Don’t Get Caught In The Gear Game

Image of my gear at the MTS TriathlonTriathlon is expensive. You need a wetsuit and a good pair of goggles for the swim. But you also need swim shorts to train in and access to a pool. This means you need a gym membership or you can pay pool fees.

You also need a bike, a helmet, bike shoes, cleats, etc. But for your first sprint race you should ride what you have. If you don’t have a bike, get an inexpensive road bike. You don’t need a carbon fiber bike or aero this or that. Just get a nice comfortable bike with clip-in cleats and bike shoes. If you can’t ride with cleats yet, don’t even try.

I know the picture above is not at all what I am saying here in the text. That picture was taken was taken during my fourth race, not my first.

The run is probably the cheapest part because you just need shoes, shorts and a shirt. But your legs and feet are important, so you don’t want to skimp on your shoes. You want a good pair of shoes from a reputable shoe company.

After all this, even the socks start to feel expensive as you need more than one pair. You will be spending a lot of money on this new obsession of yours. Do yourself a favor and keep your spending to only what you absolutely need.

If you read the websites or triathlon magazines, you will quickly get the message that your equipment will determine how well you do in the race. But let me tell you what few magazines will: how well you do in the race is 98% determined by your training and your attitude and none of that 98% costs a penny. There are no corporations out there making a profit off of your effort, so you wont see any glitzy ad campaigns encouraging you to work out, unless they are telling you to work out with their product and the message is always that your workout will be more productive if you do it with their product. Don’t believe it.

Your equipment could make up the other 2%. If you are going for the win, you can and should spend all the money you can afford to get that extra 2%. In a long race, that could be five to ten minutes! Jumping up five minutes with no more effort is huge for a competitive triathlete. For the rest of us, don’t get caught in that trap. Your benefit will be less that what an elite athlete enjoys, and in your eight hour race who cares about five or even twenty minutes?  In your first sprint race, the difference will be nil. You do want a decent bike, good shoes, and a comfortable wetsuit but you don’t have to spend a lot for any of those and you surely don’t need the latest technology so if you have to buy a bike, get a used one or get last year’s bike on sale.

Swim Equipment

Sprint triathlons can start in a pool, but most triathlons are in rivers, lakes, or the ocean. So for your training, you will most likely need equipment for swimming in a pool and equipment for open water swimming.

For the pool, you will need the following:

  • Swim suit
  • Swim goggles
  • Swim cap
  • Towel
  • Water bottle

Swimsuits

Your swimsuit should be form fitting, not regular shorts, so that you can swim fast.  If you are a woman, a one-piece suit is the way to go because it is more hydrodynamic and is less likely to come off when you are pushing hard off a wall. If you are a man, find some swim jammers or a “speedo” type swimsuit. Loose fitting shorts or bathing suits with tie-up strings will slow you down.

Swim Goggles

The goggles need to fit your face well and keep the water out of your eyes. When shopping, you should take the goggles out of the package, adjust them to fit your eyes, and lightly press them up against your eyes with the elastic band hanging doing nothing. A good fitting pair of goggles will stick to your face and not fall off. This shows that the goggles can hold a seal well enough to not leak air. Water is thicker than air, so if they can hold air you should be fine. You also don’t want to have to tighten the elastic band so tight that your goggles gouge into your eye sockets. The better the fit of the goggles, the less pressure they need to hold a seal.

Swim cap

You will use a swim cap during your race, so you should use one when you swim. Any cheap swim cap is fine as that’s what you’ll get when you race. Buy a couple as you will loose them and rip them often. A swim cap makes you more hydrodynamic, meaning you will slide through the water more easily with a swim cap on than if your hair is free to wave all over the place, unless you are bald.

Towel

This may sound silly, but I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten a towel when heading out to the pool.

Water Bottle

Swimming is hard work. And you sweat while you swim so you should replenish your fluids even though you are wet and in the water. It’s my opinion that the chlorine in pool water sucks the moisture out of your body a lot more than it puts moisture in, so I like to have a bottle of water or a sports drink sitting there on the side of the pool so I can take a drink during my rest breaks. A water bottle also stakes your claim to the lane in case you need to go off for a bathroom visit.

Fins

If there is a specific need for you to use fins then use them. But use fins sparingly. Nothing makes you faster and a better swimmer than fins. Fins can flatten out your body and keep your tail end from sinking, improving your swim stroke quite a bit. If you are having a hard time just getting through the water then some fins might help you to get through this stage in your swimming. However, once you can propel yourself through the water you need to jettison the fins as soon as you can. You can’t race with them, so you should not train with them.

image of triathletes swimming in a pool

Kickboards, hand paddles, and other toys

You will not be using any of these to train for you first race. If you decide to train for another race, especially a longer one, you will benefit from using kickboards and handpaddles to build muscle for different aspects of your swim stroke.

Open water swimming

For open water swimming, you will need a wetsuit. Many stores that carry wetsuits will allow you to rent a suit and apply your rental fees to the purchase if you wish to buy your suit later. This is a great way to try the suit out first and make sure it fits well.

Cammy and Tony at Shadow Cliffs

If you can only try the suit on dry in the store, put it on, make sure you have good freedom of arm movement, and no places where air can collect. Air collecting in an area means the wetsuit is too loose and when you get into the water those spaces will fill with water. You also need a good seal at the top so water cannot flow into your suit while you are swimming. Bend over, move around, and act like you are swimming in the air and see if anything opens up. If you can’t move your arms and legs around very well that means your wetsuit is too tight. You will, of course, feel a bit of restriction because the wetsuit is form-fitting, but you should be able to dance, jump around, and swim your arms around without too much restriction in your movements.

Sleeves or sleeveless? Go with sleeves. Sleeves make you faster. Unless there is some specific reason like warm water or you just can’t stand the restriction of sleeves, get a wetsuit with sleeves because you will then have all ranges of cold that you can swim in. If the water temperature gets too warm you can’t wear any wetsuit, nor will you want to.

Orange Buoy

Plenty of my friends use an orange safety buoy when open water swimming. There are plenty of good reasons to use one of these. Safety is first. If there is any chance that you or anyone you are swimming with might have a problem in the open water then having an orange swim buoy can save your life or someone else’s. Another reason is visibility. A swimmer in a lake is hard to spot by someone in a boat who isn’t paying attention. An orange swim buoy makes you much more visible to everyone.

Friends at Shadow Cliffs Open Water Swimming

Friends

You should never swim in open water alone. There are open water swim clubs and groups you should join if you do not have friends who want to swim with you. This is a great chance to find new friends who enjoy doing what you now enjoy and may help you out a little for your first few swims.