My First Tri: What in the &#^! Do I Wear?

Starting out, the biggest triathlon clothing mystery is Race Day Clothing (insert scary music here!). What in the world do you wear on race day?

Here’s THE secret:
Find ONE thing to wear. Put it on before the swim.

Swim. Bike. Run.

Then take it off when you get home.

(Are you confused yet?)

Also, horrible. I know I am not helping things here.

Okay, It’s Not THAT Bad.

In a race you want to wear what is called a triathlon suit or a triathlon kit (a top/bottom combo) designed to be worn in the swim, the bike and finally the run.  In other words, you do not take it off!

Magic!

With the exception of the wetsuit (if needed), you need not put on any other piece of clothing. This also means that you need not take any clothing off. You wear your wetsuit (if needed) on top of your triathlon suit/kit. After the swim, you strip off the wetsuit, put on your helmet and cycling shoes and are ready to go.  You are wearing your triathlon suit/kit underneath. You should never (ever) show your goodies in transition area. Ever. Ever.

A triathlon suit/kit is typically made of a moisture wicking material and has a pad in the short for cycling. The  pad is thin, unlike the thick chamois pad for cycling, so you will want to spend some time on your bike wearing it ahead of time in order to get the Queen accustomed to less padding.

(The Queen is the SBM term for your lady parts!)

The thin pad in the tri short allows the Queen’s Castle to dry much more quickly and not take on water like a diaper.

When you finish your swim, you will be soaking wet, this is true. But within a few minutes on the bike, you will find yourself dry. By the time you get to the run, you will not be thinking about your wet hair. This is the true beauty of the triathlon suit/kit. You will start out hating it, but eventually, you will love it.

Watch a video of the Ironman World Championships on YouTube and you’ll get the idea of what people are wearing. Now. Those people are particularly fit and wearing very tiny outfits, but the idea is the same.

A challenge is finding triathlon clothing that you love. I have found that people will go through two or three suits/kits until they find “the” one they love.

I’ve been through about… 6,000.  Oh, 6001, I mean.

An even bigger challenge arises if you are a size 12 or larger. For these sizes, I recommend starting with Aero Tech Designs online. They sell a wide range of plus cycling and triathlon clothing. Louis Garneau also makes triathlon clothing up to a XXL women’s (available on Amazon.com).  Additionally, you may want to cross over into men’s tri wear (check out All3Sports.com). I have found the menswear provides greater coverage and more flexibility. I can barely ever squeeze into traditional women’s tri clothing, but I often find that an XL or 2XL men’s suit will do the trick, and really looks just fine.

What if you cannot find anything to fit you (or that you would want to wear in public)? First of all, remember the Slow Fat Triathlete wisdom: do not care about what you look like when you are moving. Worrying about how you look will undermine your goal. That being said, I understand.

You may think, I cannot wear this horrible looking triathlon suit. But you better do it, because if you are wearing something different, you will stand out much more than you would have imagined.

Triathlon Suit: One Piece

Many manufacturers make a one piece triathlon suit. It’s typically a one-piece zip in the front or the rear number that fits like a swimsuit with shorts. A tri suit will include a thin chamois pad. I like the one-piece suits because you do not have to worry about the top riding up and showing your belly. I also find that the one piece compression suits “hold in” some of my jiggles.

The biggest negative I see about a one piece suit is the difficulty to get in and out of for bathroom purposes. But once you learn how to pee on the move, you don’t have to worry about that. Yes, I’m sorry, it’s true.  My favorite suit ever (which is featured on the cover of this book) is a one-piece and was purchased from Aerotech Designs online.

Noooo! Toooooo sexy!!

One piece suit from Aerotech Designs

Triathlon Suit: Two Piece

Two pieces suits are the most common deal on a race course.  If they are matchy and have team logos, they are often called “triathlon kits”. The kits are common on the thin triathletes who have no issues with fat rolls and sausage legs.  I have found very few two piece suits that work for me. I always have to wear men’s size (one piece or two), and the two pieces tend to fit weird on me.

That being said, you can go to the bathroom much easier and mix tops and bottoms, which is nice. The question of one-piece or two-piece is simply a matter of personal preference.  (I do not love the Aero Tech two piece suit as much as I love the one piece.)

