When I first transitioned from running races to triathlon I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of equipment needed for the swim and bike, not to mention the cost. However, I quickly realized that I did not need to spend a lot of money to get quality gear. In fact, I raced my very first triathlon on a mountain bike with road tires mounted on it and placed third in my age group. Now, I would not recommend doing that, but there are ways you can cut costs and still have good equipment to train for and race a triathlon.
Obviously you need a swimsuit, but it doesn’t have to be a high-end name brand or one made specifically for lap/open water swimming. In fact, what you already have in your drawer may be perfectly fine. Try your suit out in the indoor pool or open water and make sure it’s comfortable and does not drag. Another option is buying a kit or trisuit, which you can wear for the swim, bike and run when racing.
Goggles can make a big difference in terms of comfort and visibility, but if you’re not sure you will be doing more than one triathlon, you can buy pretty much any brand available at your local sports store or online.
Most races will give you a cap for the race, the color of which determines your swim start or wave. Caps are very inexpensive, but if you have short hair (or no hair) and don’t necessarily need one for training, you can check the race website to see if a cap will be provided and save a little money.
There are tons of swim accessories from swim fins to pull buoys and kick boards but none of them are essential when you’re a beginner. Also most indoor training facilities will have these items accessible to members, so check there first.
Triathlon and road bikes are expensive, but you do not need to buy a new one to train or race with. If purchasing a road bike or triathlon bike is not an option, search online for used bikes, check your local bike shop for sales, rentals or payment options, and ask around to friends and family about borrowing one for training and race day. Remember, the bike only matters to a certain extent, after that it’s what the person riding it is capable of.
This is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment you can buy, and, surprisingly, a quality helmet may only set you back about $25. They range in price anywhere from $25 to over $200. The choice is yours.
There is a wide range of shoe choices and if you have clip-in pedals on your bike, you need to be sure the shoes will fit the clips. Once you have the right selection, prices range from $30 to over $200. Your local bike shop should be able to help guide you to the right shoe choice for you.
Sunglasses may not seem like a necessity but protecting your eyes on the bike is very important. You can try your luck with the pair you already own, or you can purchase cycling specific ones from $30 to over $300.
Besides a cycling helmet, running shoes are the most important piece of equipment you can have. A proper fit and the correct pair are essential to preventing injury and maintaining proper form. Visit your local running specialty store for a gait analysis (usually performed at no additional cost) and fit for your specific body type and stride.
If you think you can wear any pair of socks to run in, you are wrong. Taking care of your feet on the run begins and ends with breathable, well-fitted socks. Luckily, you can buy them on the cheap.
For all other triathlon clothing, including bike shorts, cycling shirts and triathlon wetsuits or kits, you can look at sales online and used sporting gear stores first before paying full price. Be sure to check out USA Triathlon annual member discounts for even more great savings.
Happy training and shopping!
Allie Burdick is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. She has been running and competing her entire life and was recently part of Team USA in duathlon and will be competing at the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. Her writing has appeared in Runner's World, Women's Running and ESPNW. She blogs about triathlon and marathon training at VitaTrain4Life.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.