Keep It Simple!
Get outside and get active this summer by challenging yourself to a triathlon. Between swimming, biking, and running, a triathlon will test your endurance and strength both physically and mentally. All the training and hard work will be worth it in the end when you run across the finish line with friends and family cheering you on.
As you embark on your first triathlon, choosing the right equipment can be overwhelming. Even with endless high-tech and expensive options to choose from, there’s no need to spend tons of money and buy all new gear before your first race. There are only a few pieces of equipment that you absolutely need to race a triathlon, and using the gear that you already have is a great way to test things out before diving all the way in.
We’re breaking down the basics of what equipment is necessary and what is just plain old helpful to make your first race a breeze. Remember, triathlon can seem intimidating at first, but you’ll rock it as long as you remember to KEEP IT SIMPLE!
Triathlon Equipment for the Swim
Swimsuit or Triathlon Suit
For the swim, you’ll want to wear something that is comfortable and allows your body to move freely in the water. A swimsuit is an inexpensive and easy option for this. Alternatively, a triathlon specific suit with a thin chamois (padding) built in will make the bike segment much more comfortable than just a swimsuit.
These aren’t required for a triathlon, but they will make it significantly easier to swim without water and sun getting into your eyes. Triathlons that start in a lake, river, or ocean usually require you to follow large buoys that mark the swim course. Without goggles, opening your eyes to see these buoys can be difficult and you might find yourself swimming off course.
Wetsuits are only necessary for very cold races. Before picking your first race, check to see if the swim is wetsuit mandatory. If so, many triathlon and swim shops rent wetsuits out for a small fee. However, besides keeping you warm, the thick buoyant neoprene material also helps your body float in the water. For nervous swimmers, a wetsuit can boost your confidence and help you swim even faster.
When you sign up for a triathlon you will be assigned to start in a specific wave. Each of these waves has a different start time and they are typically categorized by a unique swim cap color. You’ll be given your swim cap when you pick up your race packet and bb numbers.
Triathlon Equipment for the Bike
While a bike is certainly necessary to race a triathlon, the type of bike you use doesn’t matter. Whether you own or have access to a mountain bike, road bike, time trial bike, or any other kind of bike, you are set to race a triathlon. It’s easy to get caught up lusting after fancy bikes that cost as much as cars, however, there will be plenty of time to upgrade to lighter and faster bikes in the future. For your first few races stick with what you know and what you have.
Even though they seem like a small piece of the triathlon equipment puzzle, helmets are actually very important. In fact, with the wrong helmet you could be disqualified or even prohibited from starting the race. All USAT sanctioned races require athletes to wear a CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) certified helmet while on the bike. Check for a small CPSC sticker on the inside of your helmet to know if it’s acceptable. If you don’t have the sticker it might be time to buy or borrow a new helmet with the correct certification. All Rudy Project helmets are CPSC certified and come in a range of colors, sizes and price points to accommodate any racer.
Although sunglasses aren’t required for racing a triathlon, most experienced racers would recommend wearing them. Sunglasses help protect your eyes from the sun and from flying debris and dirt. Getting something in your eyes while riding a bike is not only painful, but it is also very dangerous. Even a small rock or bug could obscure your vision and cause a crash, which is not the way to end your first triathlon. While you don’t have to invest a large amount in performance glasses, quality lasts and lasts. If you’re in need of both a helmet and glasses, Rudy Project has a bundle offer you may just want to check out here.
Cycling shoes are expensive and overrated for beginner cyclists and triathletes. These types of shoes also require special cleats and pedals, which are not worth the investment for your first race. Tennis shoes are comfortable, affordable, and work great for racing triathlon. Wearing your running shoes on the bike also means you’ll have a blazing bike-to-run transition since you won’t need to change your shoes. Some people choose not to wear socks to save time, but if you’ve never gone biking or running without them, don’t try this on race day. Keep it simple and wear what you have!
Triathlon Equipment for the Run
Leave your tennis shoes on after the bike and head straight out on the run. You’ll likely pass a bunch of people in transition who are fumbling to swap their cycling shoes for sneakers. To keep your legs and feet injury free, your running shoes should be stable and comfortable on your feet. Blisters can easily sneak up and leave you limping across the finish line. So make sure you’ve tested your shoes at least a couple of times before wearing them in a triathlon.
Most races require athletes to wear their race number during the run. Race belts are easy and inexpensive investments that keep your number positioned for everyone to see during this portion of the race. When you’re setting up your transition area, clip your number to the belt so you can swiftly grab it as you head out onto the run.
Sunglasses, again, are an important piece of equipment because they protect your eyes and keep you focused on the road in front of you. Leave your sunglasses on after the bike segment of the race and you’re all set for the run. Also, a visor or mesh hat can make a big difference on hot and sunny races. The visor’s bill will shade your face while allowing body heat to escape out the top of your head.
Other Triathlon Equipment
Sunscreen is an easy detail to forget with all the pre-race nerves and excitement floating through you on race morning. However, painfully red sunburns are not the way you want to celebrate your first triathlon finish. So lather on the sunscreen and protect yourself from damaging UV rays.
Hydration & Nutrition
Food and water are also extremely important. Carry full water bottles on your bike and refill or replace these bottles at aid stations along the way. Depending on the length of your race, some stations might offer power gels or other types of quick race food. On the run you can also carry a bottle, or plan to stop at aid stations to fill up on water or the sports drink that the race provides. Some athletes even keep a bottle in transition to sip on between segments. The most common reason for dropping out of triathlon is dehydration and lack of nutrition, so fill ‘em up!
Sum It Up
Set yourself up for success and keep things simple as you prepare for your first triathlon this summer. Use the gear that you already have before jumping in and spending thousands of dollars on fancy equipment.
Once you’ve completed a couple races and are hooked on this fun and challenging sport, some possible equipment upgrades might be in order. Just remember, like planning for your first triathlon, it’s best to start small and keep things simple! An aero helmet and a good bike fit make bigger differences than a very expensive triathlon specific bike frame. Choose your upgrades carefully to get the biggest bang for your buck!
Also, remember that no super light or extreme aero equipment can compensate for poor training. You don’t need fancy gear to get stronger and faster. So get out there and start swimming, riding, and running in whatever gear you have!
Kristen Legan is a former professional triathlete, current elite cyclist, and lives for outdoor adventures the world over. She was one of six women to ride the entire Tour de France in 2012 as part of the women’s Rêve Tour team. Besides riding, running, and adventuring, Legan also coaches with APEX Coaching out of Boulder, Colorado.