As a long time runner I enjoyed the simplicity of the sport, all you really need was a good old pair of running shoes. Of course I eventually went to a GPS watch with heart rate monitor to track my distance, pace and heart rate. It was really driven by wanting to know how far I was running and to quit driving my vehicle on my run routes to determine the distance. The heart rate monitor intrigued me and it is was turned me into being a gear junky.
When I jumped into triathlons I discovered the intricacies of all the triathlon gear out there. Having the background of a professional BMX racer (short lived) in the late 80's I knew the difference between a quality bike and a cheap bike. So the question was what was the best quality I can get for the least amount of money? Especially since I didn't know if I would continue to race beyond that first year, so there was no need to break the bank.
I settled for an off brand bike with midrange quality components, but it worked for the first two years of racing from sprints to half-iron distance. I also went with the least expensive gear to accompany and I had no clue what I was getting into. I bought a helmet from Walmart and spd pedals and mountain bike shoes.
Next was a cheap pair of goggles and I was all set to begin training for a triathlon. I learned real quickly that I need a little bit more equipment which included triathlon shorts and swim shorts for the pool. I also learned that you didn't need expensive gear to be successful. Minus what I already had from running, I spent about $1250 to get started and that included the bike since I didn't own a road bike.
You will find in the triathlon community there is this mindset that you need all the best equipment. People will spend thousands to shave a few ounces off there bike weight in the name of speed and aerodynamics. That is not the best way to get start and it is best to start with the basics and reward yourself with better gear as you get faster. It is more important to spend the time and money training the engine. The most expensive gear in the world will not make you faster if you are not committed to training with consistency.
Here is a list of some of the most important gear along with some lessons I learned along the way.
GPS Watch with heart rate monitor
- Why you need it: There is no perfect solution when it comes to guiding workouts, but some technology is helpful to keep track of things like pace, distance/speed and heart rate for both the bike and the run.
- What to consider: There are a lot of GPS watches out there. Look for one that has multisport functions for all three disciplines and a heart rate monitor. This will prevent you from buying more gear to offset. At one point I had a swimming watch, cycling computer and a running GPS watch.
- Coaching tip: As an athlete and coach this is the best way to track your progress. It helps you train appropriately by pace/speed or heart rate. Most importantly you will need to understand your body and not let the numbers tell you how you feel.
- Why you need it: Some athlete are prone to get hot spots or will chafe between the thighs, breasts or other area where you clothing may rub.
- What to consider: There are lots of products out there that you can use. By far the best product that I have found is Dry Goods athletic spray. It goes on dry and lasts for hours. I have also used Body Glide for years and it works well, but it does leave a greasy feel.
- Coaching tip: This is must if you are prone to chafing.
- Why you need it: It is kind of a no brainer, although you could swim in your running shorts.
- What to consider: As a male new to the sport you may be uncomfortable wearing speedos. Look for a pair of Jammers style swim suit they will mirror triathlon shorts in fit a feel.
- Coaching tip: You will probably want more than one pair of Jammers to alternate during swimming. I would also recommend against wearing your triathlon suit in a chlorinated pool.
- Why you need it: This is what most triathletes compete in. You can swim, bike, and run without the need for a changing room and most triathlons don't have a place to change in triathlon
- What to consider: You can buy these as a single piece or two piece with top and bottom. They are not all treated equally and fit varies from brand to brand. Triathlon shorts/suits are designed to be able to run in, so don't buy cycling shorts to do triathlons.
- Coaching tip: Don't go cheap on the triathlon shorts, you could be on the bike for a long time. You also may want a pair of quality cycling shorts for training.
- Why you need it: A wet suit may not be required based on where you live or what events you are planning on doing, but if you live in a cold climate or the water will be cold at your race an wetsuit is a necessity. Not only will it provide warmth in the cold water but it will also provide buoyancy which will offer some advantage.
- What to consider: Consider the how cold the water will be, there are full sleeve and short sleeve options as well as just legs.
- Coaching tip: Remember that while the wetsuit may feel tight when you first put it on, it’ll loosen up once you get in the water. Avoid a roomie fit at all costs.
- Why you need it: Goggles are an obvious necessity for both the pool and the open water.
