To begin with, you need to ask yourself a few pertinent questions. Things like, what is my budget, what are my immediate and future race goals, am I going to do just one race or am I in this for the long haul or as I have said before, ‘I’ve been bitten by the bug and I am in it for good’! Only you can answer these questions for yourself and when you do, you can make more accurate evaluations on how to proceed.So since the Triathlon begins with the Swim, so will I.
At the risk of stating the obvious, item numero uno, ‘The bathing suit’! For the women, the one piece, racer back suit is the standard but anything that is not restricting in movement, doesn’t ‘ride up’ too much when you first try it on. Note that when you are wet it stretches a bit so you will break it in, so to speak. For the guys, the standard has been ‘the Speedo’. Now, the more ‘brief style’ suits have a little bit more material and then there are the ‘bike shorts’ style or ‘jammers’, without the pad, of course. Race Tri-shorts do have a pad, but it’s smaller and thinner than a typical ‘bike short’. When it gets closer to your race, it is a good idea to train with your ‘uniform’ and get used to the feeling of swimming with a padded short. It will feel different and you never want to do anything for the first time on the day of a race. Always test it out in training first! So it’s just a matter of how much of an exhibitionist to you feel like being. Letting your inner ‘Madonna’ or ‘Lady Gaga’ out and show off, while your working out in the pool. (A little humor there). One thing many athletes do, that may come from a swimming background, will be to actually where two bathing suits, one over the other, to create more ‘drag’ when they train, to make it harder to go through the water. More work, more opportunity to become stronger and then faster when they are in ‘race swim attire’. But to start with, one is enough. Supportive, proper fit and comfortable. Some brands that have great suits are TYR, Speedo to just name a couple off the top.
Goggles: I have to say I sometimes have a hard time finding a pair that fit well, so ask to take them out of the box when you are at the store, if buying in person and see if they fit well. Most of the adult models fit, but some just feel better than others. When you get to the pool, get them wet before you put them on to get a good, tight fit. And this is going to sound sort of disgusting, but what I was told to do, was to ‘spit’ in the inside of the goggles and mix it up so to keep them from fogging up. It does work, but it’s gross! Anyway…
Swim Cap: Ladies, if you have long hair and you want to avoid difficulty getting the cap on/off, put a little conditioner on your hair, just run it through with your fingers enough to get it a little slick so the cap goes on easier, a little trick I learned. Guys, if your hair is short enough, for training you don’t have to wear a cap. If you have blonde hair, you may want to as the chlorine is not as kind to blondes, the chlorine can make your hair look green-ish. Darker hair isn’t affected, from a color standpoint, by the chlorine, but it will make your hair dryer, so use a good shampoo. You will get many, many swim caps when you start racing, they are pretty much in every race bag as you have to wear a cap to race so you don’t really need to invest in a pricey swim cap. They do rip, even the good ones.
Pull-Buoy: These go by different names, but this is what all my triathlete friends called it. The ‘float’ like hourglass shaped Styrofoam item you put between your legs so you can concentrate on just your upper body and not worry about your kick. I have to say, when I started swimming for triathlons, this was an essential item for me. I could swim, but never did laps before so getting the arms, elbows, hand position, pull, role of the shoulders and hips, breathing down was enough to work on. After I got the hang of all of those things, then I started adding in the kick. I had a pretty good coach, I think anyway. I was happy I had a good place to start and worked my way up as I felt more comfortable in the water. I did kick drills too but this pull-buoy was a big part of my training.
Kick Board: Sometimes you can use a board at the pool you are at and you don’t need to buy your own, but you will need to use a kick board for the kick portion of your swim workouts. If it’s a busy pool, it may be first come first serve and if you don’t have your own, you’ll have to wait or ask someone to share. Great way to make new friends anyway!