Oooooooh! Even SEXIER!!

Two Piece.

Okay, so none of it is wonderful….

Do It Yourself Triathlon Clothing

Say you have fitted wicking racer-back tank that you love and want to wear in the race. If you have this top, you can always purchase a separate short to wear and Voila! You will have a self-made suit of sorts.A good bottom choice up to XXL is Danskin’s Tri Short.  

Keep in mind, however, that you will want to buy a triathlon short, not a cycling short. The cycling short will hold too much water during the swim (think: swim diaper). The triathlon short has a thin pad, made to wear during the entire race: swim, bike and run. It will not hold water and will dry quickly.

What Do I Wear …Under?

I wear a sports bra under my tri suit/kit. I can’t imagine not wearing a uniboob holder, but that is a personal option. If your Girls are small and your suit has a built-in bra, then you may be good to go. Keep in mind, that while we do not care about what we look like while tri-ing, that you are racing in what is essentially a wet t-shirt contest – if you are wearing white, you might be giving a show. Again, we don’t technically care what we look like. But open boobness may be something to consider.

On race day, do not wear underwear. Your underwear will not dry and you will end up with saddles sores on the Queen. Be nice to the Queen.

Triathlon Clothing Do’s and Don’ts

Wear your sports bra under your top during the swim if you have boobies bigger than a table top. Some tops may have built in sports bras, but seriously, unless you are a size 0, these can look horrific. Just put on your sports bra and forget about it.

Do not wear a “real” bra anywhere near this race. Certainly do not wear it to the swim start as your triathlon top. (I have seen this, or I would not write about it.)

Do not wear a one-piece swimsuit unless you have a tri short over it and intend to wear it the entire race. This actually can be a decent “do it yourself” tri kit if it’s played well.  If you are super skinny, you can wear a sports bra and a tri short. I applaud you.

Do not change clothes in transition. This is considered a newbie move and you will stand out like a sore thumb.  Find an outfit you can put on at the race start and take off after the finish. One caveat: in the beginning, I would put on a t-shirt over my tri suit to run. I felt more comfortable that way.  In hindsight, I looked ridiculous, but I felt better.  Sometimes you need to take care of your inner scaredy cat in order to finish.

Bear in mind that if you are a size 12-14 or higher, you might be treading into unisex land.  Sometimes the men’s suits are just going to fit better due to sheer sizing issues.

Try and practice in your suit well in advance of your race. Wear it to open water, cycling and running.  Make sure you like the fit because a clothing malfunction or discomfort on race day is a mess.

PlusRunner.com says, “From smallest to largest (Size 16 or XXL to Size 26), search for your apparel from retailers in this order: Zoot, Sugoi and Pearl Izumi; Danskin, Moving Comfort, and New Balance; and Terry Bicycles, Nike, Aerotech Designs and Junonia.”

Caveat:  This post is written with a “first triathlon” in mind.  For what to wear for Ironman and longer distances races, I have what I did on this post.  Others still apply the “one outfit” rule.  But they are typically very fast.

Good places to find triathlon suits of all sizes:
All3Sports.com, TriSports.com, Athleta.com, Amazon.com.  Also, Swim Bike Mom has kits available for pre-order at the beginning of every season that are very size-friendly, and range from XS to 4XL.  Keep your eyes peeled in January of each year.

Good places to find Plus Sizes:
AerotechDesigns.com, TeamEstrogen.com, Amazon.com, Athleta.com (a few pieces), MovingComfort.com, Junonia.com (I like the swim choices, but could shoot the company for the other ugliness).

True to Size
2xU. Pearl Izumi (runs a tad small, but not too terribly much. I find that I can manage a women’s XL). Terry. Louis Garneau.

Tiny, er, Smaller Sizing:
Zoot. Soas. DeSoto. Betty Designs. Sugoi. I can’t even pull Sugoi up over my knees.

Bigger-sized brands (carry suits of all sizes):
Nike, Louis Garneau, Terry, Junonia, New Balance, Moving Comfort, Danskin (you can easily find sizes up to XXL and sometimes 4XL).