- What to consider: Goggles are designed in various sizes and offer narrow lenses to full face options. The best is to buy a standard pair of goggles that offer wider peripheral vision for open water swims.
- Coaching tip: Consider the race you will be competing in, will the sun be an issue, glare off the water, or swimming into the sun, you will need both tinted or mirrored lenses as well as clear lenses. Take them both to your race and determine what you will wear on race morning based on weather conditions.
Road or Tri Bike
- Why you need it: Can't do a triathlon without a bike. You will see all types at IRONMAN events.
- What to consider: As mentioned earlier, I used a cheap mid-level road bike with clip on aero bars for several years before I went to tri bike. I completed several half iron distances on the road bike. A road bike is much better for a beginner as they are easier to handle.
- Coaching tip: If you are new to triathlons and already own a road bike, don't waste the money on a another bike until you know that you will be competing in triathlons for years to come.
- Why you need it: A helmet is not negotiable and is required for all triathlons. You will be logging a lot of miles on the bike and you need to protect your head in the event you go down.
- What to consider: Lots of options on helmets from a traditional road helmet to aero helmets. As a newbie the aero helmet is not worth it and you won't want to train in it. There are some high quality road helmets that are just as aero dynamic as an aero helmet.
- Coaching tip: Safety is paramount, buy a cheap helmet that meets all the safety standards and fits properly. Look for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission label on the inside of the helmet. If the label is there you are good to go.
- Why you need it: You have pedals to make the bike go and most bikes don’t come with pedals.
- What to consider: To improve pedaling efficiency, clipless pedals and shoes are one of the best upgrades you can make. It will give you the opportunity to make a full pedal stroke.
- Coaching tip: During my first season I started with mountain bike shoes but upgrade to triathlon shoes halfway through the season. Triathlon shoes will make the transitions a little smoother.
- Why you need it: I put both these in the same category as you need a means to carry your hydrations and nutrition on the bike. It is imperative for both racing and long rides of more than an hour.
- What to consider: Everyone is different on what they prefer; start simple with mounting a water bottle cage on your bike with water bottles. The bento box is a pouch that can be mounted on your top tube to put nutrition products in them. They come in all different shapes and sizes.
- Coaching tip: Again as a newbie, you don't need all the fancy aero dynamic bottles. The one thing I do like about an aero bottle that fits on your aero bars is that it reminds you to drink.
- Why you need it: Strictly for training or any running events you may choose to race.
- What to consider: Find something comfortable.
- Why you need it: Don't cut corners on choosing a pair of running shoes. Buy a quality pair of running shoes and they will help keep you healthy and injured free.
- What to consider: The variety of running shoes on the market can be overwhelming. To assist in sorting out all your options, find a specialty running store to get your running gait analyzed so you buy the right type of shoe for your running style. Most reputable store will do it at no cost provided you buy shoes from them.
- Coaching tip: Have several pair to rotate shoes during training and never wear your running shoes just to walk around the house or go shopping. They are expensive and most will only last 300-500 miles. I would recommend you track your mileage on your shoes and replace them when needed. Use a triathlon training log that will track your progress as well as your shoes mileage.
- Why you need it: Not all athletes like to run with something on their head. It will help to keep the sun, rain, sweat and hair out of your eyes and face.
- What to consider: Consider the conditions you are training or racing in to determine what to wear.
- Coaching tip: A hat can be great to pour cold water on you head or place ice under the hat to help cool the body on those extremely hot days.
- Why you need it: Sunglasses will help keep the sun and debris out of your eyes on both the bike and run.
- What to consider: Select a pair that will stay on your face when running and will not bounce around. They don't need to be expensive.
- Coaching tip: Cheap glass can be a plus if you drop them, you don't necessarily need to worry about losing expensive glasses. At Ironman Raleigh 70.3 last year, I saw at least three pair of Oakley glasses lying along the road. They are some expensive glasses to not go back and pick them up.
The above list is just the minimums of what you will need to successfully complete a triathlon.
This article was inspired by an article I read several weeks ago written by MacKenzie Lobby Havey titled: The Wisconsin Chronicle: Stocking the Gear Closet.