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it can be tough to sort through the pages and pages of people trying to sell you the miracle gear you need to get through your first triathlon. What you need is someone to give it you you straight. I’m your gal.
If the seed has been planted and this is the year that you branch out to try a triathlon, welcome to the family! We have finish line beer and (sometimes) our aid stations have food! Pro Tip: Take the oranges. Always take the oranges.
This sport is liberating. This sport is challenging. This sport can make you feel invincible.
This sport can empty your wallet.
Look, just like in any new hobby, there are definitely a few things that you will need to comfortably get started. There is also quite the industry built up to separate you from your cash in exchange for a modest improvement in speed or comfort. If you are dolphin diving right in and going straight to an Ironman 70.3 or full distance race, then an argument could be made for investing in some gear that can withstand a full day of racing.
Also, don’t do that.
You don’t need everything right now
It’s likely that you, like most of us, will be slipping into the pool or wading into the waters (how far can I take these swimming references, you ask? Time will tell!) when you decide to try a triathlon for the first time.
In this case, some basic gear with do quite nicely! You certainly will not feel out of place in a local sprint or super sprint triathlon with my recommendations. If you decide that this insanity is no longer for you after a race or two, then the resale market is thriving. More on that in a moment.
If you LOVE it (and I hope that you do!) there will be plenty of opportunities for you to make it rain and fill your tri closet.
Here is the Too Long; Didn’t Read overview of what you will need:
TRY A TRIATHLON SUPPLY LIST
- Triathlon Kit (outfit)
- Number belt
- Bottle Cage (s)
- Spare tire kit
- Race-provided cap
- Possible wetsuit
- Hand towel
- Running shoes
- Hat or Visor
If you are going to try a triathlon, we should first get a handle on the sport itself.
We compete in one event made up of five disciplines. (WHAT? FIVE? Ok, where is the X button. This woman has lost her mind.)
Yup! I said it. Five. In triathlon, you will need to be aware of the swim, bike, run, transitions, and nutrition. Five. See? I can actually count. Cinco.
Well what do I wear?
This is a very common question! The very simple answer is: it depends. Yes, that’s always the worst answer. Stick with me.
In most triathlons, you will wear one outfit from start to finish. This is called your race kit. It can be one piece or two, normally it’s pretty snazzy and matchy-matchy, and it’s definitely not a forgiving get-up. It’s tight. You can do this!
One of my very favorite things Meredith Atwood, author of The Year of No Nonsense and one of my triathlon role models (Check out my interview with Meredith on the Podcast. It’s SO GOOD.) ever said was:
Racing is not some elite club reserved only for the fast, the thin, and the beautiful. But it IS a club for really brave people in stretchy fabrics.Meredith Atwood, https://swimbikemom.com
You can do this! Even if, worst-case-scenario, you decide that you just can’t wear wet spandex in public for the first time and you throw a shirt over your kit, you will survive. You will announce to the world that you are a bit new to the sport, but you’ll be ok. Many of us have done it!
I’m going to sound like a broken record soon, but: just be sure you train with whatever you select before race day.
Should I pick a one-piece or a two-piece?
THE ONLY TIME YOU CHANGE IN A TRIATHLON
In a full Iron distance race, a full change in each transition is an available option. They have enclosed changing spaces where you can grab a quick seat, change, shove something in your mouth, and get on with it.
Bottom line: there is no changing out in the open air transition. Don’t flash the goodies!
Most of the big triathlon clothing companies make each of their designs in a few different options:
- Two-piece with tank straps
- With our without a built-in bra
- One-piece with short sleeves
- One piece with tank straps,
- With or without a built-in bra
Now, the two-piece design has the very obvious benefit of making it easier to get in and out of the luxurious race port-johns faster. If you race like I do, this is very important.
Also, you have more customization. You can grab different sized tops and bottoms for a better fit.
The drawback is that you could end up with a waistband that rolls down or a top that rolls up on the bottom, leaving your lower back exposed on the bike or you constantly tugging at your clothes on the run. Nobody needs that.
