So you have decided to give the sport of triathlon a go. Making this decision has probably taken some thought, and perhaps a bit of coercion from a mate or two, but in getting to this point you have crossed one of the hardest hurdles. Now you just need to get some gear and get training.
Things you will need to train and race. (This list can be a bit exhaustive and there will be items left off which some people will think are mandatory, as well as things here that you may survive without, but this is a guide).
Basic list: Swim togs, swim cap and goggles (get goggles that fit well on your face so they don’t leak).
Additional: Fins (flippers), pull buoys, kickboard, paddles (for hands).
Bike (this is the expensive part)
Basic: Road bike, clip-on pedals, cycle shoes with cleats, helmet, cycling shorts (worth their weight in gold), cycling top, gloves (fingerless for summer, long fingered for winter riding), cycling glasses (keep the glare/rain/bugs out), bike pump (I prefer a floor pump, they are easy to use and awesome), spare inner tubes, pump to mount on your bike or gas cylinders and attachment, bike bag/pouch to hand beneath your bike saddle.
Additional: Clip-on aero bars (for an aerodynamic position when racing), triathlon bike shoes (for racing, as they are easier to get in and out of in a hurry). Gas cylinder and attachment, or a mini pump which takes a gas cylinder as well. Eventually you may progress to a time trial bike which is great for fast, flat racing but hardly a prerequisite for a beginner.
Basic: Running shorts, running singlets or tops, running shoes, running cap (lightweight and breathable) running glasses (usually interchangeable with what you wear on the bike).
Tri suit, wetsuit, swim goggles, swim cap (usually provided in race pack but always take a spare or two), lubricant for under wetsuit to prevent chafing (such as Body Glide), race belt (to hang race number on, although you can safety pin it to your tri suit). Bike, cycle shoes, helmet, glasses, running shoes and cap. As well, a sports watch to keep track of your race time or if you prefer, a GPS watch/monitor.
Wow, that is some list! Don’t be put off however. If you can’t afford to buy this all new, there are plenty of second-hand options on internet sites. You could also borrow a bit of gear from mates until you decide if this really is the sport for you.
Your training load really depends on your sporting background and base point. If you are a reasonably fit individual already and have come from another sport, especially from a running or cycling background, you will likely adapt more quickly and tolerate a quicker transition into triathlon training. If however, you have been reasonably sedentary and are not in great physical shape or condition and the whole swim, bike, run thing is completely new to you the introduction is going to be much slower. Whatever the case, you will need to build up slowly and carefully. This is called conditioning. Conditioning occurs over time and is a result of a progressive training load.
The reason to take things slowly and carefully is to avoid too much muscle soreness and avoid injury. If you can prevent injury or excessive muscle soreness you will be able to steadily train and progressively build up your training load. Injury hampers progress and can derail your best laid plans.
Again, this is dependent on your starting point but you may start with something like; two swim sessions, two rides and two runs a week and then progress. It is worthwhile seeking further advice as to exactly what to incorporate into each of these sessions. It will depend on the length of the event you are training for.
(A seasoned triathlete may likely do 3-4 swims per week, 3-4 rides and three runs per week. Plus there are brick sessions which consist of running straight after a ride (running off the bike). Elite or professional triathletes are a whole different ball-game, with a huge training load, as this becomes their day job).
Top tips when starting training
If you decide to use cleated cycle shoes and clip-on pedals, I suggest you practise on a quiet stretch of road, getting used to clicking in and clicking out of the pedals. Always click out in preparation for dismounting the bike. It is rather embarrassing (and painful) to come to a stop and realise you haven’t clicked out in time (although I’m sure most cyclists have done it at least once).
Cycle shorts. These make riding a far more comfortable experience. It takes a while to get used to those somewhat hard, skinny bike saddles and good cycle shorts are worth every penny. Do not wear underwear under these shorts. Undies/knickers have seams which are potential areas for rubbing and chafing. You need things smooth to prevent chafing in all the wrong places. Some people like to use chamois cream (purchase from the bike shop) applied to the chamois of the shorts or to their body. Others are fine without it.
Helmets These need to be safety approved and well fitting. Make sure you get the right size for your head so that it fits comfortably and the chin strap fits snugly under your chin. Always wear a helmet when cycling. They are protecting a very important asset.
Tyres Tyres get punctures so learn how to one. You will need 2-3 tyre levers, a spare inner tube and a pump (or gas cylinder and attachment). A small rubber sleeve in your bike bag is also worthwhile in case you actually split the tyre. Practise changing your bike inner tube before you start road training. Punctures happen and mobile phone coverage can be non-existent in some areas of countryside so you really do need to be self sufficient.
Running shoes I recommend you get a proper assessment from a specialist running shoe shop so you get the right shoe for your foot type and function, rather than just choosing the most fashionable or nicest colour.
Wetsuit You can get away without a wetsuit for shorter events (such as the 3-9-3 and even perhaps the sprint) but I would definitely recommend one for the standard course and longer events. Wetsuits keep you warm and aid in buoyancy.
When racing, apply a lubricant around areas susceptible to chafing, such as the neck. Also, to assist quick removal you can apply lubricant to your forearms/wrists and lower legs/ankles.
Seek help from a specialist swim or triathlon shop when purchasing a wetsuit so you get the correct one for your body type and swimming ability. They come in varying thicknesses so, like running shoes, you need to get the right fit.
Good luck and have fun!
Fiona Goddard is a physiotherapist at Sports Med Physio in Hamilton. She has completed numerous half ironman events and completed the New Zealand Ironman event five times. The busy mum of three is a registered physiotherapy acupuncturist and a carded physiotherapy provider for High Performance Sport New Zealand. She has also worked with many provincial and national sports teams over the years, including men’s and women’s football, women’s softball and netball. Fiona was the physiotherapist for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic Netball team for 10 years. She regularly competes in running, cycling and triathlon events.