The number one question asked by anyone looking at their first triathlon. As usual, there can be several different ways to answer this question depending on skill level, budgets, current equipment owned, etc, etc…. For simplicity purposes let’s assume a couple things here:
First, since we are talking about someone new to the sport, let’s assume we are talking about a Sprint Triathlon or something equivalent. Meaning we are talking about relatively short distances, and believe me I do mean relatively, because I certainly remember thinking how far a half mile swim, an eighteen mile bike and a 5k run seemed at one time. But as it relates to a full Ironman, we will call it short.
Second, budget is a concern. I assume this because you certainly do not want to go and outfit yourself with top of the line equipment; believe me it can get out of hand, only to find out this sport is not exactly for you. (Which we won’t let happen) And in today’s environment whose budget is not a concern?
Go ahead and drop $20 to $30 on a decent pair of goggles. Do not try to go real cheap here with the $9.99 specials at the local big box. Been there done that, it is nothing but a hassle and they are guaranteed to leak at some point. I have had the best luck with a good pair of rubber sealed goggles located at most sports stores.
Swimming attire comes down to a couple of choices. I would suggest setting your sights on a race in a warm enough climate or a time of year that a wetsuit will not be necessary. If you do go the wetsuit route then this will be an expense. Certainly look to borrow or go used if possible, just make sure it is a triathlon wetsuit and practice up on getting out of the suit in a timely fashion and have your bike shorts or attire on underneath for a smooth transition.
If you already own biking shorts with a built in pad then great, swim in them. Yes, you will be wearing spandex in front of other people, get over it. We are all in this together and nobody is judging you on race day, they have other concerns. If you do not own biking shorts then you can certainly swim and complete the race in running shorts. Make sure they are light and comfortable. Gals, a one or two piece T-back will do the trick. Just make sure of comfort and no straps to worry about during the race.
Basically, whatever bike you have in the garage or can borrow. This can certainly blow a budget when you start looking into this portion of tri gear. Worry about this after a race or two, for now let’s just complete this event. Mountain bikes, road bikes, standard ten speeds are all acceptable in these races.
Make sure you at least have “cage pedals” on any bike you choose. Clipless pedals are preferred but will set you back a couple hundred after you buy the special shoes. It is important to make sure you have the cages even during your tri training. This can be a lifesaver when you learn the importance of both legs working together on the bike. Push-pull, push-pull, but that is a whole book in itself.
Bike helmets are a must and you will not be allowed on the course without one. If you have one, great, if you can borrow, great, if not they are reasonably priced at the local stores. $25 to $35 will get you a decent helmet for this level.
You will also learn quickly the importance of padded bike shorts or a gel pad seat so go ahead and address this issue before you get to far into training.
Don’t skimp on the shoes. Sorry, you just have to break down and spend a little here. Go get fitted properly by someone who can judge by height, weight, foot arch and running form if possible. This will pay huge dividends during your training and on race day.
As far as attire, whatever is comfortable. Ideally, you should still be wearing the shorts (spandex or equivalent) you wore to start the race. Many people will throw some lightweight running shorts over their bike/swimming attire during the first transition. Certainly up to you, just keep comfort as the primary concern. We will worry about speed in future races.
This covers your three primary areas of concern. We will cover the smaller items and transition areas later. This is enough to let you know there are no excuses for not having the right equipment. I have seen these races completed with and on just about anything. It is about making the decision to get up and do something that will have a lasting impact on your life. No excuses.