Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to go out and spend what you might on a family holiday to have a go at a triathlon. Unless of course you want to spend your family holiday budget on triathlon instead of 2 weeks away with your loved ones, but that's a different issue...
There are however, we think, some essential bits of kit you will appreciate investing in that will make your first, or even your second go, more comfortable.
1. A bike that fits
Most of us has something resembling a bike in our sheds or buried in the garage. If you don't then use the power of social media to beg and borrow. You might be surprised which of your friends has just what you're looking for in their sheds. If you do find yourself needing / wanting to buy a bike for the occasion, do your research and make sure you look for something fit for purpose.
A common story for novice triathletes is that they go out and buy the fastest bike with dropped handle bars and carbon frames assuming this is the uniform for triathlon. The news is it's not and unless you are really going to get your value for money on bikes like this - riding most days for hours at a time, racing regularly - then you may as well leave your money out with the bin.
The most important criteria for your first bike for triathlon is that it's comfortable and safe. This means correct saddle height and handlebar position, breaks that work, gears that work, chains that aren't about to snap and a helmet that fits. All good bike shops should help be able to help give you guidance on bike set up and for a fraction of the price of a new bike will perform a good service for you to make sure your bike is road-worthy.
After your first or second race, which is usually the time it takes to fall in love with triathlon and cycling, you can then think about upgrading to something a little lighter and faster.
2. A tri suit
It's quite typical to think people who wear tri suits are absolutely bonkers and have no regard for their public image upon seeing one for the first time. Actually, tri suits could well be up there with sliced bread on the worlds best innovations list. A tri suit brings comfort and speed to any race and even if you have no intentions of going for a podium finish in your first triathlon, one of these suits will reduce faff and keep you comfortable as you move from the swim to the bike and then to the run.
As you might expect, you can spend a fair amount on a decent tri suit as they can come with a heap of technology. However, for you first few triathlons your main criteria will be comfort, something that dries quick and something that offers decent support (particularly for women). Fabric is important as you want to avoid any potential chaffing issues and also want something that lasts.
We often get asked the question about sports bras and whether women can wear them under a tri suit. Yes you can. We find that built in sports bras don't currently provide as good a support as separate sports bras donned underneath your tri suit.
We love pockets on our tri suits but do find some suits go overboard and put several on there which can affect the fit of the garment. The most important thing is to know how you're going to use your tri suit - if you're signing up for Iron Man then pockets will be useful, as they will be in any race which will see you working for longer than 90 minutes, which is when you need to think about carrying fuel.
Most decent retailers will do quick exchanges so give yourself plenty of time to try them on and test the comfort before your big day. Wiggle, Amazon and Sport Pursuit stock a good range of tri suits that start as cheap as £30.
3. Good goggles
Bad goggles mean bad swims. Unfortunately there are so many goggles out there it really is hard to know which won't leave you constantly stopping mid swim to empty water out. There are several brands who claim to have open water specific goggles which offer bigger lenses. In our experience and with our smaller female heads, these goggles tend to not to fit as well as others and so let water through the seal.
The other frustrating thing about choosing goggles is that it really is a case of try-and-see because you will never know how a goggle will perform for you until you get in the water. Our personal favourites are the Zoggs Predator Flex and in years of racing and training they've never let us down. The most important thing to know about goggles though is that you really do have to have a good pair so be prepared to spend some time working out which ones work for you.
4. Elastic laces
Who knew that laces could cause such frustration during triathlon? They really do. The reality of race day is that you will be exiting the water very wet, with cold hands (more than
likely) and somewhat flustered. The last thing your brain wants to do is tie shoe laces. For those wearing bike shoes and only changing into trainers for the final leg, at this point in the race all you want to do is get it over with and run like the wind / stagger towards the finish line so again, stopping to tie your shoe laces really doesn't fit with this look... Elastic laces have a toggle for tightening so all you need to do is slip on your trainers and pull the toggle. Job done. Off you head for the finish line.
You may feel there are some obvious things missing from our list like wetsuits. British Triathlon rules state that wetsuits are optional for water temperatures at 14*C or above so for most races this really is personal preference. The benefits of wetsuits are extra warmth and buoyancy in the water which does have an impact on your body's position in the water and therefore your stroke. If you have recently purchased a wetsuit then we recommend getting out there and getting plenty of practice in it as yo
u will feel the difference, particularly around the shoulders where wetsuits can restrict the movement here. If you're deciding to go wetsuit free for your first triathlon you should also be getting into the open water to practice, particularly the kit change as on cooler days, your core temperature will take a while to warm up on the bike afterwards so knowing if you need to throw on an extra layer before you mount the bike is very important.