If you're thinking about training for a triathlon with Whole Living this summer or fall, you've probably started researching triathlon gear. Three sports means three times the stuff, and so gearing up for a triathlon can be one of the most intimidating (and expensive!) parts of the process. But it can also be one of the most fun.
Buying a bunch of new clothing and equipment can be a great motivator to get in shape, but it can cost an arm and a leg -- and with so many choices it's easy to be completely overwhelmed. Just wait 'til you get to the race expo!
So today I'm giving you a list of the bare necessities -- all the things you'll most certainly need during your triathlon training and racing -- as well as the things you won't.
Triathlon must-haves: All you absolutely need
To get you all the way to the finish line, make these 10 items the most important on your list.
- Swimsuit: You'll need this to train for the swim at your local beach, lake, or pool. Though a bikini might work, you'll be more comfortable -- and be less likely to have a wardrobe malfunction -- in a one-piece or a suit designed specifically for working out in the water. You may choose not wear a swimsuit for the race itself; many people opt for a sports bra, tri top, and tri shorts instead (see below). On the other hand, some professional athletes wear only a swimsuit for the entire race!
- Goggles: You'll need these to keep your eyes open, and water out of them, while you swim. There are many varieties of googles out there, but go for a pair that suctions to your face and stays there without falling off; you should be able to try on a pair in the store. Clear lenses give you the most flexibility for both indoor and outdoor use.
- A swim cap: You'll likely get one of these from your race organizer to wear on the big day, but even before that you'll probably need one to practice in a pool; most health clubs require that you wear one.
- A bike: For your first race -- especially if it's a sprint tri -- any bike will do. Mountain, hybrid, road ... as long as you can comfortably ride approximately 15 miles on it and it's recently had a tune-up, you're good to go.
- A helmet: In every USA Triathlon-sanctioned tri, you won't be allowed to cross the line from transition area to bike route unless your helmet is on and buckled. Stay safe and wear one for practice, too.
- Plastic water bottles: Make sure you have at least one, preferably two of these racked on your bike so you can hydrate while riding. Clear bottles work best, so you don't have to guess how much water you have left.
- Running and biking clothes: Regardless of what you wear for the race, you'll need clothes to train in several days a week in the months leading up to your tri. During the summer, opt for lightweight, light-colored, wicking fabrics that pull sweat away from your body and keep you dry while you're sweating.
- Sneakers: You'll need shoes that can get you through a 5K run, so visit a running store and get fitted for the right type of shoe. Buying a shoe that doesn't work with your foot type or running style -- because it's on sale or you like the colors, for example -- can leave you more vulnerable to injuries and running-related pain.
- Sunscreen: This one should be no-brainer: Lather up with SPF before biking or running outside! Buy a waterproof, sweat-proof sports formula; the aeresol spray kind is especially quick and easy to apply during hurried transitions between events.
- A timing chip: You don't have to buy this one; you'll get it at the race along with your race number. Don't forget to attach it to your ankle! This chip will keep track of when you cross the computerized mats in transition areas and at the start and finish line, to give you your official time. (Don't forget to give it back afterward, either.)
Triathlon extras: What you probably should have
You can certainly compete without the following items -- but for your own safety and comfort, we don't recommend it. If you have a few extra bucks, here's the next tier of tri gear to splurge on.
- Sunglasses: Although you don't technically need these for a race, it's a very good idea to wear them during the bike ride -- not just to keep you from squinting, but for safety: Invest in a shatterproof pair and you'll be better protected from rocks and debris that can fly up from the bike tires in front of you.
- A flat-tire kit: Flats can happen out there on the course (and, more often, during practice), and if you hope to keep going afterward it's important to have the right gear to fix it. At bike stores, you can purchase a small zip-up kit that Velcros to your bike and contains tire tubes, tire levers, and CO2 cartridges. For best results, practice changing a tire before you actually need it!
- A wetsuit: For some cold-water races, this item may be in the mandatory category; for others, it's a matter of choice. In addition to keeping you warm, wetsuits make you more buoyant and can help you swim faster. If you can't afford a wetsuit, you can also rent one from companies like Xterra and TriSports.com.