One single suit eliminates the gap problem, but makes the smell the least of your worries in a mid-race bathroom stop. You know how hard it is to get sweaty running leggings back exactly in place after mile 2? Imagine that you literally swam in the river first and now you have go get them over your entire body.
There is drama in that portable toilet box, my friends. Drama.
As you can see, both can be perfectly fine or distractingly annoying. The key, like everything else in training and racing, is to give yourself plenty of time to test your gear before race day. Wear it to the pool and then run it it. Bring it out for a long ride with a shake-out run. It’s ok to feel a bit like a goof, but just be sure to try it.
Just don’t trip in the middle of the “Toad” in your full tri kit.
Finally, those sleeved suits are known as “Aero suits.” They pack a one-two punch, supposedly making you more aerodynamic on the bike and offering more sun protection. So far, I have not tried one so I can’t give you my honest recommendation, but they definitely look pro.
While this is the discipline that strikes the most fear into the hearts of new triathletes, the swim brings much rejoicing from the budget sector.
I present you the exhaustive list of gear needed to prepare for and race in your first triathlon:
- Cap (Go with silicone and not latex!)
The. End. There aren’t even shoes involved. It’s glorious.
There are a few training aids that you might eventually want if you decide to stay in the sport like a pull buoy, fins, snorkel, and hand paddles. Truthfully, many pools even have these available to borrow if you ask. What is really important to note here is that you don’t need any of them right from the start. Don’t get bogged down in schlepping a ton of tools to the pool and wasting time organizing them, planning to swim, and waiting for the right moment.
Go to the pool. Put on goggles. Swim. Get out of pool. Move on with your life.
Now, for race day, you might want to bring a wash cloth to help dry of your picky feeties before you slam them into some sock and put on your cycling shoes (or sneakers.)
My strong suggestion is to avoid the entire wetsuit experience for your first race. If you can, find a venue with warm enough water to make to make it illegal, or at least unnecessary. You might even want to try a pool swim for your first race. This dramatically reduces the cost burden when you are still in the try a triathlon zone.
If you can’t avoid it, there are some quality wetsuit companies that have pretty frequent (read: just about always) promotional pricing. XTERRA wetsuits are a reasonable place to begin.
I cannot stress this enough: WETSUITS DO NOT FEEL NATURAL! You really need to practice putting this on and swimming as much as you possibly can before race day. Many game-day panic attacks have been caused by a poorly fitting wetsuit. Set yourself up for success. Practice in your gear. (Have I said that enough yet?)
This is where the real cash can get dropped very fast. At any given race, you will likely see everything from the fat tire bike picked up from a facebook group for $25 to $10k+ race machines.
Easy, friends. Eaaaassy.
Road bike vs triathlon bike
This is the question that everyone asks. For our purposes, we are considering that this is a first race or even a first season. So the answer is: whatever is comfortable for you and you can afford.
The very very basic factors here are that a road bike sits a little more upright, is generally more stable, and most of the time would be better for a hilly course.
A triathlon bike puts the rider further forward over the handle bars. This can make you feel less stable. Also, they have aerobars, handlebar extensions that have you resting on your forearms. The brakes aren’t located up there! So if you need to stop, you actually need to move your hands to the other part of your handlebars to reach them. This means reaction time is a little slower to an obstacle.
The geometry differences mean that your legs should feel a little fresher for the run after coming off a triathlon bike than they would after riding a road bike.
Most local sprints or super sprint races will keep the cycling portion between 10-18ish miles. That means you are likely to be on your bike for less than an hour and a half. This is not the time to go into debt for a lightest carbon super bike.
I started with a pre-owned aluminum road bike from Trek with entry-level gears and components. I loved that bike and only recently sold her when I upgraded. Since I still consider my bike to be my weakest discipline, I have decided to stay on a road bike for now. I enjoy riding it, and that is what counts.
Other Cycling gear for trying a triathlon
For your first race, just about any ASTM certified cycling helmet will work just fine. Again, this is one place where you will see anything from mountain bike helmets with visors that stick out the front all the way to the super duper (technical term) aero jobs that don’t breathe at all and have a tail down the neck.
All that really matters is that YOU WEAR IT EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY TIME YOU MOUNT YOUR BIKE AND RIDE.
