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A Triathlete’s Toolkit: The Gear You Can and Can’t Afford to Miss
When you sign up for your first triathlon, so many things start running, swimming, and biking through your mind. Maybe you're ecstatic at the idea of a new challenge or apprehensive about the intensity you're about to experience when it comes to your training regime. And then, of course, there's that little detail otherwise known as THE GEAR. It's no secret that many seasoned triathletes are total gearheads. Standing at the starting line and seeing athletes head-to-toe with the best of the best might be intimidating. However, especially when you start out, your gear doesn't necessarily have to be the best on the market; it just has to be good enough for you.
"Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up." — Dean Karnazes
Here's your triathlon gear checklist and our thoughts on where it's worth putting your money and where you can let it slide:
Most of what you wear will stay the same throughout the race, so your choices must be intentional. It doesn't mean you have to go out and buy a fancy tri-suit, but it does mean that something like bike shorts won't work, as the padded bottom will become saturated in the swim and stay that way for the duration. If you're really worried about the padding for your cycling section, you can pick up a pair of tri shorts, which have less padding and are designed to dry quickly or take the time to slip on a cheap pair of bike shorts during your transition.
As you switch from the swim to the bike, you'll remove your wetsuit (if you have one) and pop on your race shirt (any fitness top will do) and your bike shoes of choice. Last but not least — and up for great debate — are socks. Whatever socks you usually wear to train in will be fine if you've tested them beforehand. Many triathletes don't wear socks while they race, as it takes time to put them on. For your first, do whatever's most comfortable for you, but remember, you don't need to go out and buy fancy, expensive socks.
The Swim Leg
The swim is an area where spending money on the most high-tech gear possible really won't make as big a difference in your performance. For the swim portion, you will need the following:
- Swim apparel
That's it! In some outdoor swims, you'll need a wetsuit, and while they range from $150-$600+, the crucial part about a wetsuit is that it fits you well. If you're lucky, you can rent, rather than buy your suit, but make sure it fits! Other swim "add-ons" include lube for reducing chafe in your wetsuit, ear and nose plugs if you're bothered by water or are prone to infection, and a swim cap. However, you'll often receive a designated cap (they're generally mandatory) from the race organizers to indicate your heat. Of course, if you want to swim in a tri suit, you can, but it depends on what you're most comfortable with and what you want to bike in.
Test your gear plenty of times before race day! Comfortable gear will help you perform your best, even if it isn't the most expensive gear on the market. Your wetsuit shouldn't restrict your movement and should be warm and buoyant. Similarly, your goggles shouldn't leak or fog.
The Bike Leg
An excellent bike will impact your overall experience and time, but do you need to go out and buy a brand-new bike for your first race? Absolutely not. A new bike will run you over $1000, so if you already have a road bike you're happy with, stick with that!
You also don't need to run out and get a tri bike, either. In fact, our friends over at Outside Magazine say, "Every triathlete should own a road bike, but not every triathlete should own a tri bike." If you are planning on picking up a new bike regardless, prioritize fit over everything. No matter what, your goal with your bike is to transfer as much power as possible with every pedal. The right fit will allow you to do so. Look for something adjustable as you race more races and need to adapt, too! Then you can make decisions such as the frame (carbon or aluminum) based on your budget, as well as the components of the bike.
A repair kit is necessary and something you should put the money into assembling for your race. It won't cost much but can be a real race saver. Think flat tires, loose seats, broken chains, and so on. If your bike doesn't have a built-in space for your kit, pick up a small saddle bag. No matter what, have your kit with you on your bike for that leg of the journey.
The helmet is another area you can avoid spending hundreds of dollars. Specialized tested out aero helmets versus regular and showed you only gain about 40 seconds over 40km by wearing an aero helmet. You do not need an aero helmet. However, you DO need a helmet and can pick up your regular road helmet for about $50. If you already have one, ensure it isn't expired and has no cracks.
Watch the test here.
Will your butt be sore after your bike ride? Yes. Will an expensive saddle make a massive difference in your time and performance? Not likely. If you have an extra $200 or so kicking around and your butt really bothers you after a long ride, then sure, pick up a comfortable saddle for your triathlon. However, there are better ways to spend that $200 when it comes to gear.
This is another area where it isn't necessary to shell out a ton of money on pedals and bike shoes. However, it will make a big difference in your overall time. Bike shoes and clip-in pedals allow maximum efficiency when it comes to the transfer of power. For beginners, though, you could lose time during the transition.
Experienced triathletes tend to leave their shoes clipped into their pedals, beginning the section barefoot before sliding their feet into the shoes down the road. Before switching to the run, they already have their feet back out of the shoes before hitting the transition area.
So, in short, if you're a beginner and have a standard pair of running shoes that you are comfortable using for both the bike and run sections — power to you! If you have clip-in pedals and are willing to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse your transitions on and off your bike, give it a go.
The Run Leg
The running leg is the most relaxed when it comes to gear. You'll be wearing the same outfit as the bike. What it comes down to is whether or not you're already wearing your running shoes or if you have to switch into some from your bike shoes. While regular laces will do, you can improve your transition efficiency by getting elastic laces! They're $10 and will save you plenty of time and frustration from trying to tie shoes with cold fingers.
This is something worth spending money on. For $10, you can save yourself the hassle of trying to unpin and repin your number during your bike and run transitions. Simply clip it on and spin it to your back for the bike. Then, as you switch to run, rotate it to your front.
Sunglasses & Sunscreen
Unless your bike helmet has a visor, you'll want some sport sunglasses. They don't have to be anything fancy — don't go out and buy that $300 pair of Oakley sunglasses — but it's definitely your opportunity to wear those cool-guy speed glasses for both your bike and run.
Have sunscreen in your transition bag at both the bike and run sections. You'll want to protect your skin from the elements on a hot day. Anything you've worn at the start of the day will likely wash off during the swim and potentially sweat off during the bike.
Snacks & Hydration
Gels, bananas, carbs… You'll have tried out some different options by the time you hit race day. Pack snacks on your bike, and make sure you have some options at your transition stations. Research the course beforehand to know where and how often you can expect a station for both fuel and hydration, and plan accordingly.
You can always use a water bottle. You can even bring your water bottle on your run if you'd like. The most important thing is that you have some kind of hydration available. This is an area where you can spend some money on a hydration pack, but you don't need to for your first time!
Towel & Hat
Don't buy a fancy microfiber towel, but having a towel at the bike-to-run transition can be nice to dry your feet as you're swapping into your run clothes.
For the run, any old hat will do. Just ensure you protect your head from the elements, be it rain, wind, cold, or sun.
This is another area where you don't need to worry about shelling out for a fancy triathlon-specific transition bag. Dump out your gym bag, and you're good to go! The key with transition bags is in the packing. Practice unpacking and repacking everything until you can do it with your eyes closed, and you'll be good to go.
Change of Clothes
After all is said and done, you'll be sweaty and potentially wet, muddy, and cold. Bring a dry change of clothes (including socks!) for the finish line and a comfy pair of shoes to switch into.
As you can tell, you don't need to rush out and get the best of everything for your first race! As long as you've trained in the gear, know you're comfortable and can check the list of necessities the morning of, you'll be ready to race your first triathlon. If you DO want some race-specific gear, the DRYWORLD Triathlon line offers fun and inspiring gear that will be comfortable and motivating for your first race.
"You can't control outcomes, but process or intent, on the other hand, is where big gains can be made." — Gwen Jorgensen
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