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?
It’s the burning question. But there is a secret that will help you and it’s like a lightbulb. Are you ready? Here goes!
Find ONE thing to wear (it’s called a tri suit or kit – more later on this).
Here’s what you do:
Put it on before the swim. Then… you will Swim. You will bike. And you will run. You will pick up your medal and post-race snacks. And then take it off when you get home.
(Are you confused yet?)
Okay, here’s the scoop.
In a triathlon – 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.
See? The triathlon suit is UNDER the wetsuit.^^^
A triathlon suit/kit is typically made of a moisture-wicking material and has a small 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! Read this if you need to know about the Queen.)
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 on YouTube 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. In fact,
I have gone through SO many, that I finally designed my own! Seriously. It’s a tough problem! (And shameless marketing plug… but the new Tri*Fe line are the BEST out there, comfort wise – sizes XS-4XL too.
An even bigger challenge arises if you are a size 12 or larger, in the world of tri clothing.
When I first posted this article in 2011, there were very few companies that had anything for the larger girls. But companies are starting to realize that ladies aren’t all a size 4, and some brands are expanding. After talking with Kristin Meyer from Betty Designs recently, I learned that her historically small (but HAWT!) kits are going to extend one more size bigger in 2015.
For the ladies sizes M to 4XL (Sizes 6-24), I recommend starting with Tri*Fe. These are true-to-size, which makes shopping so much easier.
In addition, you can check out Louis Garneau gear or Aero Tech Designs online. 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 TriSports.com. I have found the menswear provides greater coverage and more flexibility. I could 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. Now there are “aero” suits, which are one-pieces with sleeves.
Regardless, the one-piece (whether sleeveless or aero) is 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.
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”. Like the Swim Bike Mom one in the photos.
Cheers! You’re a triathlete! We wear Spandex!!
These are tougher to find ones you love because they can roll down or ride up or chafe or whatever. But once you find ones that work, I think the two-piece is preferable for using the potty. 🙂
That being said, you can go to the bathroom much easier with two-pieces… and mix tops and bottoms, which is nice.
You can find our wonderful Tri*fe collection here. The question of one-piece or two-piece is simply a matter of personal preference.
Do It Yourself Triathlon Clothing
Say you have fitted wicking racer-back tank that you love and want to wear in the race.
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 saddle 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.)
It’s best not to 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. However, the swimsuit and the short can be extra ammunition for chafing on the bike and run. If you are the type of Wonder Woman who can wear a swimsuit for the whole race, then I applaud you! (But if you haven’t done it, I don’t recommend it.)
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 a tiny bit out of place, but I felt better.
Sometimes you need to take care of your inner scaredy cat in order to finish this great sport!
Bear in mind that if you are a size 20 or higher, you might be treading into unisex sizing land outside of a few brands such as Tri*Fe which goes up to 4xl. Sometimes the men’s suits are just going to fit better due to sheer sizing issues. Same goes for wetsuits.
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” or a sprint distance 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.
Oh and don’t forget your sunglasses! 🙂
Where do I shop?
Good PLACES to find triathlon suits of all sizes:
Tri*Fe – the new gear launched from has triathlon for the EVERY women in sizes XS up to 4XL. TriSports.com, Athleta.com, Amazon.com.
Good PLACES to find Plus Sizes:
Tri*Fe – triathlon for the EVERY women in sizes XS up to 4XL
What Kinds of Brands and How Do They Fit?
BRANDS with Range of Sizes (these companies carry suits of all sizes):
Tri*Fe – triathlon for the EVERY women in sizes XS up to 4XL / Swim Bike Mom
She Beast (up to 3xl). Pearl Izumi. Canari (cycling clothes up to 3xl). SLS Tri. Louis Garneau. Under Armour. Terry. Junonia. Team Estrogen. New Balance. Moving Comfort. Danskin (you can easily find sizes up to XXL and sometimes 4XL).
True to Size
Tri*Fe – triathlon for the EVERY women in sizes XS up to 4XL; Swim Bike Mom for the mom triathlete, up to 4xl. 2xU. Soas. Pearl Izumi. Terry. Louis Garneau. Zoot CYCLING, but the tri gear runs very small
*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!