource out there than Joe Friel’s Triathlete Training Bible.

Question #5: Favorite Travel Location?

“What’s your favorite travel location?”

As you’ve probably gathered by now…I travel a lot.  Like, a real lot.  So naturally folks are curious what my favorite place on earth is.


Well, it really depends on what I’m in the mood for.  Nonetheless, here’s a few of my favs:

Beach places: Closer to home I love St. Thomas and St. John (in particular, St. John) – down in the US Virgin Islands.  Just so quiet and peaceful on St. John.  Outside the US it’s very hard to beat the isolation of the Maldives.  If you do it as a package through some of the European travel agencies it can actually be reasonable.  In general the Maldives are probably one of my favorite places on earth.

European Cities: I love Zurich and Paris.  I enjoy Paris (especially in the summer) because of the food and the walkability of it.  Zurich on the other hand is awesome because it’s easily accessible, has an awesome transit system, and there are a gazillion bikers everywhere.  Plus, the endless chocolate shops kinda rock.

Asia: I love Hong Kong.  It’s ‘accessible’ to a non-Asian-language speaking person due to the past England ownership, but it’s still uniquely Chinese.  Being able to wander around small side streets and find amazing foods is awesome.  Singapore is also another favorite – just so incredibly clean there and very ‘peaceful’.

In the US/Canada: There’s really a ton of places I enjoy hanging out in within North America.  San Diego, Colorado, Mukilteo, Vancouver to Whistler, Newfoundland, Austin, and probably many more I can’t remember off hand.

Africa.  And then there’s Africa, I’d spend all the time in the world in Africa if I could.  No place like it.  South Africa being my favorite for non-safari places, but Kenya being more my pace for safari related trips.

So there ya have it, a place to start your next vacation planning from.

Question #6: Compression stuffs

“Do you use compression socks in training or racing?”

I’ve used compression socks a bit in 2009 when doing Ironman Florida.  But beyond that not too much.  Unfortunately, I haven’t really used them enough to do any sort of review on them, and it’s probably a bit out of my league anyway (sorta like bike components).  I liked the 2XU stuff I had though.  In general I think compression apparel (like nutrition) is one of those things that when it works well you don’t notice it…but when it doesn’t, you notice it quite a bit.  Hard to quantify sometimes.
Now technically I had calf guards as opposed to compression socks, because the socks themselves are a serious PITA to put on – especially if they somehow get wet (usually I put them on under the wetsuit).  Of course, some folks just swim with them, which works too.

The Girl uses them a bit more than I do.  She uses Zenzah Compression Socks, and loves them.

Question #7: Bike repair supplies while racing

“Do you always carry a spare, plus CO2?  I haven’t raced the shorter distances with spares as of yet…I figure if I flat, I’ll DNF instead of mess with it.  But being 25 miles from home in a 5 hour race is a different story.  I’ve thought about maybe using one of my bottle cages to hold the spare…otherwise I’m not quite sure where to put it.”

I do carry a spare for all my races – both a tubular and a clincher, simply because I’ve learned that if I have them both on my bike at all times, then I’m covered for training wheels or race wheels (for an Ironman or 70.3 race I’d probably take the time to remove the unused tire).  I use a rear mount system. I have a post all about my ‘Rear Rack’, and it goes into a detailed photo-diagram of what I do with respect to that – so definitely check it out!  Alternatively, a back jersey pocket (if your tri suit has one) works fairly well in a pinch.


And finally, yes, I use CO2, and have two CO2 cartridges as well as a little head nozzle.  Here’s my previous post on using CO2 if you’ve never used it before.  Includes all sorts of details to ensure you’ll get going quickly with the little metal canister.

Thanks all for reading!  Hopefully you found this interesting…if not at least entertaining!


Hopefully, you found this post useful. The website is really a labor of love, so please consider becoming a DC RAINMAKER Supporter. This gets you an ad-free experience, and access to our (mostly) bi-monthly behind-the-scenes video series of “Shed Talkin’”.

Support DCRainMaker - Shop on Amazon

Otherwise, perhaps consider using the below link if shopping on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. It could simply be buying toilet paper, or this pizza oven we use and love.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

Click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture



  1. def an interesting post! Looking forward to more of these mailbag posts :D

    I do have a question:
    Have you been to Bora Bora??

  2. Mark J.

    Great answer about the equipment recommendations. Too many people spend a fortune on unbelievably expensive components and race-day only wheels and count every gram and never get the results you do.

    I am most impressed with your time management skills. How you have a full time job, a fiance, and train as much as you do is very impressive to me. Keep up the great work Ray.

    Your blog is a must read every day (probably to my employer’s dismay).

    -Mark in Frisco, TX

  3. Dear Ray,

    Congratulations for all your posts. I find them quite useful ;)
    Your blog really rock :) I also try to do a daily follow up :)

    Have you ever visited or tried any tri in Spain?

    Let us know if you are around or you plan any trip near by…



  4. love this post! so much. i am so jealous of all your traveling!

  5. Thanks for #4. We started Hal’s Beginner Marathon plan this week after reading your post. I love the simplicity of it.
    Love your blog and all the great info I get from it.

  6. Hello Ray,

    What European travel companies do you use for the Maldives? I always thought it was extremely expensive to vacation there.

  7. Typically I just use miles from United and use Star Alliance partners (Singapore Airlines), via SIN.

    However, I think Thomas Cook has some good deals via charter occasionally.