Swim Fins: TYR makes a ‘split fin’ and another brand is ‘Zoomer’. You will need a pair of fins to work on your kick, hip movement, help you feel like a fish so when you don’t have them on, you can work on trying to mimic that feeling with just your legs/feet. Good luck! You fly with your fins on. It’s such a cool feeling swimming with them. Makes me jealous of a shark! ha
Phase II – The Bike
This is a ‘must-have’ list, so you’re going to need a bike. Again, reference the first paragraph. Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced racer. I started racing before they had ‘triathlon geometry’ bikes on the mass market for purchase, so I still have my old road bike that I had fit to me and added ‘aerobars’ to make the bike better accommodating for the triathlon. If you know you are ‘all-in’ and you’re a ‘lifer’ then I would very honestly say to invest in a triathlon specific frameset/bike. Riding a road geometry bike and a tri-bike do feel different and if you train on a road bike and then only get on your tri-bike for racing, it may hinder your results. I would say what I hear the most is that on a tri-bike your ‘bike handling’ skills will be put to the test when cornering, u-turns etc… Your body is more forward and upright than on a road bike and this helps with opening up your hips more so when you start running it is not as much of a shock to the body to be fully upright. Both road bikes and tri-bikes are expensive these days so if you are in this to race triathlons, I would say get a tri bike. If you are buying online, from my site, for example, there are charts to refer to for the S,M.L frames because they don’t always use the typical CM measurements that road bikes use. There are also charts for you to add your measurements to and submit to my suppliers so that they can work with you, one on one, over the phone to get you in the proper frame and then get you set up with crank length, stem length etc… that you need. Proper fit is key for your comfort on the bike and the next semi-must-have item for the bike I would have to say is a proper fitting saddle. Ask anyone who has been riding for a bit, and being on a saddle that is too ‘this way’ or to ‘that way’, you’ll wish you spent some time testing out saddles. If you don’t like the saddle that a bike comes with, in many cases, you have to pay extra for what you want, it is not just a ‘switch this one for that one’ item. As I have found anyway. On my site you can pick your saddle ahead of time, if you don’t like it, you can switch it. One last thing I will say about a tri-geometry bike and I learned this while watching the Ironman Championships this year. You will save 24 minutes in an Ironman distance race when using a tri-bike as opposed to a standard road bike. The pro’s call this ‘Free Speed’ and I have to say, almost a full half hour of time saved is nothing to ‘snuff at’, if you know what I mean. That’s a big advantage.
Road Bike Shoes / Tri Bike Shoes: What you train in you don’t really want to race in. Road bike shoes are great when you have time to buckle and click your foot in your shoes and wear socks. On race day, you want in, one velcro closure and vents in the bottom so that your foot gets air, dries out and fits well in for the long road ahead. Tri bike shoes are also made to be worn without socks so the material on the inside is different than a road shoe and there is usually a ‘finger pull’ on the heal of the shoe which is there so when you jump on your bike and your shoes are already in the pedal clips, you ride a few pedal strokes to get going and then slide your foot in easily while reaching down, grabbing that nifty ‘finger pull’ on the back and you’re in. It makes a huge difference and again, I think a ‘must-have’ if you’re going to race tri’s. I like the Louis Garneau shoes, they are not crazy expensive, are light weight, have that one velcro closure and fit well. This is not a sport wear you can skimp on proper fit and comfort when it comes to your feet. Get something good to start with, it will be an investment you will be happy you made.
Water bottles/cages: This has come along way over the years. So many cool, tricked out bikes with water bottle apparatus type components built into the bike, front, horizontal water bottle cages, cages mounted to your saddle. I have found a new one recently. It is quite pricey so I am going to watch it and see where it goes. It’s called ‘My Wedgie’. It mounts between the frame and has been wind tunnel tested. Whatever you choose, just make sure you have a few. Hydration is a whole other post, but getting dehydrated during a race stinks. Better to stop and relieve yourself than bonk from lack of fluids. You will get many water bottles at races, just like the swim caps, so stock up when you can. The standard cages work well and if you have been riding for some time, you will already be accustomed to how and where the cages are typically mounted. Adding cages for longer races is always an option.
Helmet: Protect your noggin’, my Dad always used to say! So invest in something good. I have known a few friends who kiss their helmet after a crash because had they not had it on, they’re head would be pretty banged up, to say the least. There are many types, some triathletes like to race with the more ‘aero’ style and can make a difference but it’s personal preference and if you’re looking to take a few more minutes off the bike having an aero helmet will make you feel like your flying. I have a thing about color, if your training and you sometimes ride alone, having a bright or lighter colored helmet, in my mind anyway, makes me think people will notice me more. So I go white or with a bright color. I have white/black on my site and they are both aero helmets. I’ve been waiting for the pink one to come, but haven’t been given a time frame. I am working on it.
