A friend of mine is interested in getting into triathlons (yay!) and he asked me what things you need for a triathlon. I gave him a few tips, but it got me thinking. What things do you need to do a triathlon. And I’m not talking about the intangibles, like grit and determination and a bit of crazy, I mean the actual stuff. So I’m going to break it down into some categories for you: Needs, Definitely Nice to Have, The Next Level, and You Don’t Need This, But It’s Cool.
- Something to swim in
- Bike helmet
- Clothes to wear on the bike and the run
- Shoes to bike and run in*
- Bike hydration method
*I guess technically, if you’re a barefoot runner, you don’t need run shoes, but you will still need shoes while on the bike, so put something on your feet.
You don’t need to have clipless pedals or special bike shoes. Those will appear in the next section. Your bike doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be a road bike or a hybrid bike or even a mountain bike. Whatever you have, that works. I have seen people racing on cruiser bikes.
What about clothing? At triathlons geared towards beginners, you will see everything. Wear what works for you. Some women will do the entire race in a what is essentially a bathing suit (including elites). I am not one of those women. You will see ladies get into the swim in a bathing suit, then pull on shorts in transition. It’s an option, but I would worry about chafing. At the bare minimum, for women, I would recommend a pair of triathlon shorts, a sports bra, and a shirt to put on at transition. For men, I would recommend the same, minus the sports bra.
What are triathlon shorts? Basically, they are spandex shorts with a bit of padding in them. Not quite as much padding as bike shorts. They’re designed so you can swim, bike, and run in them. If you tried this in bike shorts, the padding would fill up with water on the swim and be quite uncomfortable, and you would feel like you were wearing a diaper on the run. Technically, you can wear whatever shorts you want, but I would very much recommend tri shorts.
In most triathlons, you will find water stops on the run course. Sometimes you will find them on the bike course, sometimes not, but either way, you’ll want to have some sort of hydration plan for riding the bike. This doesn’t have to be fancy. A bottle in a water bottle holder. If you struggle to pull out a bottle on the bike, wear a Camelbak or similar hydration device. Hydration is very important.
Definitely Nice To Have
- Tri Kit
- Socks (for me – others will disagree)
- Clipless pedals
- Bike Shoes
- Chamois Cream to prevent chafing
- Flat Repair Kit
A tri kit is either a two piece or a one piece outfit that is designed so you can wear it the entire race. You know what’s hard after getting out of the swim? Trying to pull a shirt on to your wet body. If you wear a tri kit, you don’t have to worry about changing at all during the race.
You don’t have to ride or race with a flat repair kit, but I really recommend it. If you’re out for a ride and you get a flat tire, you’re going to need to fix it, right? Sure, you could also just call for a Lyft, but that’s not going to work in a race. So I recommend getting a repair kit and learning how to use it. I will talk more about this in a later blog post (and if you’re local, will be doing a flat clinic in July).
One thing that scares a lot of cyclists is clipless pedals. These are confusingly named – they’re called clipless because they don’t have toe clips (which are really old school). However, you do clip your shoes into the pedals. So you have special bike shoes with a very hard sole that have a cleat on the bottom. This cleat will attach to the pedals so that while you ride, you get the full force of motion from your legs. You’re not just pushing down, but you’re also pulling up. It’s amazing how different riding feels. Will you fall over? Probably. From a complete stop. Usually in front of people. But you will mostly just hurt your pride.
The Next Level
- Aero bars
If you’re taking your racing to the next level, you might want to have aero bars put onto your road bike. This lets you ride in a much more aerodynamic position. You will see lots of people without them, but it’s an inexpensive addition to your road bike.
I struggled with where to put “wetsuit” on this list. Technically, you can be a triathlete and race multiple times a year and never ned a wetsuit. They’re only absolutely needed when the water is exceptionally cold, making the race wetsuit mandatory. You can just avoid those races. But there are also races where the wetsuit is an option. In these cases, I like wearing my wetsuit. It adds buoyancy, and “free speed,” as my coach calls it, plus it makes the cold water seem less awful.
You Don’t Need This, But It’s Cool
- Tri bike
You will see lots of triathletes with really cool bikes. And you know what? Every single one of them wants a newer and cooler bike. You see, the proper number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently own. Tri bikes put you in a more compact, more aerodynamic position. The geometry lets you use your leg muscles in a way that helps save your legs for the run. It’s not a requirement by any means, but if you’re in the sport for a while, eventually you’ll find yourself looking at tri bikes, doing the math, crunching the numbers, and deciding if it’s for you.
There are plenty of things that triathletes use that aren’t on this list: Sunscreen (wear it), towels, different little products that people use on the various legs of the race, but these are some of the big things that came to mind, things that people need or wonder if they might need.
Anything I missed or miscategorized?