So, there you are at the start of the event looking round transition at all the other athletes. How do you categorise them? Ones you know and ones you don't? Or, do you check out their bikes for trick wheels and fancy components?
One sure way to spot the committed athlete is to check the legs: shaved, or not?
There are many tales about why legs get shaved by triathletes but, in reality, there are only three genuine answers:
- it's way cool
- if you crash on the bike the road rash won't be as painful to deal with
- the massage crew prefer it
Shaved legs don't make you go faster, either on the bike or in the swim. In fact, they might actually make you go slower in the swim because the hair can actually help streamline the water flowing over your legs. Otters and seals swim really quite well and they have lots of hair! However, you do "feel" the water more with shaved legs and that can help psychologically but just don't expect to shave seconds as well.
Shaving is best done on a regular basis. I don't shave between the end of the season and the start of the next one (although this year I've been persuaded...) but undoubtedly the best results come from regular removal of hair. There are four main methods:
Cold hard steel
The real man's way... Shaving legs isn't like shaving a face as there's far more flat area and some really tricky bits like the knees and the ankles. That's where you'll cut yourself most of the time. I've tried all sorts of razors but the best ones are definitely the female types with the bigger handles that give you more control. The Protector style with the anti-nick wires can be helpful if you're a complete Sweeny Todd - everyone seems to have trouble round the knees so don't be suprised to get the odd nick here.
Having tried foams, soaps, gels and oils over the years I think that oil really does give the closest shave but it is expensive and can really clog up the razor. For general use a decent quality gel with some moisturiser in seems to do the trick. Foams and soaps leave the legs very dry and you'll need to put some kind of moisturiser on afterwards.
Electric shavers, even the wet and dry types, just don't seem to do it for my legs but other athletes have good results so I guess it's a case of try it and see. Again, you'll probably want to use a moisturiser afterwards.
Regardless of what instrument you end up using the answer seems to be little and often. Hacking through the stubble once a fortnight is definitely not the way to go. Perhaps even try doing half a leg a day to keep them constantly under control, but not so over-shaved that you get skin problems.
Quick, effective and pretty much painless unless you've got very sensitive skin. Always test a patch first and, if it's the first time, be prepared to go over it again. This is the way I always strip down at the start of the season -- trying to shave down a winter's worth of growth is pretty much a waste of time. It helps if you've got a partner to get round the backs of the thighs and other hard to reach places, otherwise you'll need a mirror and double jointed wrists. One very useful trick is to use the little plastic scraper and dump the hair and goop straight into a plastic bag. If you don't it'll take a month to clean the bath...
The problem with creams as a standard method is that you really need to let the hair grow back a bit before you attack it again. They also work out expensive as a regular treatment.
I've never done this but the results are supposed to be the best. As the hair is physically removed at the root any re-growth is going to be seriously reduced and so, over time, the amount of hair that you'll be dealing with will be thinner and less vigorous. Everyone says that it's painful and the universal advice seems to be to take a 400mg Ibuprofen an hour or so before you get the job done. Sometimes the results leave you looking like a badly plucked chicken for perhaps a day or two, so don't do this the evening before that big event!
If you want to figure out how painful it's likely to be try a test strip using good quality adhesive tape... Professional waxing always seems to give better results than the DIY kits and I guess that most places will just as happily strip a man's legs as a womans. Who knows, you might even get a discount!
An alternative to waxing might be the Canadian product Sticky Thighs... Yes, I know! I thought they were taking the piss as well but it's real and is a variation on the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean 'sugaring' technique. It's supposed to be less painful than waxing (it didn't hurt me that much when I tried a couple of test patches and I'm a total wimp!) and it's eco-friendly as well. You can order it over the Internet - they kindly sent me a trial pack.
Treatments like laser hair removal and electrolysis are probably fine for small areas that you want removed permanently but I doubt that they are an affordable or sensible way to get those legs honed down.
Are you man enough?
So, there's the low-down on how to get that ultimate triathlete look. Forget the flash bike or the latest gear -- get those legs shaved down and respect will be yours. At least as long as you're in transition!