Okay, so you’ve decided to sign up for a triathlon and start training. Congratulations! The hardest part is over. Once you actually start sticking to a training cycle, you’ll start feeling really good, because you’re doing it! It’s happening! You’re going to do a triathlon! You’ll feel your muscles start to tighten up in the first few weeks, so make sure that you stretch as much as you possibly can (check out these great stretches, by the way) and you may notice that your immunity takes a hit. Don’t worry, that will go away as your body adjusts to your new regimen.
Now It's Time to Buy Gear.
At first, it’s pretty easy - you’re starting to train in late winter/early spring, so you don’t really need to worry about gear too much. If you’re taking spin classes to train on the bike, swimming in an indoor pool, and running as usual, you probably haven’t bought any “serious” gear yet. You have your running shoes, your gym clothes, and a bathing suit (watch out - the thing might disintegrate a lot faster than you think if you run it through the spinner too many times) but now it’s time to get serious!
Time to start open water swimming!
At some point, as the weather gets warmer, you’re going to want to start doing some open water swims. You really need to do these to feel comfortable in a race. When you swim in a pool, you can see everything beneath you and you know where you’re going. The first few times swimming in open water, you’ll probably feel like you’re swimming blind. Everything below the surface of the water is a mystery! So you’ll have to learn how to sight. You’ll also feel pretty constricted in the wetsuit and it’s easy to panic in that situation, so definitely don’t do your first few swims alone - go with some experienced triathletes.
By the way - once you get over the initial fears of open water swimming, you’ll love how much easier it is to swim when you’re floating in a wetsuit!
Gear You'll Need:
wetsuit: If you’re on a budget or are not sure whether you’ll continue with the whole triathlon thing, consider buying a used wetsuit, which you can find for under $100 at sports stores or sometimes online. Otherwise, be prepared to spend about $300 on one. Triathletes overall seem to like brands like Blueseventy and Xterra, but don’t get too caught up about the brands, just get something that works, to start with! If you run cold, go for a full-body wetsuit -- if you run warm, are swimming somewhere with warm water or want to spend less time taking the darn thing off in transition, go for a shorter one!
- goggles: try a mirrored goggle for your open water swims, assuming that you aren’t going out in the dark. The sun is very bright on the water, so you’ll want to feel comfortable. On race day, depending on your swim start time, you might want to use a clear goggle if you’re starting early in the morning!
- cap: If you’re practicing in cold water, consider getting a neoprene cap to keep your head warm! This works wonders. On race day, you’ll be given a swim cap with a certain color for your age group, but while you’re practicing, just wear whatever you want. :)
Be as prepared as this guy on the bike course.
This is probably the most intimidating part of triathlon gear purchasing because there is just so much to consider...especially if you’ve never ridden on a road bike before. Take deep breaths. Give yourself time and patience. Walk into the bike shop and confess that you know absolutely nothing and need help.
Gear You'll Need:
Road bike: definitely set a budget here. During races you’ll see beautiful bicycles that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. You’ll see a lot of gorgeous time-trial bikes that sound like a car on a race course. If you’re planning to ride a lot, go for the gold and consider getting a bike from a top brand like Cervelo...or buy something used for under $1000. Look at brands like Felt, Specialized, Giant, and Trek. Don’t get a tri bike until you’re committed to the sport.
- Clip-in pedals and bike shoes: learning how to clip in is definitely a process, and you’ll probably eat it a few times. Ride with friends, get a tutorial at your local bike shop, and every time you’re about to clip out, keep that mental dialogue going. It sounds like this: “I am clipping out on my right foot, therefore, I’m going to lean to the right side.” Out right, lean right. Out left, lean left. Repeat the mantra. Meditate on it.
Flat kit: don’t be that person out there that gets a flat and has nothing to fix it -- and besides, you may get a flat in your race! Assemble a kit that includes CO2 canisters, one or two spare tubes, levers, and tools. Then take a class (or watch an online tutorial) about how to fix a flat, and practice it a bazillion times.
Bike computer: see how far you’ve gone, how long it’s taken, and measure your cadence with a bike computer (check these out, for example.) You’ll want this both in training and in racing.
- Helmet: you’re not allowed to race without one. To start with, check out road bike helmets - save the super fancy time trial ones for later, when you have decided to dedicate your life to the sport!
Look like a total pro in the run portion of your race.
You’re probably more-or-less set on the run portion as long as you have running shoes. During training, try a few runs not wearing your socks and see how it feels - putting socks on in transition slows down your time.
Gear You'll Need:
Garmin Forerunner (or similar timing watch): you can wear a Garmin the whole time to track your distance and speed (and even bike cadence) but it’s really important to pace yourself in the run, especially during a longer distance, so you don’t crash and burn before the finish line!
- Race number belt: you have to wear your race number during your run, and a race number belt is a super easy way to clip it on without taking too much time.
- Hat or visor: nothing is worse than the sun beating down into your eyes.
Decent sunglasses: you probably threw these on already before getting on the bike. Check out the shades at Rudy Project - they have products that are adjustable and near-impossible to destroy!
Make transition work for you with a few easy things:
- A towel: Organize everything on your transition towel. Take a beach towel or a hand towel - you won’t have a lot of space to work with.
- Spray sunscreen: protect your skin from the sun as quickly as humanly possible.
- Extra food: a just-in-case gel or two is good in case you need a pick-me-up.
Last but not least, you'll want to get a tri suit. They come in one or two pieces and are made to withstand everything during a race.
So, those are the basics of tri gear! Start small, don’t get too fancy, and just get out and enjoy yourself. Coming next - fueling during a race!