In the world of endurance sports, there is something about triathlon that draws people looking for something uniquely challenging. Unlike single-discipline sports like swimming or running, triathlon combines the three sports of swimming, cycling, and running – and in that consecutive order.
If you are a beginner to triathlon, then you are probably needing some essential gear to get started. While some of these recommendations are options (e.g. wetsuit), each of these items will help you perform at your best on the day of the race. So if you are planning or training for your first triathlon, here are ten things that you will want to consider acquiring:
1. Running Shoes
A good pair of running shoes is critical for a triathlon. As the last leg of the race, the run portion usually consists of at least a 5K (or about 3 miles) of running for a typical sprint distance triathlon. Up the ante to the Olympic distance triathlon, and the distance of the run leg doubles. As such, you will definitely need a good pair of running shoes that fit well, feel right, and allow you to run your best.
2. Road Bike
You do not need an expensive triathlon bike for your first triathlon (however many committed athletes will go this route to be competitive). Rather, any well-fitting road bike will do. Road bikes have narrow tires that roll fast over paved surfaces, so you will have a much more efficient bike leg of the race with a road bike. However, you can also get away with using just about any type of bike, depending on your expectations and objectives.
3. Bike Helmet
A proper bike helmet is an essential requirement for triathlon racing. It should be a given that wearing a helmet is simply bike safety best practice, but it is especially important for races. Like your bike choice, any protective bike helmet will do the job. However, if you want a competitive edge, look for a more aerodynamic helmet option to minimize drag and improve your speed. After all, the bike leg is the longest portion of the triathlon.
4. Tri Shorts and Top
As for apparel, most triathletes will wear what is called tri shorts, which are basically tight-fitting, quick-drying cycling shorts with a smaller chamois pad. Even if you opt out of investing in a triathlon wetsuit, using tri shorts is a good base for a swimsuit and you can wear them throughout the entire triathlon race. Gear manufacturers also make tri tops, which are often no-sleeve cycling jerseys that are form-fitting to reduce drag. For men, these are quite popular. However, some female athletes prefer more of a sports bra or athletic top for women.
As mentioned above, a wetsuit is not a requirement for racing a triathlon. But, it is one piece of gear that can improve your buoyancy in the water and help your overall swim. If you are a complete beginner to swimming, you will benefit from having a triathlon wetsuit to wear during training and racing. This investment is particularly advantageous if you are swimming in cold waters. In this case, shop around for the best triathlon wetsuit that fits your body type and budget.
6. Race Belt
When you exit the swim of a triathlon, you will typically need to attach your race number to your clothing for the bike and run. This is common in most triathlons. Instead of wasting minutes trying to pin your number to your clothing mid-race, a race belt helps alleviate this problem by having your number already attached and easy to clip on. Some race belts are equipped with hydration bottles or fuel storage for gels and such. This can be especially useful for longer distances triathlons.
7. Cycling Shoes
While not a “must have,” cycling shoes are definitely a “nice to have,” especially if you are trying to be competitive. A lot of beginners will simply run flat pedals on their bikes and wear their running shoes while cycling. This works just fine. But if you are trying to maximize your performance on the bike, having cycling shoes is a critical component. Cycling shoes use clip-in pedals, which optimize the power output of your pedal stroke, particularly on the up-stroke where power is lost with just flat pedals. Nowadays, you can find specialized triathlon bike shoes designed specifically for triathlon.
Nutrition before, during, and after the race is an important element that should not go overlooked. What you eat before the race often takes some personal experimentation, but it is generally recommended to eat several hours before the race (and not immediately beforehand) to avoid any stomach problems. During the race, energy gels, electrolyte drinks, and other forms of fuel work great. It is good to test out what works for you during training so that you can be prepared for when it comes time to race. After the race, be sure to replenish with adequate carbs and protein, and consider a fast-absorbing supplement like a sport protein powder blend that you can easily drink.
When it comes to triathlon, there are a couple of forms of eyewear worth considering. The first is swimming goggles, which are essential for sighting during the swim. The other form of eyewear to consider is sunglasses for the bike and run. Not only can sunglasses help protect your eyes from the sun’s rays, but they can provide a shield against debris, bugs, and pollen floating in the air.
Lastly, you will probably want to layer up with waterproof sunscreen before the race or any training session on a sunny day. Because normal sunscreen can wash off with sweat or exposure to water, it is best to find a waterproof sunscreen that is labeled as broad-spectrum. This will ensure that your skin is protected from both UVA and UVB rays from the sun.
As you embark on your first triathlon, remember to have fun. It can be easy to get caught up in the stress and excitement that comes with the sport. But first and foremost, prioritize enjoyment so that you can have fun with the sport of triathlon for the long run.
This post was contributed by Tyler Tafelsky, an experienced triathlete and endurance athlete who is passionate about cycling and the outdoors.