Thinking of doing a triathlon but overwhelmed with how much you have to spend just to get started? You are not alone. I myself was blown away by how much a triathlete is expected to spend on basic gadgets.
It is true that triathlon is an expensive sport, and especially true for competitive athletes. It is also thought that the associated cost of racing triathlons is the main entry barrier to the sport.
I even wrote an article that highlights the Top 22 triathlon hidden expenses and how to Save 9,000 USD on them! where I present how one could easily slip into spending 12,000 USD on triathlons without even noticing. But hey! this does not have to be the case.
After completing dozens of triathlons myself of all magnitudes and difficulties, ranging from simple local races to ironmans and extreme triathlons, I was able to compile these basic tips and tricks on how to do your first few triathlons for no money.
On a side note, do not waste your money on useless gear purchases and check out my Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budgeting Gear
You may also want to go through the list I compiled titled Top 47 Tips For A Triathlete on a Budget: How to afford triathlons?
Sign up in a race
This may seem an obvious step, but signing up in a triathlon could be pricy. An ironman branded triathlon for example is priced at 700 to 900 USD. The 70.3 distance (i.e half Ironman) is between 350 and 500 USD.
One way of avoiding this cost is by not signing up in the first place.
Do a triathlon by yourself. After all, all you will have to do is swim then bike and run. I do this myself almost every week. You can also ask your friends around you if they would like to join you to fill in the void of the social experience.
As for where to do it, it will depend on where you live. If you have access to a beach adjacent to a cycling-friendly pavement, then that is all you need. Otherwise, just go to a gym where you can swim in a pool, cycle on a stationary bike, and run on the treadmill (Tested it myself. not so much fun, but works).
However, if you still want to have the full experience of the race environment, competition, and the audience around the event, then look for a local triathlon. These can be set for as low as 30 USD.
– Choice of distance
Triathlon comes with a wide range of distances. Pick one based on the confidence of your personal fitness. Here are the distances,
- Super sprint : 400m (swim)/ 10km (bike)/ 2.5km (run)
- Sprint : 750m (swim), 20km (bike), 5km (run)
- Standard (Olympic) : 1500m (swim), 40km (bike), 10km (run)
- 70.3Ironman/ ITU-Maxi: 1.9km (swim), 90km (bike), 21km (run)
- Full Ironman : 3.8km (swim), 180km (bike), 42km (run)
As a first-timer, I would recommend starting with a Super sprint, and then climb your way to longer distances as you build up your confidence.
Gadgets and Equipment’s
Triathlon-specific gadgets and equipment are quite expensive, but who said you “Need” triathlon-specific equipment to finish a triathlon. Check out List of Triathlon Gear You Do Not Need; & What’s Actually Required!
- Borrow: Ask around. Ask your friends, family, and the local clubs. Maybe post a request on your local triathlon club Facebook page.
- Repurpose: As I will explain later, any bike you can put your hand on that has a saddle and paddles will work.
- Rent: While this is not a free option, but it’s certainly much cheaper than buying a new gadget.
– Triathlon Sports Watch – Time yourself
A triathlon GPS watch costs anything between 200 and 700 as I have addressed in a previous article titled How much does a triathlon watch cost?
Well, while it would be nice to have all these fancy features on your wrist, really all you need out of it is what is the distance you covered and how long it took you.
You will only have to measure the distance, possibly by use google maps, then you can do the math yourself to calculate what was your average pace/speed.
And if you do not have a digital watch, then just use your phone.
– Swim Leg
Any wear is your swimwear. I did my first race wearing a red surfing/dragging shot. I did not know this at the time it is true that these shorts slow you down. However, you can think of it as a good workout.
The downside of not using a tri-suit is that you will likely have to change clothes at the transition. But if this is your first triathlon, then why the rush. Take your time and enjoy the experience. Understand that you are not trying to win against anyone but yourself. The main objective is to get yourself to the finish.
