Fitness is fucking expensive!

I’m doing triathlons again this summer, for the first time in 6yrs. (A torn ACL and two startup exits have ruled out the time needed to train properly since then).

Riding the subway this morning, I tapped out a list of stuff I need on race day. I want to make sure I’ve got everything I need — for swim, bike and run — before the first race in mid-May. Here’s the list:

Triathlon race day stuff

  • Race bag
  • Wetsuit
  • Body glide
  • Swim cap
  • Goggles
  • Towel
  • Tri shorts
  • Tri top
  • Socks
  • Race belt
  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Bike shoes
  • Bike Box*
  • Pump
  • Running cap
  • Running shoes
  • Sun block
  • 6 x Gu gels
  • 2 x Water bottles
  • 2 x Electrolyte tablets

It’s a lot of stuff!

And then I started to add up the cost…

Let’s assume you were doing a race for the first time and had to buy everything. I’m guessing prices here, but it’s something like:

  • Race bag: $20 gym bag is fine. You’ll get really fleeced if you start buying “specifically designed for triathlons!” stuff like this.
  • Wetsuit: assume $250-$400 for an entry- to mid-level swim suit. No one needs to drop $800 on a top of the line wetsuit (tho plenty of people do!). But you need something decent. Note: this is not the wetsuit you might wear surfing. Swim-specific wetsuits are thinner (and thinner still around your armpits — so you can swim freely in it while staying warm).
  • Body glide: $5. If you don’t have this, good luck getting your wetsuit off in a hurry during transition! I guess you could also use Vaseline.
  • Swim cap: $5. You’ll have a race day cap (the organizers tend to do colored caps per age group) but I always double cap. It’s cold in open water!
  • Goggles: $30. You get what you pay for. Don’t cheap out here. Get a nice pair of Acquaspheres, with dark tint for outdoor swimming.
  • Towel: call it $10. I always like to lay out my biking equipment on the towel. As you strip off the wetsuit in transition and grab your helmet and glasses, you can then multi task and dry your feet at the same time. Every second counts!
  • Tri shorts: $70. Like cycling shorts but thinner. You are wearing these under your wetsuit while you swim, so you don’t want the big padding that’s in normal cycling shorts (it’ll get wet and you’ll feel like a baby with a full diaper for the rest of race).
  • Tri top: $70. Again, you’ll be wearing this under your wetsuit from the start. So you can’t use that baggy T you wear to the gym. It’s Lycra all the way here, baby! (Plus you need something with pockets to hold nutrition — see below).
  • Socks: $10. Pros put bare feet in their cycling and running shoes (it saves time not putting on socks in transition!) but I’d rather add 5 seconds and be comfortable.
  • Race belt: $10. Most people pin their number to their top. But that makes it a pain-in-the-arse to put your wetsuit over. So I pin my number to a race belt and just clip that on when I grab the bike.
  • Bike: $2,000. Many books have been written on choosing the right bike. No room for that here. Let’s just assume you want a carbon frame, decent components, and don’t want to be ripped off. That’ll be two grand, sir! (And make sure you’ve got a little bag tucked under the seat with a spare inner tube, just in case you get a flat mid-race).
  • Bike box: $500. I need the bike box because one of my races is back home in England and I’m flying my bike there like luggage. Think of this as a suitcase for your bike.
  • Helmet: $150. Obvious. You’re a fucking idiot if you ride a bike and don’t wear a helmet. Most races will make this mandatory anyway.
  • Sunglasses: $75. Your poser Prada’s for the beach won’t cut it on race day. You probably want polarized lenses from a sports brand like Oakley, so you can see what you’re doing as the sun is rising in your face (most races start very early morning. Assume you will get blinded by the sun at least once) and the glasses stay on while you’re cranking on the bike.
  • Bike shoes: $250. These range a lot in price. ‘Normal’ cycling shoes are fine, but you can also buy triathlon-specific shoes, with “fast exit strapping” and stuff. Honestly, we’re talking fractions of a second difference here — which is irrelevant to most people. Just wear a cycling shoe that is comfortable. (For first timers… make sure you wear a cycling shoe, not sneakers. The peddle stroke is down and up. If you wear sneakers, you’ll only be able to peddle down — and you’ll put out half the wattage of everyone else in the race. In order to peddle up, you need cleats on your shoes that fit into the appropriate peddles.).
  • Pump: $100. Triathlons are hard. A slightly flat tire makes it harder. You should pump up to 120psi right before the race. That means taking a pump into the transition area.
  • Running cap: $15. Personal preference. I like running in one.
  • Running shoes: $120. Again, there’s a whole line of triathlon-specific shoes you can buy here (lighter weight, elastic laces so you can slip them on quickly, etc, etc). I just wear ‘normal’ running shoes. But, whatever you choose, a decent pair of running shoes is going to set you back a hundred bucks at least.
  • Sun block: $10. Hey, guess what, you’re outside for a couple of hours. Slap it on (or go red).
  • 6 x Gu gels: $10. Most people think of triathlon as three disciplines — swim, bike, run — but really it’s five. You should add “transition” and “nutrition” to your training schedule. First-time triathletes can often spend an eternity in transition because they’ve not developed a technique for getting out of their wetsuit quickly, or practiced doing it. That crushes your overall time. Likewise, a bunch of racers “bonk” (aka feel like shit and want to stop and throw up) mid-race because they’re not taking on enough nutrition while cycling and running. Figuring out what you like, and how frequently you need it, takes some tinkering with — so you need to practice that in training too. It’s not hard — for me, it’s just a Gu gel every 45 mins. But if I don’t have that, I really struggle.
  • 2 x Water bottles: $20. Like the Gu, you’ll also need to drink while racing.
  • 2 x Electrolyte tablets: $2. Gatorade is full of crap. Don’t drink it. Pop an electrolyte tablet into water instead.

So… now you’re ready to race. And you’ve just dropped $3,782 for the privilege! You haven’t even paid your race fees, or the US Triathlon membership fees yet. So let’s call it a nice round 4 grand.

Bloody hell!

It’s all a bit different from football down the park with your mates — and “jumpers for goalposts” — which is how we keep fit when we were kids.

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