*Note, these are just my observations. Meant to help you guys out. If you find anything great or disagree whole-heartedly with me, add it in the comments!

Happy Tri-ing!

Comments

  1. Mary says

    TYR has tri suits, too. I’m a solid 12-14 and their XL ladies tri suit (the low end model) fits great and is comfy. Check their sale page.

  2. Lindsey says

    Man, I needed this last year! I was totally that girl swimming in just a Speedo and STRUGGLING to pull on a sports bras and bike shorts on top in T1. This year, I’ve got the tri shorts (Danskin XL) and the fitted, wicking run top. I originally purchased a woman’s XL tri top, but definitely had the role issues during the first bike/run brick I tried it out on. So makeshift tri kit for my only tri this year it is!

    I just today advised a tri newbie to wear her sports bra under her sw suit and pull her bike shorts (or other shorts) on in T1. Thankfully, the tri we are doing is a sprint designed for beginners and there will be plenty others doing the same. Wish I had thought to do the sports bra under the speedo last year!

  3. Laurel says

    I wouldn’t say “larger than a size 10″ for Pearl Izumi. I’m a solid 10/12 and I wear a M, L or XL in women’s from their store depending on the item and cut. I also regularly buy men’s clothing from their store and like the fit.

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      Thanks for the info. I have never been able to squeeze into any PI suits… but I’m a solid 14/16. :)

  4. says

    This is so great! I’m going to send this to a couple of friends who are just getting started in tris. I was fortunate to be given a tri kit before I ever did a tri, so I had that as a start. I am super small, and now that I am not nursing anymore, I have no boobs. That said, I still have a lot of trouble with zippers on the front of tri kits. I find they chaf like crazy! I did my first tri in a bathing suit+ tri shorts. I have trouble with tops that drag if they are too loose or have too slouchy pockets. Swimming is my weakness, so I avoid anything that makes it worse. Also, if you order anything from zoot, their inseam is measured from the middle of the crotch, not where the leg starts. This is how I ended up with shorts that are pretty much booty shorts, because I didn’t realize the width of the pad was included in the length of the short. Maybe I just don’t know the garment industry, but the 4 in zoot short is TINY!!!!!

  5. Connie says

    this cracked me up!!!! My friends told me about a tri suite so I was thankful. The first time I put it on I about died, it was too small. BUT lost weight before the race and it fit OK.

  6. Katie says

    Great article! I also wish I had this info before my first tri. Question: Are you saying that the picture of you in the blue top is a “Yikes” picture? That is the hottest race picture I have ever seen! Christina Hendricks would have a tough time looking that good getting out of a pool!

  7. says

    I have a TYR tri-suit which I love. I am a 10-12. Its black mostly with white and lavender lines that cut in just the right places so most of my pics look good. That can’t be said for many other pics of me in races, especially getting out of the water!! Why does the photographer have to get that drowned-rat look on all of us?? I actually paid the high cost of one swim professional photo I looked pretty good in, with water splashing around my feet in just the right way, from the Trek Women’s Tri a few years ago here in Austin.

  8. says

    Also, I wear an Enell bra under my tri top. I find it dries relatively quickly and there is NO running without it. I’d give myself black eyes. LOL! I have the Danskin tri shorts and a men’s Orca top. The arm holes are larger, but I have a bra on anyway so I don’t need the women’s shelf bra.
    I also shared this on the Jersey Girl Triathlon page. That is our newbie tri at the Jersey shore. Lots of first timers! Thanks!!

  9. Patti says

    TYB in Decatur, GA (also known as Decatur Bikes) has an awesome staff that will help you get your tri suit. Dave is a great guy and his store is awesome!

  10. says

    I have Zoot tri shorts and a 2XU tri top (new purchase for this year) And I always wear a bra underneath my tri top! My friend has a tri suit and doesn’t wear a bra with it (it doesn’t have a built in bra either) which I think is ridiculous but she is pretty small.
    Best advice is to practice all 3 events in the outfit first! That way you can figure out if it will work and/or where you will need to apply Body Glide or lube to not chaff!

  11. Diane says

    Sports bra for ladies with big girls? I’m assuming for tri purposes and soaking wet chafing worries that not all sports bras work well for this purpose? Do people have favorites?

