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2010/11/16 - Newsletter

...And I thought, triathlon is expensive...

What do you really need to have for finishing a triathlon?

Welcome again to the tri-strides newsletter.
This issue is again for all the beginners or beginners-to-be out there.

Generally triathlon is considered a very expensive hobby. Just visit a race and estimate the amount of money people paid for those bikes, not to mention outfit, helmets, shoes etc. It could be worse:
Check this tri gear comic by Jef Mallet

The question I want to discuss today is, what you really need to finish a race. What is the minimum necessary equipment.

When I got my hands on the flyer for that ladies' only event which should become my first ever triathlon race, I owned discount sneakers, a heavy Holland bike I had bought used back in Germany, and swimming goggles. I think I would have raced on this solid steel construction bike had my husband not persuaded me to get a road bike for me. I had no clothes which could serve in and out of the water - especially because I am chafing really badly when I run in anything but tights.

All you really need is a bike of any kind, a bike helmet, running shoes and most probably goggles. That's it. If you have those, you can race. I have seen mountain bikes with heavy tires in some races. In my last race, Ironman Louisville, there was one competitor riding the hilly course on a BMX style bike, you know the type which has small wheels and exactly one gear. I did not see him in the swim so I don't know if he had goggles. On the ride and on the run he did not wear any fancy outfit but a regular cotton shirt with the printing 'old school' on his back. And yet, he finished 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles cycling over hills in the heat, and a Marathon run.

I would not really advise you to do just like he does. For you as a beginner your shopping list definitely should contain those items - with essentials written in red :

  • A bike helmet: please do not use the one you had twenty years ago as a kid which has been pushed from place to place in your garage. The material can decay and lose stability and helmets are made for exactly one crash - then they may be structurally damaged. If you do own a newer helmet and never crashed in it you can use it. Helmets don't have to be expensive - I don't think they sell non-quality-tested at all in the US.
  • A bike if you do not own one. Mine at the time was $800, which was a good deal for an aluminium bike with carbon fork. If you go shopping between the Holidays and maybe February - just before the shops get new merchandise, you might get a really good deal for much cheaper. A road bike is a good start. Mine carried me through my first two half ironman races (Then my husband inherited it from me for I had gotten a partially sponsored new bike). In case you already own a bicycle and have not ridden it wor a while you should do some basic maintenance on it. Clean the chain (please don't soak in gasoline like people did in the olden days) brush grime away from all moving parts, and re-lube it. Check if your brakes and gear shifts are working well and that there are no unidentified noises coming from the bike. A bike shop can help you there. I will have bike maintenance in one of the later newsletters. If you do own a mountain bike you could exchange the tires to lighter ones, but you do not have to. As mentioned before, people ride on all kinds of bikes in triathlons. Only buy one after researching the market and don't feel rushed.
  • Sunglasses come in really handy. You do not need them, strictly speaking, but they pay if you don't have to squint against the light, the wind, the free flying bugs while you ride your bike and on the run. You'll get by with not too dark ones so you can use them as wind and bug protection also on darker days. A lot have interchangeable lenses, but I have had them falling off while putting the glasses on in races with some brands which costs time and is very annoying.
  • Depending on the pedals on your bike you might need bike shoes ($200 and up) but you can race your first races just in your running shoes on flat pedals. You will be really fast in the bike-to-run transition. Bike shoes together with a pedal-cleat system are really useful on hilly courses when you can not only stomp the pedals but also pull them upwards. In case you take spin lessons and have spin shoes you can ask a mechanic to put on fitting cleats so you can use those shoes. But again - you don't really immediately need cycling shoes and cleats.
  • Running shoes This a a place where you actually need to spend some serious money ($90-150). Running in the wrong shoes is no fun and can cause injuries. Go to a running store where they ask you how much you are running, what your plans are and especially, where they take a look at how you walk and run. People in those stores are trained to see imbalances (the last I shopped with had me stand up, bend my knees and only from this saw that my legs are different - which I knew they are). Test run your shoes outside the store (rather than on the treadmill) if the employees let you. You can compare the feel by having on two different ones and run that way. Take what feels comfy. Ignore the color or overall looks. There are beautiful sneakers out there but they aren't all right for my feet.
  • A running hat - something to protect you from the sun when the race takes place in hot weather.
  • Sunscreen - at least necessary when it is sunny (duh!)
  • Swimming goggles (more or less essential). They protect your eyes in the water. You can race without them, but I would not advise it. Pro triathletes carry three to four pairs of different goggles to races, featuring different lenses in smoke/gray/mirrored (sunny), white/blue (pool), and yellow/orange (outside but dark or dawn). I usually race in gray ones, but carry a spare in case a strap breaks. Those also work in the pool - in my opinion.
  • Some clothes to swim, bike, and run in. In my first race I wore a sports bra and a triathlon shorts during the swim, and then threw on a T-shirt with the race number pinned on. I would advise you to get a pair of triathlon shorts or running tights (short), in which you feel comfortable and do not rub and chafe your skin against. Tri-shorts have a little padded area where you sit on the saddle but it is not so much padded that the soaked in water impedes your running. Running shorts may have seams at that place - you have to take a close look. As for a sports bra (for my female readers): they come as cheap as $16 (that's the ones I use all the time). Some women put two on top of each other if they need more support. If you can run in your regular swim suit without chafing your legs like I do, you can do just that in a race. Throw on a shirt after the swim (and your shoes, of course) and you are good to go.
  • A water bottle or hydration system: You will need to hydrate in every race, so this is an essential. If your bike has a bottle cage you just can put a water bottle in and practice drinking while riding in training. There are also hydration backpacks on the market. It really is a matter of preference - but you need something for the ride. Every race has plenty of water stations on the run but your water bottle of course also comes in handy during run training.

Well. That's it. I have a full list here - everything you need at a race - plus a lot of non-essentials.

Stay tuned for the next issue of this bi-weekly to monthly newsletter.

Greetings from your coach's desk
Dr. Sylvia Zinser
USAT Certified triathlon coach