I was asked by Orbana to write a piece about triathlon equipment; what you need to be competitive in a triathlon. The truth is, you don’t need much at all to get started, it only gets out of hand if you let it…
There’s no getting away from it – triathlon has a reputation as a very middle-class sport due to the perceived costs of competing. There are always new tools, tricks, gadgets & equipment that are “guaranteed to make you faster”. Whilst you will always get some ‘all the gear’ people, you don’t have to break the bank, especially in the current economic climate, in order to compete in triathlon. There is though such a huge range of equipment & budgets out there, so I’ve divided this up into four levels based on cost & competition level; Minimalist, Basic, Advanced & Luxury.
You can probably reach the finish line of your first triathlon using only what you already have at home; so what’s the minimum you need if you just want to make it to the end of a pool-based Sprint or ‘Try-a-Tri’ event?
Something to swim in – shorts, speedos, whatever – swimming goggles, a T-shirt to put on after the swim & a pair of trainers.
A roadworthy bike
A hybrid with a shopping basket, a mountain bike, a borrowed racer form your friend – anything with two brakes, two wheels (& no motor) will do & you genuinely see them all at the races.
An approved helmet
You must wear a helmet that has passed the appropriate international safety test (there’ll be a sticker on the inside)
That’s it – nothing else!
A pair of socks, a towel and a water bottle are useful but not necessities. See, I told you it didn’t have to be expensive…
Once you’ve got the bug (which you certainly will), you’ll be looking for ways to be faster or more comfortable, or stepping up to race longer or even do some open-water events. For that you’ll need some more equipment, probably around £100 worth, but you don’t need to spend it all at once – you can upgrade gradually over time, or look for hire options, especially for wetsuits & bikes. Also check out triathlon retailers for starter packs – all you need bought together usually with a decent discount.
Easier than putting a t-shirt on when wet & more comfortable on the bike & run. Once you’ve got over the whole ‘running around in lycra’ thing, you’ll be flying round the course!
All the major manufacturers do a decent entry level suit in the £100-180 range. Go down to a stockist & try a few on – the most important factor is fit; at this level the performance differences will be fairly negligible, however a good fit will make a massive difference. The general rule is that it should feel almost restrictive when on dry land, but will be fine in the water.
Upgrade your bike to a solid racer for around £600-800. Again getting the right fit is the most crucial aspect, so get help from an expert. Ideally at this price point you should be looking for 10spd gearing & carbon forks on an alloy frame.
Bike shoes & clipless pedals
Yes you’ll fall over first time you try (everyone does) but using shoes that engage the pedals with a hard sole will give you the ability to push throughout the pedal stroke & increase your speed & efficiency.
The most important item on this list. Getting a proper pair of running shoes from a reputable retailer is imperative if you want to do any level of running & stay injury free. Most will offer some form of gait analysis, which is extremely worthwhile to help match your style to a pair of shoes. You’ll almost certainly have to spend a minimum of £60 to get a decent pair.
So you’ve done a couple of seasons of triathlon & now want to step it up to the next level & be competitive at the front end of the field, or just simply knock some time off your PBs. You’re going to need a few upgrades though…
Keep your old one for winter training (you won’t want your shiny new one getting dirty!) but get yourself a new race bike. It’ll probably cost in the region of £2-3k but you can get a full carbon bike (either road or time trial depending on your race preferences) with upper end components. You may also be able to get a decent set of carbon race wheels, which will be more aerodynamic, lighter & stiffer.
Probably the best ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of energy savings per £ spent; you might look stupid but you will be more aerodynamic. Make sure you get one that you can get on & off quickly in transition & that sits close to your back for maximum aero gains. You should also think about vents if racing in hot climates.
A top of the range wetsuit will be more flexible, especially in the shoulders, allowing you to swim more freely. They also have a lot of fancy gizmos to help you catch more water, be more stable or remove it faster. Expect to pay in the region of £250-400.
Nutrition & recovery
As you get more experience or start to race longer, you need to think more about looking after your body during & between sessions. Proper sports nutrition & using compression gear will help you bounce back stronger from a hard workout & aid adaptations.
By no means a necessity, but I definitely find I feel quicker running in a lighter pair of shoes on race day. Beware of any biomechanical deficiencies though & seek advice if in doubt.
Using a heart rate monitor to manage your training can help you target specific zones for each workout & train more smartly & specifically.
A good coach can help you plan your racing, develop a training schedule & ensure you are in peak shape for your ‘A races’
A retailer’s dream… you have the cash & you aren’t afraid to splash it. SO if money’s no object, what else should you do in search of every last second?
No motors involved here, but most of the manufacturers now produce a ‘super-bike’. No holds barred, no compromises mean machines with aerofoil tubing, electric gearing & space-age technology are de rigueur here, but you will certainly pay for the privilege with some now costing upwards of £10k.
GPS & Powermeter
If having heart rate data isn’t enough, stattos among you can spend your recovery time poring over all the data from your latest workouts. When combined with lab fitness testing & a great coach you are leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of success!
Wind tunnel testing
Get your bike position & equipment spot on using the same technology as F1 teams. It isn’t cheap but you’ll certainly find the sweet spot between power & drag.
Escape the miserable UK winter by jetting off to sunnier climes, be it the Canary Island or somewhere more exotic such as the training hubs of South Africa or Australia’s Gold Coast.
So you don’t have to spend a fortune on triathlon, but you can if you want to! Many people don’t go further than the ‘Basic’ options I have described, and for most people ‘Advanced’ is as far as you’ll ever need to go. Just remember though, fit & comfort are almost always more important than fancy design or good looks; if you aren’t comfortable using or wearing it you’ll end up slower in the long run. So seek appropriate advice where necessary, especially when considering significant expenses, but above all don’t get hung up when you see all the fancy equipment at races. As a very famous cyclist once said… “It’s not about the bike” (… or wetsuit… or shoes…)… at the end of the day, it’s the engine that’s powering it is the most important factor!
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