Equipment Guide for Beginner and Intermediate Triathletes
Looking for a slight edge on race day, many triathletes search out the newest, fastest, most aerodynamic gear without regard to their bank account. You know who I'm talking about. They're the guys with shaved legs and shiny bikes that cost more than your car. If you're thinking about doing a triathlon, this whole "cult of the aerodynamic" can be intimidating at first. However, you don't need to spend a bunch of money on triathlon-specific gear to do a triathlon. It's more than likely that you already have most of the equipment you'll need.
Here, you'll find a basic gear list that has everything you need just to get across the finish line.
Basic Triathlon Gear List
Just starting out, you'll most likely be doing a shorter, sprint-distance triathlon. You're not looking to break any records you just want to have fun and get across the finish line.
Here's what you'll need:
1. Swimsuit: Any swimsuit will work. For comfort and speed, guys should consider those tight, Speedo-type briefs. Gals, a one- or two-piece T-back will ensure you won't have to worry about straps falling down.
2. Goggles: Any, as long as they fit.
3. Swim Cap: Usually provided by the race.
4. Towel: You need something to wipe the sand or dirt off your feet before you jump on the bike.
5. Bike: Mountain or road bike, whatever is in your garage. If you're riding a mountain bike, replace your knobby tires with slicks for a little extra speed.
6. Helmet: You won't be allowed to race without a "skid lid." If your helmet is over five years old or has been knocked around, it's time for a new one.
7. Water Bottle: Even in a short race, you'll appreciate having something to drink on the bike.
8. Shirt: Some races don't allow bare chests on the bike or run, so guys need a shirt. Gals, you're probably already covered. For comfort and speed, a close-fitting, synthetic shirt beats cotton.
9. Running Shoes: Don't skimp on quality. Make sure your shoes fit your feet and your style of running.
Clipless pedals and bike shoes: An easy upgrade that translates to more efficiency and speed on the bike.
Sunglasses: Keeps the wind out of your eyes on the bike, and makes the run more comfortable when you don't have to squint in the sun.
Shorts: Whether for comfort or modesty, many people prefer having bike shorts or running shorts for the segments after the swim.
Socks: Some people save a few seconds in the transition by going without socks. If you're more concerned about blisters, take some time to put on socks for the bike and run. Whatever you do, don't wear cotton!
The most important thing about the gear you use for a triathlon is comfort.
Individual preferences vary. Some people feel comfortable doing an entire race in a swimsuit. Others who aren't concerned with transition times will change clothes for the bike and run.
Now that you've done a few triathlons, you've found you like the sport. If you're starting to make some goals or considering a longer, Olympic-distance race, you're going to be more concerned with comfort and speed. That means you'll be stepping up to some triathlon-specific gear. Here's what you'll need to get you to the finish line a little faster than before:
1. Triathlon Suit: These suits have a small cycling pad that dries quickly, provides some comfort on the bike and doesn't interfere with running. You can even choose between a one- or two-piece suit.
2. Goggles: Any, as long as they fit.
3. Swim Cap: Usually provided by the race to designate which wave you'll start in.
4. Wetsuit: Any wetsuit will provide extra buoyancy and insulate you from cold water. Triathlon-specific wetsuits offer even more freedom of movement while swimming.
5. Towel: You need something to wipe the sand or dirt off your feet before you jump on the bike.
6. Road Bike: Ditching your mountain bike in favor of skinny tires is one of the best ways to drop minutes off your time. Clipless pedals and clip-on aerobars are an easy upgrade for extra comfort and speed.
7. Bike Shoes: Stiff-soled cycling shoes transfer more power to the pedals than regular running shoes. They also help eliminate cramped or numbing feet during a ride. Look for bike shoes that are easy to put on and take off for quick transitions; velcro straps are faster than laces.
8. Helmet: A mid- to upper-range road helmet is usually more aerodynamic and has more vents for comfort.
9. Sports Drink: Glucose formulas like Gatorade or Cytomax give your body more energy than water.
10. Singlet: Options include mesh or cropped shirts with a small pocket for energy bars or gels. Gals can choose shirts with built-in support for the run.
11. Sport Sunglasses: Sport sunglasses won't slip off while you're biking or running, and they block UV rays and wind. Some studies have shown that wearing sunglasses while exercising can actually help reduce fatigue.
12. Racing Flats and Speed Laces: Lighter racing flats are a godsend for tired legs. For a faster transition, replace your normal laces with elastic "speed laces" so you can skip tying your shoes.
Patch Kit, Tire Levers and Pump: Some races provide support on the bike course, some don't. Being able to fix a flat without waiting for a sag wagon can add some peace of mind.
Cycling Gloves: They aren't necessary, but they can make the bike leg more comfortable.
Socks: If you're concerned about blisters, take the time to put on socks for the bike and run.
Race Number Belt: These elastic belts allow you attach your race number around your waist for faster transitions.
Lubricant: Petroleum jelly or products like BodyGlide stops chafing and hot spots before they start. Especially good for longer races.
Hat: For protection from the sun during the run.
The biggest difference in triathlon-specific clothing is that it's made with synthetic materials that wick moisture and dry quickly to keep you comfortable on the bike and run. As you get more competitive, you'll be more concerned with quick transitions. Small items like a race number belt and elastic shoelaces can make a big difference.
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