    • Robyn says

      Like Allyn said, Moving Comfort is the best. I also recommend Title Nine Sports? If you are bigger (12/14) like me, it’s iffy for certain items with sizing, but they have a great sub-shop called BOUNCE. They have something for everyone there. Small, big, bigger! http://bounce.titlenine.com/

  12. Scott says

    Signed up for my first triathlon in about 5 weeks. Need to go to and try some of these items on before then – looking forward to this new challenge.

    I have been running for a couple of years and start riding to help cross-train. The swim will be the difficult part; but it is a shorter distance and will be working on it till the event.

    My concern is also how I will be looking in the gear and everyone judging me, but enjoy hearing your opinion that at least I will be out there doing something.

    I typically wear an XL and size 38-40 waist – I am not the biggest, but definetly not the typcial person out there.

    Going to try a couple of the shorter distances this fall and see how it goes and then may make the big jump next year.

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      Scott.. my husband has had great luck with the All3Sports.com tri-suit in a 3XL. I think it’s a Louis Garneau brand.

  13. says

    I had good luck with a large Pearl Izumi SELECT tri suit (that I got for SUPER CHEAP…$35!!) when I did my tri and I’m most definitely a 12/14 in size.

    Regarding cover-ups: I had a Brooks running skort that didn’t work well as a running skort* as my coverup for the run. Since I had to switch from my bike shoes to running shoes anyway, it was easy to slip it on over my suit and I felt more comfortable running with that rather than just the tri suit on its own.

    ____
    * the liner short didn’t stay in place and I ended up with a bunched-up diaper under the skirt…not to mention some nasty chafing. I run in nothing but Skirt Sports now! :)

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      I’m interested in trying the Pearl Izumi again… now that everyone says they fit 12/14, etc… I had NO luck with that, but I will re-try and give you guys the benefit of my doubting face. :) LOL!

      • says

        Well, it does sound like you really love the Aero Tech suits…so stick with what works! My only requirements when I bought mine was 1) cheap and 2) one piece. It definitely was a pain in the ass to go to the bathroom before the race, but it was great not having to tug down a top constantly.

      • says

        I just got some PI shorts and Jersey (on sale at Amazon). I’m a solid 14/16. The top was fine (I bought from their “Elite” line. I think their “Select” line runs a tad bigger). The shorts were really low rise, but they did fit. I bought the recent jersey and shorts after trying their Tri Jersey offered in their “Select” line (that’s how I know it runs a tad larger than the Elite items). Man, that read confusing. Sorry! Hope you got that! LOL

  14. Lisa says

    Diane, I’d like to know about quick drying sports bras too. I have been relying on the shelf bra in my danskin and garneaus but I think a sports bra is a better option.

  15. says

    What do you suggest for a 70.3? I’m doing my first in September, and really want my real bike shorts for the bike ride, and NEED my compression shorts for the run (sciatic nerve pain, etc). Thinking about wearing my compression shorts under the wetsuit, then pulling the bike shorts over them for the ride, then pulling a running skirt over them for the run. Thoughts?

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      I think all bets are off once you wander into 70.3 and 140.6 land… I think changing clothes (or adding clothes) would be more understandable in a 70.3, and I think it’s common in an IM.

  16. EmJay says

    Thanks for the info and the push. I just ordered a 2 piece tri suit from Aero Tech. I have a sprint tri on the 28th and was not happy with my wardrobe choices at this point. I’ve wasted a lot of money on trying to find the right fit from the local sporting goods stores and it hasn’t really worked. I’m looking forward to getting something that should fit a bit better.

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      I hope it works out with the two piece suit…I am CRAZY about the one piece Aero Tech suit, but not as much the two piece…

  17. stephanie says

    Looking at shorts they come with different inseams. What inseams do you find you like best? I am assuming the longer ones.

  18. says

    I am so grateful for this post! I cannot share enough how much you inspire and motivate me to get up and keep moving forward! I neeeeeeded to know what to wear and was contemplating putting a shirt over the mess I look like in my tri gear :0). Now however I will just tough it out and not pay any attention to what I look like!

