To Leave the Nest


A Reader Asks: How to Get Started with Triathlon on a Budget

I received an email from a reader who asks…

“Hey, a friend of mine just finished a triathlon yesterday. I was looking at her pix and thinking I could never afford to do a triathlon, because there’s so much stuff you have to have. But maybe I’m wrong? Maybe you should write a post about triathlon gear?”

Again, let me preface by saying, “I am not a triathlon expert” but I will certainly lay out the steps I took to reach my goal of becoming a triathlete!


First investment: the Commitment

In the fall of 2007, I was dating a superstar triathlete. I actually remember saying to him, “Have fun with that!”

I went to cheer him on in an Olympic distance triathlon (nearly 1 mi swim, 24 mi bike, 6 mi run). As I stood at the finish line, I was in awe at the sizes, shapes and fitness levels of all who were competing. After the event, I said something about wanting to try a tri but couldn’t see how I could afford the gear or time as a single mother. He stopped me in his tracks and said,

“If it means something to you, you’ll make it happen.”

That was the initiative I used to push myself. That and I told everyone I would do it so everyone else would hold me accountable too. I give others the same advice when I’m asked about it. It CAN BE DONE but it takes committing to the goal.

Now for the gear…



Once I decided I wanted to become an athlete, a friend contacted me about a long distance bike ride. I told him I would agree to it (150 miles!) if he could find me a bike.

Within minutes, I had an email from him with a Craigslist ad for a bike. Fortunately, my bike was sold to me by someone who worked at a bike shop so he knew exactly how to fit it to me. I had already done research on what measurements would fit my body. My mom actually bought it for me as a Christmas present!

Love my bike!

For more information on bike selection, see my post here: Buying a Road Bike

For shorter distance triathlons, I’ve seen people riding mountain bikes as well. If you’re planning on longer distances or doing many triathlons in a season, it would be worth the investment to buy a newer, lighter triathlon bike.

Again for shorter distance triathlons, many people ride their bikes with regular running shoes. I chose to purchase cycling clip-in shoes since I was planning on longer bike touring. They were quite a challenge to get used to but I think they are worth the investment! I also own a few pair of cycling shorts as well. Definitely worth it to save on saddle soreness. And remember a helmet too!

The biking portion of the triathlon is probably your largest investment.


Running shoes

Running shoes are not cheap, I’ll give you that. I do recommend that you go to a running shoe store (like Run On!) and have someone observe your gait so you’ll know what shoes would serve you better.

Old or ill fitting running shoes will cause all matter of issues like blisters, sore ankles, sore knees, sore joints, sore feet… you get the point. Selecting a shoe can become quite technical but it will pay off in the long run (pun intended!)

Now that you know what type and brand of shoe would work for you, go to Academy or other sports stores to see if you can find the same shoe at a lower price. I know many running friends who do this.

I personally bought my shoes at a running store but I knew they’d last me a while because I don’t run long distances. 3 miles is long enough for me!

I love Nike and New Balance to help me disco through a tri!


Swim gear

For my swim suit, I bought Speedo one piece training suit at a sports store. I train only in this suit and wear a triathlon body suit for competitions.

I actually bought my triathlon competition outfit during an online sale. It is a top and bottom so sometimes I alternate cycling shorts with the triathlon top. This was a great investment for me because I wear the entire outfit during the swim, bike and run portions of the triathlon. It saves on transition time, for sure!

A new triathlete should also find some swim goggles and a swim cap for training as well. You’ll use your goggles during the tri but you will be issued a swim cap for your starting wave during the event.

When I did my first triathlon, I swam in a sports bra and cycling shorts then threw on a t-shirt for the rest of the race. I’ve seen many women do this as well. Hey, you have to start somewhere!


There is A LOT more gear that can be acquired as a new triathlete becomes addicted to the sport. This post really covers the bare minimum and a few extras to get you started.

If I really look back at it, I actually bought all of my gear over the course of a few years so the investment wasn’t all at once.

Let’s add it up!

Used Bike: $500 (you could find one less expensive!)
Cycling shorts: $40 – $70
Helmet: $20 – $30
Cycling shoes (optional): $70 – $100
Running shoes: $50 – $90
Swimsuit: $40
Goggles: $10 – $20
Swim cap: $5 – $10
My minimal investment: approximately $735 +

I’m sure I’ve spent more in the few years I’ve been running, swimming and cycling because I can’t resist all the great gadgets! Another great perk to participating in athletic events is that you get new gear in your race packets!

If I had a dollar for every water bottle…

Also remember that none of what I covered in this post included the cost of the event registration itself. This is yet another reason I only do a few triathlons a year. Check for events near you and for more new-to-triathlon information.

Once you make a commitment to tri, look online for great deals. Then slowly, over time, you’ll have a special place in your closet for all your triathlon gear too!

Have fun!


Categories:   a reader asks, cycling, fitness, fun, triathlon