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Triathloning on a Budget

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After growing up swimming, running cross country in High School, swimming a bit more, and running my first marathon in 2007, a friend suggested I try triathlon.  While hesitant at first, I slowly began attending UCLA Triathlon Club swim and run practices, eventually bought my first road bike, and gradually acclimatized into the tri culture.  I have been triathloning pretty much ever since, and I have concluded that triathlon is an inexpensive hobby.

Just kidding.  It is a huge investment–especially at first.  There are a lot of “big” items needed in triathlon training and racing.  Then, there are even more “not so big” items that are equally necessary.  Then, there are heaps of big and small items/services that aren’t required, but are highly encouraged.  Finally, if you are still not scared off, and you are really into it, you can invest in even more optional things to (hopefully) enhance your aerodynamics and/or performance.

This can be a bit overwhelming.  For example, I recently had a friend come to me for a little advice.  She had just signed up for her first triathlon.  Naturally, I bombarded her with lists upon lists of the items she should start buying and things she should start doing in preparation.  Note to triathletes: Never do this if you ever want your friends to do triathlons too!  If I ever have a friend ask me for help in this area again, I will probably send them some slightly-less-intimidating lists somewhat like the ones below…

Splurge on things that are worth investing in:

[Quality Equipment]
  • Road bike: If you are just “checking out” triathlon, I recommend borrowing or buying a used road bike vs. paying for a super fancy one.
  • Helmet, new and CPSC approved (if you ever race ITU, the CPSC approval sticker is required)
  • Run shoes: Get a qualified run shoe expert to watch you run in them before you buy–most specialty run stores do this.
  • Bike shoes, cleats & clipless pedals, if you are comfortable with that…otherwise, just use run shoes and a platform pedal.
  • Cycling gloves, to protect your hands
  • Swim cap, preferably silicone (they can last for years)
  • Goggles that fit your face (try before you buy).  I love these.
  • Watch with desired functions (heart rate, GPS, etc)
[Quality (and comfortable, well-fitting) Clothing]
  • Swimsuit, one piece or two piece that won’t fall off while training! Check out Swim Outlet for deals.
  • Cycling Jersey with pockets
  • Cycling Shorts with padding
  • Run Shorts–preferably with a small pocket to stash your key and maybe even a mid-run snack
  • Run/Cycling Socks that don’t give you blisters
  • Triathlon race kit (optional)–or just race in your swimsuit with shorts on top
[Quality Services]
  • Custom, frequently adjusted, training program to avoid over-training (Can be private or group-style coaching)
  • Technical instruction in private or group environment (again, highly recommended, especially for those who are new to running, biking, and/or swimming)

Save on the rest:

  • Run Top–you can use plain old t-shirts for now.  After you’ve done a few races, you’ll end up with more race tech shirts than you can count!
  • Simple strength training tools (surgical tubing, Theraband, hills)
  • Super snazzy race tattoo remover tool (aka. duct tape)
  • Super duper snazzy race belt (aka. shoe string with safety pins)
  • Homemade Sports Drink: 1/4 c. boiling water + 1/4 c. sugar + 1 t. salt + 1/2 c. orange juice + juice of 1/2 lemon + 2.5 c. cold water to fill 1/4 gallon jug
  • Homemade Pre-workout snacks: banana, oatmeal, crackers, dates, cereal, toast, bagel, juice, etc.
  • Homemade During-workout Fuel: banana, pb&j, cookies, crackers, gummy candy, licorice, cooked sweet potato, etc.
  • Homemade Post-workout Fuel: chocolate milk, cereal, pasta with meat sauce, turkey sandwich, etc.
  • Borrow or rent a triathlon wetsuit, if one is needed, for your event.  Just make sure it fits, first.  If you plan to be in the sport for a while, buy one that fits comfortably.
  • Use Vaseline, Blistex, or Carmex on your spots that tend to chafe (e.g. neck, underarms, inner thighs) instead of buying the anti-chafe sticks/sprays.
  • Cheap Sunglasses for eye protection on the bike (like these), if you prefer not to invest $50-$200 in cycling shades.
  • Self/Spousal massage: Avoid overuse injury with regular massage of your legs, back, and shoulders.  Self-massage equipment–foam rollers, lacrosse ball, etc–works great.  That being said, an occasional professional massage is a special treat!
  • Local races: Stay nearby as much as possible to avoid large travel/hotel/food expenses.
  • Single sport races, e.g. cyling TT, 5k run race, Masters swim meet: Add some extra races to your season without the heightened cost of a triathlon race.
  • Outdoor/living room gym: SO much strength can be gained with just your body weight and a couple of simple pieces of equipment, if desired.
  • YouTube or blog tutorials for a plethora of triathlon-related skills, tips, and tricks.

Okay, so maybe these lists are still frighteningly long.  I am not sure this insanity can be avoided, since triathlon is a combination of three sports, plus transitions and nutrition and recovery–so kinda like 6 sports.  Anyways, I hope this helps your future triathlete friends.  I’m sure that I’ve left out some things, so please let me know of any other ways to be a frugal triathlete that I haven’t listed.

On another note, I cannot mention the relative expensiveness of triathlon without being oh so grateful to all who have helped me along the way.  I have been incredibly blessed with phenomenal gifts of training/racing equipment, coaching, advising, massage, chiropractic, and other services–not to mention ridiculous amounts of support from my family and training buddies throughout the years.  Thank you (you know who you are)!