Beginning your first triathlon needn’t mean equipping yourself with an array of expensive triathlon gear – the truth is you DON'T need highly specialised triathlon kit to get started, just a few basic pieces of equipment:
The Swim Leg:
Novice triathlon events often begin with pool-based swims, although confident swimmers experienced in open water can of course choose to start with open water swim events.
Your choice of pool based triathlon or openwater triathlon affects what swimming kit you will need.
- Goggles are essential for both pool based and open water triathlon. Goggles protect your eyes, improve visibility and help you keep your swimming line - which improves your time. Standard swimming goggles can be low cost, but choose a pair with a proper seal - try a few pairs to see which fit to your face shape best. Goggle Test: Hold goggles to eyes, press eye cups to your eye sockets, let go. A good goggle fit stays in place by suction alone, so that water can't creep in while you're trying to see where you're swimming. Test-drive your goggles before the big day too – you want to be absolutely sure they’re right before the triathlon starts!
- A Swim Cap keeps your hair out of your way, keeps goggle straps in place and reduces water resistance. You can buy a cheap swimming cap in any sports store.
- A Wetsuit keeps you warm and increases your buoyancy, making swimming easier. Buy a full-length wetsuit for cold open water swims longer than a couple of hundred metres and in water temperatures below 14 degrees Celsius (even in summer, the official triathlon season). Very few beginner triathlons require wetsuits – if in doubt just ask.
- Tri-Suits are all-in-one outfits designed for triathlon. A tri-suit’s main advantage is a reduction in your transition time as you won’t have to change clothes. Its main disadvantage is it’s inconvenient for toilet breaks! Tri-suits aren’t essential, especially for triathlon beginners, but you’ll need something close-fitting and comfortable, such as a singlet and cycle shorts. If you’re competing in an open water swim, it’s a good idea to choose clothing that can be worn under your wetsuit.
The Bike Leg:
- A Bike, needless to say, is essential for your triathlon challenge cycle event. More advanced competitors often ride triathlon-specific bikes, but at entry level this is entirely unnecessary - any bike will do so long as it’s well serviced with good tyres and inner air tubes, a well-oiled chain and good operational brakes and gears.
- A Bicycle Repair Kit is also essential. Make sure everything you need is in there and is in good condition. And make sure you're well practiced at using it - a long repair can add hugely to your time and be very demoralising!
- A Helmet is mandatory, even for elites. New bike helmets are comfortable, reasonably priced, simple to use, and may save your life.
- Padding: Whether you opt for a tri-suit or singlet and shorts, you should think about extra padding in the saddle area - cycle events can be long!
- Cycling shoes, which attach to the pedals to improve stability and power, are unnecessary for novice triathletes. It’s FAR more important simply to wear shoes that are easy to get on and off during transitions. Toggle shoelaces are great for this.
The final leg of your first triathlon will be the run - which can be a difficult adjustment after the leg-draining speed of the bike leg. In terms of triathlon gear though, this is where you'll need the least equipment.
- Clothing: There’s no need for specialised running gear at beginner triathlete level. If you choose your gear well, swimming, cycling and running clothing can double up. Clothing that’s comfortable, light, non-chafing, and preferably breathable, is all you need.
- Running Shoes that are well-fitting, comfortable and support your foot shape are your single most important bit of running gear. Your particular foot type and running gait dictate what kind of running shoe you need so consult a running shoe expert before buying. Again, shoes with toggle/elastic laces may shave seconds off your time (and even minutes in colder weather) and some triathletes find their feet tend to swell over the course of the triathlon race. If this is the case for you, you may want to consider trying running shoes half a size too large.
- A note about barefoot running: Although barefoot running is gaining in popularity, International Triathlon Union rules clearly state that competitors may not run without shoes on any part of the run course.
- Socks are probably only necessary for longer runs, when you'll want to do everything you can to protect and cushion your feet from damage. Experiment and see what works best for you.