Bike utility bag/spare goodies: You need spare tube(s), CO2 cartridge, CO2 adapter, tire levers, patch kit and anything you personally like to carry. If you don’t know how to use these items, check out your local bike shop and they should help you with it. Some shops have nights where they have tire changing clinics etc… to help new folks just getting into biking. Go to them. You’ll have fun, get tons of great info and even meet some new people. They are fun, make it a night out with your buddies or girlfriends. Never leave home without your repair kit. As soon as you do, you’ll need it.
Bike Attire: As a newbie, you definitely want a good pair of real bike shorts. A good chamois will make a big difference in comfort and your ability to ride more than around the block. Do not wear undergarments under your bike shorts, they are not made for that. It will add to the chances you have chaffing issues. Look at the sizing charts, measure your body and get the right size. They should be snug fitting, they should have ‘grippers’ around the leg edge to keep them in place which adds to comfort. Road bike shorts have a larger chamois than tri bike shorts, so get both and wear the tri shorts a few times before racing. No first time race day experiments, remember. Some favorite brands are the Synergy that I have on my site, they are quite comfortable, Pearl Izumi, K-Swiss gets great reviews, Louis Garneau makes great cycling clothes just to name a few. Bike jerseys, pockets in the back to hold extra tubes, Fig Newton’s, GU, Clif Bar, whatever your poison to get some extra ‘gg’s’ while on that long ride. Make sure material is ‘wicking’, not cotton. There are some really cool new materials that can minimize your body temperature, but are definitely on the higher expense scale. Look for things that offer UV protection with super breathable fabrics, Aqua Phobic fabrics, flatlock stitching, multi-functional pockets, zipper in front to get extra air when needed. Again, I will shamefully plug my site as I have a few jerseys. At the moment more for men than women’s styles, but have two new suppliers who are new lines, one will be added in the next week or so and the other will launch in Feb. 2013, so Ladies, check back for early spring riding. They are fashion forward and do the job, finally, we don’t have to look like the guys, we can actually have some style while still kicking some bootie!
Sunglasses: This seems to go without saying, but a good pair of UVA/UVB protection, sports performance and fitting sunglasses will make racing more comfortable. Having your glasses slip off your nose while riding or running is just a pain and you don’t need to be distracted while trying to get a PR.
Phase III- The Run
Running Shoes: I differentiate these the same way I do the bike shoes. Training run shoes are different than race running shoes. Buy a pair of running shoes that you will use to train in. Get fit at a run shop if you have never been. I actually did this myself recently because I had it in my head that I wanted a certain shoe. I was near a shop and thought I would take a look and a sales man asked me when I had been fit properly last. I didn’t remember, but didn’t like the shoes I had been using. My ‘fit’ resulted in me realizing I needed a AA shoe not the normal width I had been wearing for years. A harder to find shoe, something you may need to try on. You can buy online but if they don’t feel right, you’ll be able to send them back. But if you have a similar issue, get a fit done. For the race day, running shoes that you don’t need to wear socks with are key and again, you need to test them out. I know many athletes who prefer running sockless, but you have to get used to it. Zoot was the pioneer in this, they have many, many choices. You can also use your training shoes and switch out the laces to the elastic laces with the lace-lock to adjust and get them set so all you have to do is slide them on and go. But again, some of the real tri shoes are made of different material and actually hug your foot/skin, so doing the same thing in a standard running shoe will feel quite different. Test it out.
Race Belt: Something to pin your race number to and/or a race belt that has the bottles you can fill with your liquid/food of choice. For longer races these can be necessities.
Depending on your level as I stated in the beginning, you may also need a wetsuit, scull cap for the cold water swims, a tri-suit to wear under the wetsuit, these are usually one piece with the chamois in the shorts. Some compression gear for during and after your workouts and racing if you need it. There are a few plus other items you can and will get as you build your race calendar up, but this list is the ‘must-have’ so I am not going to name them all.I hope this is of some help this Holiday season when you are buying your significant other some goodies to help out Santa. I know I got my letter from Santa already, (you know, he knows the retailers and makes requests to us to put things on sale) just an FYI if you didn’t know. Stock up on the ‘must have’s’ for you and your training friends, the small stuff makes great stocking stuffer’s and again, Santa appreciates the help. He’s so busy, you know!Happy Holidays!Caroline Rivers / Triathleta.com