You will probably have some lying around. If not, then try to borrow one. If could not find any, then you will have two options.
One, swim without google if you can. I can do it myself but would not recommend it for beginners.
And two, buy a cheap one for maybe 10 USD. Check out my personal swimming google recommendation listed on my Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budgeting Gear
– Bike Leg
The bike is the most expensive item in triathlons. A new tri-bike that will do you well will range from 2,000 USD to any number you can think of! ( in tens of thousands).
If you own any of these bikes, then you are sorted out. But if you do not, then again “Borrow”. Still having an issue figuring this part out, maybe you want to use the gym’s stationary bike instead. Worst case scenario, ask your local bike shop to lease you one for few hours.
In the above photo is a friend who did race 90km bike Race (ITU– MAXI distance) triathlon on a folding bike. This is his photo with his Brompton folding bike after finishing the race.
No one said that you should get a cycling shoe. While it is a helpful piece of equipment, but if you are not competing for the podium, then it will not add much to you.
This is one item you can not compromise on. You will not be even allowed to race without a proper helmet.
Again, apply the 3 Magic words rule. Borrow, repurpose or rent. Even if you had to use your daughter’s pink helmet if it fits then it works.
– Run Leg
This one is straightforward. I am sure you have pair of shoes. And if you don’t, consider pair foot running. Apparently, it’s a thing (source). Surprisingly, barefoot running has some good benefits such as,
- Escalation of calf muscle pre-activation.
- better pushing and braking impulses
- Elevated stride frequency
- Fewer contact time
- Fewer collision force
- Enhanced running economy
However, can you use your girl/guy Running shoe? Check out Can Men Wear Women Running and Cycling Shoes and Vice Versa? How Are They Different
You will need to pump in those calories, but the typical triathlon gel is pricy. Here is an article I wrote about How much to spend on triathlon energy gel?
So the bottom line here is that you do not need a fancy energy gel. You can get your energy boost from a chocolate bar, banana, dates, or gummy bears. Check out Are Ready-made Energy gels better than their natural substitutes? Honey, Maple-Syrup, Dates…
Hydration / Electrolyte
Sports electrolytes are also pricy, but there are substitutes. I personally prefer cola over dedicated sports drinks.
Get a free training plan. But even that is not so necessary. Honestly, I have never seen one that is simple to understand or to follow.
My personal basic guidance is to do the following,
- Swim, bike, and run every week, possibly one long session for every discipline on separate days. The word long will depend on your personal fitness level and what triathlon racing distance are you aiming at
- Do at least one brick exercise every week. This is when one moves rapidly from the bike to the run transition.
- Gradually increase the intensity of the training until two to three months from the race day, then slightly reducie it until race day to allow your body to recover.
If you know how to swim, ride a bike, and run then you do not need a coach to do a triathlon.
But if you still feel the need for some guidance, then join your local triathlon, cycling, swimming, and running clubs. They are often free to join and the people there are very helpful.
Hidden costs are the trickiest. If you are just getting into triathlon and would like to know how much for real advanced level of triathlon will cost you, then check this article which will help you manage your budget and avoid, or at least be aware of triathlon hidden costs, Top 22 triathlon hidden expenses and how to Save 9,000 USD on them!
Even though many of the tips in this article will not probably apply to you, I still think it would be helpful for you to go over them.
Moving to the next level
Once you have tested the water a few times and got a taste of triathlons, the chances that you will get hooked are quite decent.
At this point, it is easy to slip into the habit of triathlon overspending.
I have seen this over and over again so I made “Triathlonbugeting” (this website) to guide athletes away from this pitfall. If you get to that point then make sure to check out my post on 21 Must-Know Triathlon Gear FAQs; Answered By Triathletes
Here is a helpful article that I wrote that addresses a lot of beginner triathlete concerns and lists several tips which I wish knew when I first started doing triathlons, 50 must-know tips for every beginner triathlete.