For guys, shaving their legs for the big race has pretty well become an important part of Ironman race preparation. Its right up there with carbo loading and pre-race hydration.
Actually, more to the point, its become a tradition and the mark of a real honest to God triathlete who has truly arrived. Well, at least in the minds of some.
I doubt if all novice ironmen actually realize why leg-shaving takes place and why the heck they're putting themselves through it in the first place.
At least in the beginning there was one and only one logical reason to shave your legs for an Ironman. It all started with cyclists who shave their legs all the time in the event they have one of those nasty crashes where exposed skin meets the ashphalt highway. Its far easier to clean and treat road-rash if the blood and dirt isn't dried and matted into your hair. Actually, it works. I've crashed a few times and its surprising just how much faster these abrasions actually heal when the affected area is smooth and easy to treat. Plus, pulling off a bandaid becomes virtually painless.
I came to realize early in my career that there's also another very good time to shave not just your legs, but your arms and chest and stomach as well. It was my very first Ironman in Hawaii in 1984 when I ran into this guy who had been a competetive swimmer for years. He talked about four of us into shaving all our body hair off. He actually arranged for a hair salon in Kona to shave us all after they closed for the day. (all it costs was three bottles of wine). Then he insisted that we go back to our rooms and use a razor and shave with it as well. This in effect was taking all the hair stubble off leaving a completely smooth surface. He insisted this be done the eve of the race, not before. This, he said, was something competetive swimmers did all the time.
Well, I couldn't believe it when the gun went off and I hit the water race morning. I had never experienced a feeling like it. I literally glided through the water. It was like all resistance was gone and it suddenly seemed effortless to propel myself forward. In that moment it became abundantly clear to me why fish don't have hair. You virtually ‘slide’ through the water. After all that training, it was such a bonus to have this extra advantage on race morning.
I highly recommend it, but of course if you are wearing a wetsuit, all bets are off. It has to be a “no wetsuit" swim.
As stated earlier, the only real reason to shave your legs otherwise, is to make cleaning abrasions easier.
There are those who honestly believe shaving their legs makes them bike faster, but that's a stretch. But hey, if it makes you feel faster, go for it. Actually, I've tried Ironman Canada with and without shaving and really, I don't believe bike times are any faster and any speed advantage is in ones head.
So, should you shave your legs before that first Ironman? Sure, why not. If it makes you feel more like an Ironman then of course you should. That's if you don't mind taking the time and putting up with that itching when the hair starts to grow back.
Should you shave completely(not your head, by the way) for a no wetsuit swim? Without a doubt, YES. Its an advantage.
I hope this clears up the mystery of leg-shaving for some.
My name is Ray. I've created a site full of training and racing tips for the beginner triathlete/novice-ironman. Come for a visit.