Hooray! You took my advice (maybe) and now you’re ready to triathlon!
Your head is in the right place now, you’re starting to believe that you can do anything (and you can! You can totally do this.)
So you’re all pumped up, you’ve set aside anywhere from 6-12 weeks to train, you’ve found a training plan (you can check out the training plans I’ve used) and now you’re thinking, “What the heck do I need now?”
I am actually going to go into much greater detail on the individual sports starting with swimming next week, but if you’re all ready to get started, I wanted to give you a list of essentials right away.
Here is my list of the very bare bones basics and what I personally got by with to begin my training. (Also, I invite all triathletes who remember back to the very beginning to share what your favorite newbie tools were in the comments below!)
- A bathing suit. But what kiiiiind?? I come from a long line of non-swimmers so this one stumped me for some reason but I went to my sports store and found me a racing looking bathing suit which was really just a one-piece in a color I liked by TYR. After a while, I figured out that the reversible isn’t just better because you can change the color of your suit depending on your mood (HURRAH!), but it actually offers another layer for when you have completely overused it. I have had several swimsuit “blowouts” in which I get to the gym, look at my backside in the mirror, and the spandex has worn so thin you can see my big white behind right through it. A reversible swimsuit extends the life of your blowout possibilities because it gives you TWO layers to wear through. Bonus! I recommend. Boys, my husband wears ones that look like these. (I now wear a one-piece tri suit for races and train in my bathing suit. Also an option but not necessary.)
- A swim cap. Terms like “latex” and “silicone” confused me (with reference to swim caps) and so I went for the cheapest swim cap possible in latex, nothing fancy. Now I just use the ones they give you at the race. And yes they will give you one on race day that corresponds to whatever age group you are in, so you won’t get to wear your favorite one on race day but no one likes swim caps anyway, right? I look horrible in a swim cap. The one you get on race day will probably be some terrible bright highlighter color like orange or yellow but if you’re like me, you’ll pray for pink.
- Goggles. This will take a couple of tries to find ones you like but go with a clear pair (without sunglass shade) if you will be doing the bulk of your training in an indoor pool. These are the goggles I use. There is also the adjustable for your nose or not adjustable, but my face is so small and I have a tiny nose bridge, so I need the ones where it’s all one piece of goggle. I am not sold yet on whether the anti-fog stuff works because it hasn’t worked for me yet.
- Towel. (Duh. But I forget mine and it really is a big pain when you do so I added it here.)
- Watch. I love my Ironman Timex watch, simply for timing my swims or laps. I end up wearing two watches during the race, this one for an overall time starting at the swim and then my Garmin to time my pace on the run. I haven’t figured out a better way to do this so it looks pretty dumb, but it works (exactly 50% of the time when the satellites load.) When it works, it’s magical.
- Bike (and/or a good spin class!) Oh a bike. I can literally make a zillion posts out of this one alone! I’ll go into more detail on this but for the first race, all you have to do is find a bike with wheels on it that will get you from start to finish. I’m not really kidding. You can borrow a bike from someone your height, you can use a mountain bike, you can use a BMX (not recommended). If you really, really want to buy a road bike, you can find a road bike on Craig’s List for a decent deal but you have to scour because they go quickly. Or you can find a (sort of) inexpensive road bike at a bike shop (warning: by inexpensive I mean that mine was the most inexpensive one there and it was $799.) If you buy a bike, you can get an aluminum road bike like me or go all out and get a carbon road bike which is more expensive and weighs less. However, my eyes swirled at the mention of carbon and aluminum and all of that so you might want to wait for either of those until maybe your 2nd triathlon or for when you’re more serious. Here’s how to measure what you should get: If you want to really compete in your first triathlon, you will want a road bike either to borrow or to buy. But if your goal is just to complete this because you a) want to do it and b) don’t know if you’ll ever do another one, then really, just a mountain bike or a friend’s bike will do. No matter what you use, make sure you get out on it at least a few times before the actual race! Yes, you can train for your first race by using spin class, I did! But get on the bike you’re going to actually use before the race at some point. Seriously. (The supreme rule of all rules: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!)
- Clippy shoes or not? If you have your bike in mind and you’re not buying a road bike, forget this and move on. But if getting a road bike at a bike shop, you will have to decide on if you want cages for your pedals or clippy things (I think the technical term is “clip-less pedals” but there are clips on them so I don’t understand that term and so I call them “clippy pedal things.”) I went with “SPD” pedals that require special shoes (essentially then you are attaching yourself to your bike which requires some getting used to). However, also these special shoes could be used on the bikes at spin class! Bonus! If you get cages, you can use your own sneakers. Clippy pedals require some getting used to so if this is your first go, you might want to wait on that one.
- A helmet. PROTECT YOUR BRAIN! TIP: Whatever warning and certification stickers come inside of the helmet, don’t take them out. Sometimes USAT triathlon officials check your helmet on race day to make sure it’s ok. Try to get a new bike helmet and not a used one, you don’t really know if a used one has been cracked or in an accident or how old it is.
- Bike or tri shorts and/or bike jersey. (Optional.) If you use a road bike you will want these to ride in. A bike jersey has nice big pockets in the back for nutrition and cell phone, and bike shorts (aka spandex) are what you wear on the bike, no matter how much you hate spandex and I do. You can get the kind that are all padded-like so your bum won’t hurt (well it will anyway until your bum gets used to it) or you can gettri shorts (I run and bike in these), which have minimal padding, that’s up to you. If you are using a mountain bike, you can wear whatever you want! So disregard this.
- Sunglasses. My favorite are the Ironman brand at Wal-Greens, specifically these, but only because I habitually lose mine and I can replace them quickly. Also they are great deflectors for when a bug or other debris tries to fly into your eye.
- Sneakers. The ones you’re wearing. You will run and walk many miles in them. You will find out what you love and hate about sneakers and perhaps you will buy different ones along the way. But you definitely need sneakers.
- Good socks. Some people like the breathy kind, I like the comfy kind. Find a good sock. Again not totally necessary, but according to Jeff Galloway, socks make a difference and I believe him.
- Road I.D. You will find yourself training with other people sometimes and they don’t know your wife’s or husband’s phone number (probably – and perhaps hopefully) but it will be on your Road I.D. if something happens! Use this ALWAYS! TIP: On race day, you can scrap that scratchy ankle bracelet piece of velcro thingy they give you at a triathlon for your timing chip and use your Road I.D. to wear the timing chip instead.
- Your favorite shorts that you regularly run or walk in.
- Waterproof Watch
- Bike helmet
- Bike shorts and/or jersey (or not!)
- Road I.D. (safety first!)
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