Triathlon Deconstructed: Getting Geared Up

Welcome back to my new Triathlon: Deconstructed series! This is where I'm breaking down every last detail of triathlon for you guys so that hopefully you'll see that it's not as scary as you might think. Last week we talked triathlon basics. If you're still with me, you're going to need some gear. Like most sports, triathlon is full of fancy, expensive equipment that you may or may not need. There are really only a few key items that you definitely need, and some there you can choose to make any upgrades.

Triathlon must-haves

Access to a swimming facility. You need to practice, and you can't really do that without going to some large body of water. If you belong to a gym with a pool, perfect! You're well on your way. If you don't, you're going to need to find one.
  • Most gyms, YMCAs, etc. will have one, but I'll be honest, that gets pricy if the only reason you're going is to use the pool.
  • Check to see if your town has an aquatic center. They're generally cheaper than joining a full gym. My town has passes that equate to ~$3 per swim - let's say I swim twice a week, I'm looking at 24 bucks for a month which is less than half of what I used to pay for the Y.
  • If you're an alumna of a nearby college, see if they offer any type of alumni membership for their athletic facilities.
  • Pools are great for practice, but you're not limited to a pool. In fact, as most tris are held in open water (but not all of them so it's okay if that's not your thing!), you will probably want to practice at least once or twice in the open water before you get to race day.
Swim gear (suit, goggles, swim cap). This will run you about 40 bucks total. You can swim in a normal swimsuit but a 1-piece is more comfortable. Technically I guess you don't need goggles and a swim cap, but really, you do.

A bike. What kind of bike is really up to you. You can ride anything from a beach cruiser from Wal-Mart (I'm not kidding, I have actually seen someone riding one in a race) to a top-of-the-line time trial bike. Prices range from a check that comes in a birthday card to a year's McDonalds salary.
  • If you are really just trying triathlon on for size and don't want to commit to anything, see if you can borrow a bike from a friend who is a similar heigh to you, or contact your local bike shop and ask about renting.
  • If you have any inkling that you might want to do this more than once, invest in a decent road bike. Entry-level road bikes usually start around $700, but check Craigslist first. My dad and I have each bought two bikes from Craigslist, and they've been in like-new condition, ridden maybe once or twice, for half the cost of a brand new bike from a bike shop. You'd be surprised at how many people buy a bike with all the bells and whistles, then don't end up liking it or they get bored with it, so they sell it.  If you do go this route, though, be aware that you need to know what size to look for, it's worth checking out a bike shop first to get an idea of what you're looking for. Once you know what you need, you can shop around for the best deal. 
  • Most road bikes have pedals that require special shoes (the shoes clip in to the pedals, which allows you to pull up as well as push down). Pedals are sold separately and can be pricy, and so can the shoes. Expect to throw in another $100-$200 on top of your bike for these expenses. (For the record, since my bike was used it already had the pedals on it and I just had to buy shoes. My total initial bike investment for the bike + all equipment was just over $500 - this is why Craigslist can be a great way to go!)
  • Bottom line: Think about your long-term goals. A bike is a big investment no matter how you slice it. Make sure you're spending what you need to spend to get what you need. For what it's worth, I ended up upgrading my entry-level road bike to a mid-range triathlon bike after a year and a change. 
A helmet. Seriously, don't forget this! Safety is important, and they won't let you race without one anyway.

Running shoes. Chances are you already have these, but if not, go to your local running store and get a fitting done. I personally can't recommend Newton shoes enough. I first learned about them via triathlon and used to only run in them for tris, but now I run in them exclusively.

Some other things you don't absolutely need (as in, can't complete the race without them need), but might want to look into:
Triathlon nice to haves