- Two pairs of googles (tinted and clear): Because you can never be sure of weather conditions on race day, it's nice to have two pairs of goggles -- a tinted pair to wear in bright sunlight, and a clear pair to wear in overcast skies. Plus, it's a good idea to have two pairs of goggles anyway: What if one of them breaks the morning of your race?
- Body lube: A small stick of lubricant like BodyGlide can go a long way in terms of comfort on race day; it prevents chafing in areas where there's lots of friction, and it can help you get your wetsuit on and off faster. Some formulas have built-in SPF, as well.
- A tri top: If you don't plan on wearing just a bathing suit or sports bra for the entire event, you'll need some type of coverage on top. Although any tank top will work, a triathlon-specific top or singlet will fit well under your wetsuit and will dry quickly once you get on the bike.
- Tri shorts: Same goes for what you're wearing on the bottom: If you want more coverage than just a bathing suit, pick up a pair of triathlon shorts. They have just a bit of padding to keep you comfortable on the bike, but not enough to weight you down in the water the way padded bike shorts might do.
- A transition towel: It's a good idea to keep a towel in your transition area, to wipe off your feet and face after swimming and before biking.
- A hat or visor: If you're running in the sun, try wearing a running hat or visor to shield your face from the sun. A visor will allow heat to escape and may be the cooler option, but a light-colored hat will protect your head better -- and you can pour water on it or put ice in it if it's given out on the race course.
- A watch or heart-rate monitor: It helps to have something to keep track of your time during the race (and when you're doing timed practice runs), and tracking your heart rate can help you improve your training -- especially if you're following our 8-week sprint program based on heart zones.
- Race food: Whether you prefer gels, bars, gummies, or drinks (or a combination of them all), you may want to try out different types of sports nutrition that you can easily consume while biking or running. These come in handy more for long races, but, depending on how long you're out there, they can provide a big energy boost when you need it the most.
Triathlon wish list: What you don't need (but may eventually want)
There's no limit to all the goodies you can stock up on once you start to make triathlons a habit. These items may improve your triathlon performance or give you some extra street cred (course cred?), but they're strictly optional.
- A road bike or tri bike: Your mountain bike may get you where you want to go, but a road bike will be lighter and faster, and you'll expend less energy riding it. (It will also be more expensive, and not as comfortable to ride casually aorund town.) Triathlon-specific bikes are designed to help you go as fast as possible without wearing out your legs before the run, but they tend to start at several thousand dollars.
- Bike shoes: Once you feel comfortable on your bike and you're ready for an upgrade, you might consider clipless pedals and special bike shoes that snap into them. This allows you to pedal with more power, but you have to get used to clipping out and getting your feet safely on the ground before stopping.
- Triathlon shoes: You can buy triathlon-specific shoes for the run, too, that are designed to be worn without socks and slip on quickly and easily. You can upgrade your regular running shoes, as well, with elastic laces that don't need to be tied.
- A race belt: This comes in handy if you don't want to safety pin your race number to your race top; instead, you attach it to a belt you snap around your waist before either the bike or the run.
- A tri bag: Most traithlon retailers sell bags made specifically for carrying all of your swim/bike/run gear to and from transition area. They're just the right size and have lots of cool compartments for everything you'd need, but a regular large back pack or gym bag works just fine, too.
- A USAT membership: If you sign up for triathlons without a USA-Triathlon membership, you'll have to pay a one-day fee of $10. But if you plan on doing more than three races in a year, an annual membership can save you money and get you additional benefits, as well.
I came up with this list based on my own experience and the advice of my coaches over the years. For my first triathlon I was prepared with everything in the first two categories but only one thing -- my road bike -- in the third. (And now after I've done three, I still don't have several of the items on that last list.)
What are you most -- and least -- looking forward to purchasing and trying out for your first triathlon? Can any experienced triathletes out there think of anything I missed?
Amanda MacMillan is a freelance writer, currently blogging about planning an budget- and eco-friendly wedding at LeanGreenBride.com. She has completed three Olympic-distance triathlons and several half marathons, and is looking forward to her first sprint tri this fall with Team Whole Living. Her triathlon training blog runs every Thursday on Whole Living Daily.