Triathlon on a shoestring

How to train and compete in triathlons when you cannot afford it?

Krishna Rao
Feb 14, 2020 · 7 min read
Source: Giphy

Want to do triathlons but cannot afford the gear for even one sport, let alone all the three- swimming, bicycling, and running? Want to compete in races but are repelled by their huge registration costs? Here are some tips on how to do triathlons without burning a hole in your pocket.

Triathlons can be outrageously expensive sport. As the sport combines three individual sports together- swimming, bicycling, and running, if one wishes to, they can easily spend >$2000 just to get started. The rising cost of triathlon gear and race registration fees has even contributed to the declining popularity of the sport- we just don’t want to shell out that kind of money on a hobby.

However, for the last 4 years, the exorbitant cost has not stopped me from finding cheap ways to stay active as a triathlete. Although all new gear is expensive, and registration for most races is forbiddingly high too, if you know what to look for, and know where to race, the expenses can be significantly lower. I will breakdown the money-saving tips based on the individual sports, but will follow three general principles:

  1. Avoid buying gear

But first, let’s look at the most common mistake one does while getting into triathlons- going all-out on purchases.

Avoiding buyer’s remorse

Photo by Jannes Jacobs on Unsplash

We’ve all been there. We see something behind a glass wall at a shop and make an impulsive decision to buy it, only to be filled with guilt and remorse a few days later when we realize that we don’t need it. Similarly, we make promises to ourselves on New year’s to lead an active lifestyle and perhaps try out triathlons but make the mistake of buying everything. A few months later, we lose interest in the sport, and stare at all the fancy gear piled up in our homes.

The best way to avoid buyer’s remorse is to do a triathlon without buying anything. The only way to know if you really love triathlons is to do one. And the only way to avoid buyer’s remorse is to use what you already have, or borrow from your friends — even if the equipment is non-ideal. Have a commuter bicycle? Use it! Have tennis shoes that you jog in? Use it! Have a surfing wetsuit? Use it!

By not spending a dime on gear, your focus shifts from the gear of the sport to the sport itself

Once you do a few triathlons and realize that you really like the sport, you may consider buying some gear. Even then, buying gear slowly over a period of years, rather than buying everything at once can help minimize buyer’s remorse. But while buying gear, it is useful to know what to buy new, and what to buy used.

Buy new or buy used?

Used equipment in perfectly good condition can cost as low as 50%. Expensive equipment like road or triathlon bicycles are commonly bought used by veterans and beginners alike. However, let that not spur you to buy everything used. Some gear like running shoes are best if bought new because of short lifespan.

Below is a list of things that I bought (both new and used) over a period of 2 years when I was getting into triathlons. I am still an amateur in the sport and hence don’t find the need to buy fancy gear; Basic gear that gets the job done is good enough for me. With that, let’s take a look at tips to save money on each of the sports.

Save money on swimming

Swimming with my team at Lake Berryessa, California

Swimming in triathlons can be cheap-to-moderately expensive. If you live in a cold place where wetsuits are required, look for used ones on buyer-seller forums. I find that Craigslist is great for this purpose. Ebay, and facebook groups like Tri ‘n Sell It are good options too. If you live in a warm place, then the expenses are nil. Chances are you already have a swimsuit and goggles- the only things you require for the swim portion of the race.

How to increase longevity of swim gear?

  1. Take care of your wet-suit by rinsing it with cold water. Do NOT toss it in the washing machine or dryer. The sharp metal edges can tear your suit.

Save money on bicycling

Getting out of campus on a long ride

When it comes to expensive gear, bicycling takes the podium. Even a basic road bicycle can cost ~$500, so used bicycles are definitely the way to go. You can read up on common things to inspect before buying a used bicycle. This is even more important while considering carbon frame bicycles, as any damage to the frame can be a deal breaker. I bought my bicycle from Craigslist but other popular services include Bicycle Blue Book in USA and OLX in India.

If you are thinking of getting bicycle shoes and cleats (only after trying out triathlons for sufficiently long), you can consider buying used bicycle shoes and compatible pedals. Since cleats wear out relatively quickly, I bought them new (the cheapest, unbranded version on Amazon).

How to increase longevity of bicycling gear?

  1. Ride responsibly and avoid crashes

Save money on running

One of the first long runs I had done- Go Heritage Run, Ooty, India. Used whatever shoes and watch I had.

While I am a big fan of used gear, running shoes are one exception for which I haven’t been able to find a compromise. Running shoes have a pretty limited life (500–800 Kms) and it is very difficult to tell the mileage on a shoe just by looking at it. Hence, I always buy my running shoes new. To save money, I buy a few versions older (but still new) and rely exclusively on Ebay.

How to increase longevity of running gear?

  1. Try to avoid paved roads. Run on trials to increase life of shoes.

Save money on races

Racing at my favorite triathlon — The March Triathlon Series at San Luis Obispo, California

Even if you avoid buying any gear (as you should for the first couple of races), race registration alone can easily set you back by a few hundred dollars! The trick is to avoid popular races in the cities and look for little-known races. Lists of cheap, beginner-friendly races can be found here for USA, Europe, and India.

If you want to take it a step further and avoid spending any money on races, then why not do one on your own? No, really? Just last summer, my teammates organized a half-ironman by ourselves. Some friends kindly volunteered to man water stations and look after our belongings at transition zones, and that’s all we needed! If you are the kind of person who is not motivated unless they commit to something by paying for it, you can look for alternate ways to achieve the same! Give some money to your friend and tell them not to return it unless you do a triathlon by a pre-decided date.


Triathlons can be as expensive as you want them to be. If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s to not buy anything for your first triathlon. It brings back the focus on your body, rather than your gear. With these tips, I hope there is one less barrier for you to enter or continue to be part of the sport I love! What other tips and tricks do you follow to do triathlon on a shoestring? Let me know below.

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