Wetsuit: A wetsuit can be a great thing to have, but it comes with a big price tag and, in most cases, isn't really necessary. I didn't buy a wetsuit until my 2nd tri, and that's the only race I've ever worn it in. Not only do wetsuits help you stay warm in cold water, but they definitely help with buoyancy and can make swimming a lot easier and more pleasant. I personally prefer not to wear a wetsuit, but that's just because I find it annoying to take off, so the pros outweigh the cons. Some people are just the opposite and are happy to trade the benefits in the water for the inconvenience once they're out of the water. 
  • Be aware that, depending on your location and time of year you plan on doing your race, you may not even be allowed to wear a wetsuit. For safety reasons, USAT won't allow you to wear one during the race if the water temperature is above 84*F (they'll check it several days leading up to the race to give you an idea of if it will be legal or not, and they'll make the final check on race morning). 
  • This is another item you can buy used and save a TON of money on. I needed a wetsuit quickly since I signed up for the race I needed it for only a few days ahead of time. I scoped out eBay (actually, that's a lie, my dad did the scoping out) and found a used, but in good condition, wetsuit. A wetsuit that retails for $700 (they're not all that expensive - this was a top-of-the-line one, used by a pro triathlete; I didn't need anything that fancy, it just happened to be the best deal I could find). I was able to purchase it and have it overnighted in time for the race for just over $100 total. 
Race belt: These are basically just pieces of elastic that you can attach your race bib to (yep, you get one of these in a tri, just like running) and then clip around your waist. It's a lot easier than having to pin your bib to your shirt, and only costs about 10 bucks.

Lock Laces: This is another inexpensive item (~$8) that will save you some time. These are essentially elastic shoelaces that turn your running shoes into slip-ons that fit perfectly every time. I honestly can't remember the last time I tied shoelaces on my running shoes. Lock Laces FTW. 

Cyclocomputer: This computer has a sensor that goes on your tire and the computer itself sits on the handlebars of your bike. They come with various functions depending on how much you want to spend, but generally you'll be able to see distance, time elapsed, average speed, and current speed. It's pretty handy to be able to glance down and see that information, especially when you're training. However, if you have any type of GPS watch, you can probably skip this and save yourself 50ish bucks. It's not as convenient to have to look at your watch, but it's better than nothing.

Tri top: You can wear just about anything you want in a tri - the most important thing is that you're comfortable - but a tri top really does make the whole process a little more seamless. When I first started, my main concern (seriously) was what to wear/the logistics of changing clothes. For my first tri, I wore a 1-piece bathing suit, then threw my bike shorts and a shirt on over it after I got out of the swim. For the next one, I wore my shorts and a sports bra and just threw on a shirt after. The next one was so hot that I just wore the shorts and bra the whole time. Then I finally got smart and invested in a tri top. They're made for you to wear for the duration of the tri. It's really just easier to wear the same thing for the whole time, trust me.

Bike shorts: This technically isn't a necessity, but I strongly recommend them. If you've ever been to spin class and then claimed you never wanted to go again because your butt was so sore afterward, you know why. Bike shorts have extra padding in the butt (it sort of feels like you're wearing a diaper at first but you just gotta get used to it). It really does make a difference.

That sounds like a lot, I know, but I am wearing and/or using all the equipment I own and need (except my wetsuit) in the collage up top. Doesn't seem like that much when you look at it that way, right? I didn't think so.

Next week we'll be talking about the most-dreaded part for most people: the swim! I'll have some training tips for you and I'll be walking you through the swim portion of the race (I promise it doesn't always involving ass-grabbing). As always, if there's anything specific you want to know, please ask! 


  1. While I am no where near ready or willing to do a triathlon, I keep sending your posts to one of my friends who is planning on doing it so keep them coming :)

  2. This is such a great series and I'm really looking forward to your swim post! Good to know that renting a bike is an option.

  3. well now I want some lock laces. they sound fun and fancy. I had no idea about the wetsuit thing, good to know - if I ever do a triathlon i'll definitely look at craigslist for a bike first.

  4. Ohh man. I want to try a bike out so bad but I'm so short. I need like a 48-50 and those are so hard to come by! Maybe my local bike shops will have them. I need to try it on for size to know if I even want to cycle. We will see.
    Love these posts!

  5. Great info here, Tracy. I love that you're being so specific and honest about all things tri. Great to know! I think next year is the year I'll start bike shopping :)

  6. huh. lock laces. I had no idea! i may have to look into them- i either suck at tying my shoes after almost 25 years of life of i just have super picky feet that get sore if i tie them even a LITTTTTLE too tight.

    Andrew rented a wetsuit for his tri- it came a few days before and had return packaging to send it back. you obviously measure yourself.. but his fit really well!


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