Triathletes come from a variety of sporting backgrounds often bringing experience from one of the three disciplines of triathlon. Training often then takes one of two approaches, either leaning on what they’re good at and hiding from the bad or focusing on their weakness with a light touch
to their preference. Whatever your background and your approach to training the prospect of your first triathlon is a daunting one as you question both your readiness in terms of fitness and what equipment you will need to reach the finish line.
Triathlon can be a rich mans (or womens!) game with manufacturers investing millions in R&D to develop expensive gadgets for every phase of your race, this blog gives you a discipline by discipline breakdown of what you need to compete with confidence. If you’ve got the motivation then money need not be a barrier so don’t be put off by the shiny kit you see on the telly in the Olympics. You can have your own finisher medal too!
Depending on your type of event it may be pool based or open water. Either way good quality goggles are a must and should be used ahead of the event to ensure they fit the profile of your face and are comfy. A tri-suit is the best base layer for your swim irrespective of in or outdoors as it will then be your clothing for the remainder of the race without needing to change. If your swimming in open water, wetsuits are likely to be mandatory if the water temperature is below 21 degrees. A swimming wetsuit is a completely different beast to any other wetsuit so I’m afraid if you already have a shorty for surfing I would still recommend investing in a swimming wetsuit. If buying is too expensive you can hire a good wetsuit for the season at a lower cost than buying. Now nobody said triathlon was a beauty parade and a swim cap is also often a must. While this might make you look like a freak the good news is most events provide these for free as part of your entry so might be worth checking before you rush out to buy one. Different coloured caps assigned to different waves and distances. You might also want to think about lube here. No x-rated content here. Lube actually is commonly used under your wetsuit to help stop it rubbing and also to aid exit from your neoprene in transition. Be careful to use the right products though as things like baby oil can actually damage the materials in your wetsuit.
Coming out of the water you will be flustered and possibly a bit confused about where you left your bike. The next piece of essential kit is a bright coloured towel. You’ll need it to dry off but also if you use a bright coloured one then it can help signpost where you left your bike in a busy rack, its all too easy to exit the water and struggle to find where your bike is. This is where you really become conscious your in a race as you are presented with how to locate your race number. A race belt is super useful here as it helps you position your number behind you for the bike and then rotate to the front for the run. It’s not essential you can use safety clips and pin your number to your shirt. I did this for my first tri and spun my shirt around heading out onto the run! Is a watch essential here and any fancy heart rate monitor? I’d argue you can comfortably compete your first triathlon without either of these, certainly having a heart rate monitor can be a real distraction for a race and is one extra item to go wrong and cause you discomfort. Leave it at home and race listening to the pace your body.
This is the most expensive part of your journey into triathlon. You can enter any race on any type of bike you like provided it passes a safety check when you rack your bike. Some events, however, have cut off times for the bike so if you are entering an ironman distance event it might not be a good idea to rack your BMX from your 14th birthday. That said I would caution against entering an ironman as your first foray into triathlon! Ambitious. Yes. Sensible. No. Do you therefore need a time trial carbon fibre bike then? Nope. For your first triathlon a quality alloy road bike which you are comfortable on will do the job. If a new one is beyond your reach then second hand bikes can offer real value to getting the sort of speeds you need. It goes without saying we at Trivelo would recommend our site as the best bet to find a quality used bike for your first race (www.trivelo.bike). Sorry. Shameless plug! All events will insist on a proper cycling helmet which you will need to have strapped onto your head before you go anywhere near your bike. This should be a must for any cyclist anyway and used for every ride, it really could save your life! The only other item we would really recommend is clipless pedals and shoes. You can only put the power down throughout the revolution with clipped in shoes. There are various options here in terms of type of clip and shoe and would recommend you try a few on to feel what is right for you. Don’t wait for race day to use these for the first time and realise your not confident in how to clip out ending up sprawled out on the floor coming back into transition still clipped in as your family and friends spectating get full opportunity for the classic photo for the archives. The question of a bike computer is often raised and again I’d see this as a nice to have item rather than something critical to entering your first race. Any event will be well sign posted and likely have distance markers giving feedback on how much further you have to reach transition and leave your bike behind. Sunglasses may seem like somewhat of a luxury but if you get an insect fly into your eye while going flat out downhill you might view them differently, equally with most events not on closed roads a stone kicked up from a passing car could do some real damage so unfortunately some form of cycling glasses might be really useful. They don’t need to be colour co-ordinated with your bike though and could indeed be existing sports glasses you already have. As long as they protect your eyes then they are fit for the job. The only other thing to consider on the bike is hydration and nutrition which will really depend on distances. For those new to triathlon and entering a Sprint distance (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run) I don’t think you really need to worry about hydration and nutrition and just focus on getting round as fast as you can without the distraction.
Coming back into transition for the second time you will have rubbery legs and be starting to feel fatigued. Thankfully there isn’t much more you need to think about in terms of equipment for transition 2, maybe have some fluids available and some gels that you can pick up for the run. Rack your bike and leave your helmet switching your shoes ready to head out on the run course and leave those around you in your dust.
The equipment needed for the final discipline is likely the easiest to provide – a quality pair of running trainers. Most people that participate in some form of sports will be able to lay their hands on trainers without too much effort and is unlikely to need any special purchase. To get an edge in your first race you might want to consider ditching your laces and getting elasticated laces so you can slip your trainers straight on without enduring the delay of sitting in transition while you carefully tie up your shoes watching those around you who you worked hard to overtake on the bike come and go as they slip into their trainers and stride off out from transition. That’s it. That’s all you will need to compete and you really can do it on a budget, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help and borrow some kit too if you don’t have it. Once you get hooked on the sport most triathletes have numerous discarded bits of equipment that they would be willing to let you borrow that they have since upgraded (or forgotten about!). Build yourself a list and start ticking it off as you get all the bits you need for your first triathlon ready to reach the finish line with pride.
About the author – Billy is our founder & CEO. An avid triathlete for the past 5 years keen & pretty handy in the swim but a bit useless out of the water.