  19. says

    So glad you addressed wearing a sports bra under your top for the swim portion! It’s one of the things I’ve been wondering about…sounds uncomfortable for the swim but I guess I’ll have to give it a try.

    I’m a new reader and hoping to start training for a tri, your blog and e-book have been so helpful! So glad I found it!

    • Ann says

      As for the 70.3 question, I have never seen a changing tent. Although at 140.6′s there are. If you wear your tri kit shorts on your training ride, that might help. Also, maybe your bike fit should be checked if you are having to depend on the larger chamois.

  20. Shannon Truax says

    Okay, so let’s say you don’t have a tri-suit and you wear your one peice swimsuit….can you just slip on your regular cycling shorts over it and jump on the bike? Will the wetness from the swimsuit be too much moisture and turn the chamois into a diaper? What about drying off a little first with a towel…rookie move?

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      I have seen people do this. I always feel weird seeing a person in a one-piece swimsuit at the swim start… maybe it’s more common… but I just like the shorts on, at all times. Plus, putting on bike shorts is very tough wet. I do think it’s a little “rookie”.. but at the same time, I see pros wearing nothing BUT a swimsuit style the ENTIRE race, so…. if you are comfortable with the swimsuit and that works best for you – you do what is best for you.

  21. carie vercelli says

    i do not own a tri-suit and know not to wear my bike shorts, is it nightmarish to bike without padding for a race? I not looking too forward to that! They should invent a pad you can just velcro into your shorts just for the bike portion! haha

  22. says

    I know this is an older post, and I am male, but I love it. I am getting ready to do my first triathlon soon and I am still big (come down from 365 two years ago to 300) and found it difficult to find clothing to fit. When I tried a tri top it was tight but breathable. Mostly my inner insecurity over the thing not functioning. So in a few weeks off to my first race with a top that is the farthest thing from flattering to my remaining belly. Thank you for your post…

    • says

      I absolutely am not thin… (205 pounds) and I started TRI-ING at 235 pounds. There are options out there. Check out Junonia and Aerotech Designs and also Terry and Team Estrogen—-all with Plus options. If you are larger than 235 or 250 pounds, then cross over to the men’s clothing—I STILL wear many male options… they have up to 4XL in some designs. OR, as the post includes above: You can always “Do It Yourself Triathlon Clothing”—-
      Say you have fitted wicking racer-back tank that you love and want to wear in the race (this can be any size from any designer!!!) If you have this top, you can always purchase a separate short to wear and Voila! You will have a self-made suit of sorts.A good bottom choice up to XXL is Danskin’s Tri Short.
      Keep in mind, however, that you will want to buy a triathlon short, not a cycling short. The cycling short will hold too much water during the swim (think: swim diaper). The triathlon short has a thin pad, made to wear during the entire race: swim, bike and run. It will not hold water and will dry quickly.

      • says

        Wow! I started tri-ing at 218, and I’m down a little from that. I’ve had a tough go and I’ve not toughened up myself. I look forward to following your blog!

  23. says

    Thank you for the advice! I have been wondering how the heck I’d find out this information. It’s the things we don’t think about prior to the race that we SHOULD think about.

  24. says

    NICE JOB!
    Hey, we have very similar body types, so reading this is awesome and seeing your photographs and you happy–even better!!!
    I would definitely add: DO NOT BUY MEN’S TRI CLOTHING!! Why?
    1. their butts are shaped differently–the shorts will only come up to (barely) your butt crack
    2. they don’t have boobs (although some skinny triathletes really don’t either), so when you put on the tritop the boobs push out the top of the shirt so it acts as a CATCH ALL in the water–too much open fabric at the neck will slow you down
    3. they generally have far longer torsos, so either you tuck in the tri top, or you pull it down to your quads, then watch it roll back up to your belly button. It just looks stupid.

    #3 is all I happen to have right now. I keep missing the danskin sales.

  25. Louise says

    OMG thank you for this site – I’m in the UK and was panicking that I hadn’t thought through an impulse entry to a tri because weight-gain = two tri suits that no longer fit (and never looked that great in the first place).

