(YIKES! Okay, so maybe the clothing is fine in that picture. Admittedly, I am more of the problem.)
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?)
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!
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. But the thin pad 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!!
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!!
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!