ALL THE TIME.
FOR THE ENTIRE TIME.
I’M NOT KIDDING. LISTEN TO YOUR FRIEND, SALLY.
WEAR YOUR DANG BEAN BUCKET.
You might also decide that you would like to use clipless pedals. This is a two-part system with one side attached to your shoe and the other being your bike pedal. You lock into your pedals while riding to keep energy stable to the pedal.
There are a few different systems of pedals. I will get into that in a future post.
You would not feel out of place if you decide not to change your flat pedals to this system in a sprint or super sprint race. There is even a pretty solid mix in an Olympic distance race. I was one of very very few on flat pedals once I hit the 70.3 distance.
I put these pedals in the “After I know I love it” category.
Nutrition and Hydration
This might seem like a small thing, but it’s worth mentioning. You are going to want some way to store water and nutrition on your bike for your training rides and for the race. It’s easy to fall behind on calories and fluids during this portion of the race. Nothing feels as hot with the wind in your face.
You will regret it during the run!
So grab some inexpensive bottle cages, plastic (I know…I know) sports bottles, and possibly even a bento bag for behind your handlebars.
Spare Tire Kit
If you spend any amount of time cycling out on real American roads, you will end up with a flat tire. Don’t be depended on your buddy to come get you. Get yourself a spare tire kit and spend some time practicing changing a tube. There are some excellent videos on youtube that can walk you through this process.
In your kit, you will need:
- Spare tube
- CO2 Cartrige &
- 2 tire levers
- $1 bill in case you have a torn tire
Now we get to talk about my favorite discipline in triathlon! (Wait…what? We aren’t supposed to say that!)
What do you need to be successful on the run portion when you decide to try a triathlon? Not much.
It is so important that you visit a local running shop when you first start putting in some milage on the run. There, someone can take a look at your feet and your gait to determine the right style shoe for you. For example, if you are rolling your foot too much in your stride, a stability shoe can really help you keep steady and avoid injury to your knees and ankles. It’s so good to know this early!
Yes, it can be intimidating. Do it anyway!
This is not the time for your decade old cotton socks, friends. When you know that your precious feet are going to be sweating in your sneaks for any amount of time, treat yo self to some socks that are specifically up to the task.
Here are some of my favorites:
While I am the first to admit that the visor isn’t a staple in the fashionista wardrobe, I think we have already established that triathlon fashions are a little weak. So let’s go with it, eh?
Headsweats SuperVisors are second to none. They have this fantastic little pad on the brow that really does help keep sweat from dripping from your forehead and they block the sun from your delicate peepers. I wear one on every single training run or race that isn’t super freezing and have amassed a small collection.
This seems like a small thing, but it’s necessary! Once you transition from the bike to the run, you need to attack your race bib. This helps organizers identify you and is also critical for your race photos!
After racing in two other disciplines, you are going to lose some dexterity in those fingers. Instead of trying to pin on a bib and potentially stabbing yourself and ruining your kit, just put your race bib on a belt the night before. Then you just need to clip in on and go.
I like the belts that also have water bottles because I drink like a fish out on the course. but you might be just fine with a more simple version. No matter what, I encourage you to go with a wider belt instead of a thin one. That will reduce the bounce and is also more flattering in the midsection, for what it’s worth.
I have a thin one and several wider belts. Pictures with the thin belt are unavailable for some reason.
what you do not, under any circumstances, need
Doubt. Kick that self doubt directly to the curb, my friends.
Triathlon is a fabulously welcoming sport! The vibe at the local sprint and super sprint triathlons is always so friendly, laid back, and encouraging. It feels more like an ultramarathon spirit than a local 5k. Everyone just wants to help!
YOU are good enough to put in the effort to get to the start line. Exactly how you are you are good enough. It’s not exclusive to one particular body type. It’s not exclusive to the young or the old. It’s not a sport just for men. It’s not only available to the rich with perfect Instagram account.
It’s FOR YOU.
Now get your gear together, get your mind right, and GET TO WORK!
If you believe that this is your time to try a triathlon, even if you only believe a little, then THIS IS YOUR YEAR! It really isn’t that complicated once you give it a whirl.
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