    Just ordered a new suit off the Aero tech website – Thank you! :)

  26. hannah says

    this is exactly what i needed to read before my race . Thank you so much for writing this. it was really encouraging!!!

  27. Jayme Downey says

    THANK YOU for this post! I am a very overweight woman and Ive ALWAYS wanted to try a Sprint Tri. I feel like the challenge will consume me and the comradery will inspire. That being said, Im a true BIG girl… 250 lbs… and have allowed shame and embarrassment to rule my life because Ive just let myself go. The thought of going to the gym to swim with all these fabulously healthy beautiful people is overwhelming. I have cottage cheese on top of my cottage cheese, know what I mean? Your post was a hilarious reminder not to give a flip of what other people think, and get back to feeling better about what I think. Ive had a tough time figuring out what to wear, and all this info in one place is a dream. I dont own a bike yet, and would be interested in your thoughts on a good starter bike… Hybrid? Straight to a road bike? I am a new fan of yours and cant wait to read through your past posts! THANK YOU! Im on the road to be a SBM!

  28. Carrie says

    Hi-larious and helpful. Best advice I have found on the subject of tri clothes for women and I was laughing all the way through it. Thank you!

  29. Colin says

    Interesting that ladies wear men’s tri suits. I would actually like if they made an open-back suit for men (especially for hot weather). I’m sure it would perfectly legal for a man to wear a ladies suit with the open racer-back style? I

  30. Jessi says

    Hi! I am so impressed by this write-up! Your enthusiasm is really inspiring, and you’ve offered all the really essential information (and the stuff I hadn’t even thought of) in a fun and very readable way. I can’t wait to get out there :D

  31. Beth says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I’m moving from distance-cycling to tris and have found myself overwhelmed and unsure about what I need and what I do (and absolutely embarrassed to ask! I mean, geez, to change or not to change? Do I really strip down? Somebody mentioned that and almost shut me down from the idea!!!). I really appreciate your straight-forwardness and encouraging attitude – I’m feeling better already :) So, again, thanks.

    Now for some shopping!

    Keep rockin’!

  32. Megan says

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for posting this! I am training for my first Tri and I’m a *bigger* girl so I had NO IDEA what to wear and what to do with the girls! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  33. Taylor Simmons says

    Just wondering you said Betty suits run small? I noticed your kits are from betty designs? What size would you recommend for someone who is about 5″5 175lbs? And is pretty curvy?

    • Swim bike mom says

      Betty Designs CREATED the design (the graphics) for the kit… They are produced by Zoca Gear, which runs true to size :)

  34. Suzie says

    Can you wear a Tri suit in a pool for practice or are they only recommened for open water? I only have access to a pool for training and I am not sure if I should swim in a pool with the Tri suit on or invest in a Tri suit and a suit for the pool?

    • Swim Bike Mom says

      I would get a swimsuit for practice because you’ll wear out the tri suit with the pool… certainly practice in it in the open water or the pool, though – but the chlorine or salt will wear out the material if used every day :)

  35. diana says

    Great advice on the clothing. For shoes, can you run in tri shoes? they look uncomfortable. I haven’t tried any, but wanted to know if you change shoes for cycling and the run or no?

  36. Jennifer says

    Love your blog! I am in serious need of some advice. I am doing my fort sprint tri the end of March and the swim is in a pool and I will not be wearing a wet suit. What can I wear for all three without having a wet suit? Tri shorts? If so will they soak up water? Thank you for your amazing inspiration and blogging! Jen

  37. Hannah says

    Thanks for the tips! I am a runner but ready to take on my first tri! Awesome website and great inspiration :) I am fairly short (umm like 5’1) but am pretty blessed in the chest area so my quest for a well fitting tri suit is challenging. I tried on mediums which I usually wear but they don’t fit my chest and anything bigger does not really fit the rest of my body. Any suggestions? I generally like the idea of a one-piece a lot better but maybe I should consider trying a 2 piece set
    Thanks! Hannah

  38. says

    Thanks for your post. Although obviously your advice is for women it helped me as well. I’m 5’7″ and 160 so I’m very much between small and medium size. 2 piece small would definitely expose my extra fuel tank. Attempting 1st Olympic Tri in June. Thanks again.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *