Excerpt, Abridged, Updated, and Funnified from
“Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.“
There’s a post floating around (I think it’s from Active.com) about the so-called fact that it will cost you $2,000- $25,000 to make it to an Ironman start line.
I think that they are totally right–you can absolutely fall anywhere within that $23,000 range.
Yeah Yeah Yeah…
Triathlon IS an expensive sport.
And we’re beating a dead horse about that. Any sport or hobby can be expensive. (Have you looked at freaking scrapbooking?? For the love, triathlon is cheaper than scrapbooking!) Anything that requires dedication or membership or equipment or a uniform will cost money. (Hello. Little League. Beginner LAX for a seven year old….whaaaaaa?)
So yes. It costs money. [So does every other thing in the entire world. Children. Pets. Spouses. Lawns. Houses. Cars.] I’m not being insensitive, so please feel free to hold the comments about me not being #sensitive. Oh, but here’s me being authentic… (Eye roll.)
…But seriously, any sport or hobby can break the bank if you immerse yourself in it. Gaming (hello!). Hunting. Swimming. Basketball. Motorcycles. Home projects (hello!!!!). Music (have you priced out a new piano lately??!). Computers. Reading. Writing. Adult coloring (I can’t imagine how many colored pencils I will need for my new curse word adult coloring book.)
You name the project, hobby or interest—and there’s something to pay.
The question is: is it worth it to YOU and your family?
If it’s worth it… then, then you take a big breath, you swallow, you accept it, and you stop bitching about it–and figure out what to do about it.
(Oh, and by the way. Don’t complain about being totally broke all the time on Facebook, and yet register for 100 races each year. Oh, and don’t buy a new bike and an aero helmet and post it on Facebook if you are “sooooo broke.” People see through that sh*t and get tired of it. And they certainly won’t be giving money to your “poor” fund in the future. #carryon)
ALL THE GEAR
Regardless of how confused I was about triathlon [when I started out in 2010], I knew one thing was certain: the sport required a lot of stuff. I would need to budget for the stuff and figure out where to buy the stuff.
Most importantly, I would need to figure out if my bodily stuff could possible squeeze into any triathlon-sized stuff on the market.
If you are a gear and gadget junkie, then you have landed on a great sport.
Three sports mean three times the paraphernalia, which equates to twelve times the confusion.
Here’s the quick and dirty scoop on the equipment needed to head towards triathlon as quickly as humanly possible.
THE BIKE AND THE RACE…Well, that IS THE ‘PROBLEM’
If you take the sport as a whole, the “problem” with the expense is really two things: the bike and the race travel. Race fees can be reasonable, if you are smart. The bike–however—that’s really a tough thing to avoid in a triathlon. You need it, and if you don’t have a bike at all… it’s tough to NOT have to buy one. Even with great deals, that can be a problem.
So if you are thinking about that sport, those two things are the main things to keep in mind: bike and race travel. If you can get your mind wrapped around those things… then you’re thinking the right way.
Plan! Make your lists of what you ‘need’ and how you need it. Make a timeline for purchases and when race fees are due, and budget this stuff into your life like you would anything else. Lists are key!
TRIATHLON ON THE CHEAP
“Cheap triathlon” is, as previously mentioned, kind of an oxymoron. Still, with a bit of creativity, you can probably be in and out of your first triathlon for as cheap as $200 or $300.
Many of us have a bike stashed in storage and an old, ugly one-piece swimsuit. Yes, the bike probably stinks and is old as all Christmas, but it might be enough to get you through for a bit. At the bare minimum, take the old bike to your LBS (local bike shop) and get it adjusted to fit you as best as possible.
For riding, padded shorts are a necessity. Pain on the Queen will deter your return to the bike. (Who is the Queen? If you can’t figure it out, then ride an ill-fitting bike without padded shorts…and you’ll learn.) Investing in a pair of padded (chamois) shorts will make cycling life more tolerable.
Finally, even on the “cheap,” you need excellent running shoes (discussed below).
Do not forget about eBay, Facebook groups and Craigslist as a starting point for deals on gear either. Additionally, races will often have swim caps, water bottles and discounted gear at the day-before-race expo events.
In my Tri-Fecta group, we host a “Free Stuff Friday,” where I encourage everyone to donate their unused triathlon things. Sometimes we have ah-maz-ing things come up for grabs. So keep your eyes open for that. (I also have many discount codes and the like that I manage to snag sometimes, so if you aren’t a member of that group already.) While I do not allow selling in the group, there are DOZENS of sales groups on Facebook for used and cheap gear. Definitely join those, as well.
ON THE CHEAP SUMMARY
Swim: an old one-piece tank swimsuit; goggles ($15); swim cap ($5); borrow/rent a wetsuit for open water practices, if necessary
Bike: your old bike in the garage; a new helmet ($30-50); water bottle ($5); access to a gym with a cycling class ($20-65 a month); chamois (padded) shorts ($50-60); find an old tire pump
Run: sports bra ($20); excellent shoes and socks ($110)
Race Entry: scout out a deal, email the race director and ask if he/she has free work you can do in exchange for an entry. You’ll want to race local if you want to save the coin.
Race Day: borrow a triathlon top and shorts, or get creative with your own do-it-yourself tri outfit (see post here, section “Do It Yourself”); borrow/rent a wetsuit if necessary for that race
*Honestly, this little on the cheap list will get you to your first indoor, sprint and maybe Olympic distance race. It’s not all inclusive, so save the commentary of “YOU TOTALLY FORGOT X.” For the love, it’s meant to be a helpful guide.]
For longer distances, (and I would say even at Olympic distance), the training is longer – so you are probably going to need to bite the bike-buying bullet.
TRIATHLON ON THE SEMI-CHEAP
The next step-up in budgetary considerations would be to purchase a bike and a swimsuit.
Swimsuit. Swimsuit? Swimsuit? The horror! Trust me, I completely understand. Still, if we are talking triathlon, we’ve gotta talk swimsuits. You will want a one-piece, sensible suit (no skirts or tanks or board shorts). The shoulder and back straps should be reasonably thick and supportive. If the suit “holds you in” and feels comfortable, then it’s doing the job. If you are an average-sized gal, something from Athleta or Speedo is going to suit you just fine. The larger crowd (my people) may not fit into these brands. Although one-piece swimming suits are absolutely hideous and scream “Watch out, here comes the tubby swimmer,” I found a comfortable and practical tank suit at Junonia.com when I was starting out. Later, I could wear an XL Tall in Athleta suits when wearing size 14/16 clothing. I am now hooked on the Tyr Diamondback – it’s nice and long for my long-torso’d self. [You will learn that triathlon clothing can be exceptionally undersized, which can be incredibly discouraging for anyone over a size 10. I wrote an entire post on this. It’s here.]
Bike. If your bike is a piece of crap, causes you physical pain to ride or feels “off,” then you are probably in the market for a new(er) bike that fits you. Proper bike fit is monumental. The bike, of course, is your biggest investment, which is why I mentioned using the old dusty one in the garage for a bit. Still, a proper bike fit is something I cannot emphasize enough. From a motivational standpoint, if your bike is troublesome, you will hate the sport or think you are in worse shape than you actually are. Therefore, investing in a reasonable bike should take high priority. Many bike stores carry used bikes, and the folks there can advise on your bike fit. Either way: get fitted.
Excellent running shoes are absolutely non-negotiable. Find a running store in your town (or in the closest city). You should look for one of the places where the folks make you run on the treadmill while watching your gait, and where the employees look like they stepped off a twenty-mile trail run. These are the loco running people you can trust. Listen to what they say and buy what they recommend. Eight or nine times out of ten, they’ll put you in a great shoe—and if not, they usually have great “run and return” policies if you have trouble with the fit.
I won’t get into the great shoe debate: minimalist, stability, neutral, orthotics, inserts, barefoot or the brands.
Just go get a professional shoe fit and go from there. You will learn what makes your runs more comfortable, enjoyable and injury-free. The best way to figure out which type of shoe you love is to run in different kinds of shoes. I happen to like a more neutral shoe now… where I started on a more stability shoe just from the sheer impact factor (my weight). My friend Mountain Goat runs almost on her bare hooves (she’s tiny). Just one word to the group of us who are, er, heavier—don’t let someone talk you into a minimalist or barefoot-style shoe. Starting out, the pounding will be too great on the body—you will want some sort of cushion on the bottoms of your feet… just trust me–someone who is not a doctor or a shoe expert—but from a semi-fat girl… trust me. Cushion is nice. Eventually, you may decide to transition to something more minimalist, but go slowly into this transition.
The below items can hit your purse for around $750-$1000–and that includes a new-to-you bike. Note: I have not listed the essential winter gear you may need to run or ride outside. This list is assuming that you will do most of your training indoors during the colds months, and hoping that you can catch the end of season winter sales for the next year.
Swim: one-piece tank swimsuit ($65); goggles ($15); swim cap ($5); borrow a wetsuit for practices in open water
Bike: an entry level/used road bike with bottle cage ($350-800); water bottles ($5); new helmet ($30); access to a gym with a cycling class ($25-75 a month); chamois (padded) shorts ($30-80); bike pump ($25)
Run: sports bra – you may want 2 or 3 ($20); excellent shoes and socks ($100); heart rate monitor ($90); Fuel Belt ($50)
Race Entry: scout out a deal. You’ll want to stay local if you want to save the coin. Or plan far enough in advance to book cheaper hotels and get the intro race fees.
Race Day: Discount tri shorts and top ($60); borrow/rent a wetsuit
Oh, and new tri friends!? Free!!
What about GPS Watches and Electronic Gadgets?
I love the gadgets. Nothing will tell you the truth like heartrace, pace and power.
The good news is that, from the time I wrote my book, this area of technology has come a LONG way, and there are many things you can do with your iPhone or Android, from a fitness perspective. Check out some of these, to name a few: Strava, Map My Ride, CVT Mobile (by Cycleops), Runtastic, Trainer Road, Zwift, and Pear Sports–lots of apps to get you some data, when you don’t want to drop $500 on a new GPS watch.
What about a Coach or a Training Plan?
I wrote a post awhile back about a coach… and here it is. I won’t cover it here. I believe in having a coach. Yes, they are an added layer of expense. But if you are paying a ton for the sport, I see having a coach as part of ensuring that I get to enjoy all that money I am spending on the race–to make sure I get there. #MyTwoCents
If you don’t have a coach, then you should have a training plan–at a minimum. You can get free training plans. You can get cheap training plans. You can get expensive training plans. You can get two-coach, group supported plans, like Brett and I offer.
All in all, assessing what you really need is key, and then moving forward and implementing it.
TRIATHLON: THE BEGINNER’S VERSION OF ‘ALL THE THINGS’
If you have and want to sink some cashola into a “hobby,” you have chosen the right money pit. You will be surprised how quickly you will justify the extravagant expenditures for the sake of health, when really, you just want the shiny new Shimano shoes and Pearl Izumi arm warmers (in the summer). But I justify blowing cash for the benefit of my triathlon lifestyle because…well, it’s for my health. 🙂
Repeat after me: These fancy new socks are for my health. My $170 bike saddle is for my health. [Which actually, it is. A good saddle will save the Queen’s health. (Again, if you don’t know who the Queen is yet, you will—especially if you skimp on a good saddle)]
The below items can hit your purse like lightning, but if you have the cash to blow, triathlon is your playground.
Welcome to it.
Swim: one-piece tank swimsuit ($75 – you’ll ‘need’ three of them); goggles, 3 pair ($75); swim caps (save the money, race a lot and use the free ones); wetsuit ($250-$850); TriSlide ($12); kickboard ($30); fins ($50); paddles ($40); swim mesh bag ($20); hair care for swimming ($40)
Bike: road bike ($1000-6500) or tri bike ($1500-$25,000) and saddle ($200); new helmet ($100-250); cycling shoes ($200-350); pedals ($100); water bottles ($15); rear bottle cage/hydration system ($40-150); bike bento box ($25); access to a gym with a cycling class ($75 a month); chamois (padded) shorts ($90); pump ($50); tubes, C02 cartridges ($40); sunglasses ($100); bicycle trainer / indoor Spinning bike for house ($250-450); cycling jersey ($90); arm warmers ($30); shoe covers ($30); cycling tights ($60); outer layer jacket ($100)
Run: sports bras – you’ll need several ($100); two pairs of excellent shoes and many pairs of excellent socks ($200); GPS heart rate monitor ($500); wicking running shirts ($150); several pairs of running shorts ($150); running capris ($50); warm-up pants ($60); compression socks/sleeves ($60); visors – you’ll need approximately 15-20 🙂 ($25); Fuel Belt ($50); Camelbak ($75)
Race Entries: If you race all the things, you can spend $120 for a local race, $350-450 for a half Ironman, and as much as $850 for an Ironman (non-Foundation spot)… so yes, that’s ridiculously expensive.
Race Day: triathlon suit / shorts & top ($165); transition mat ($30); gear bag ($75)
I really can’t even stress how expensive it might be to jump to Ironman (and depending on where–the half Ironman. If it’s a long-distance travel race (e.g., a flight), then it’s crazy).
If you choose Ironman, it’s expensive, because by that point, you are declared legal insane. And you suddenly “need” many, many of the things. Okay, so not everyone does… but Ironman probably deserves its own post about expenses, just because of the additional layers of crazy.
Here’s just some small food for thought:
- Race Entry fees – literally double when you jump up from Olympics to half or full Ironmans
- Travel – you may have to go further to find these races. And sometimes the Big Events require often minimum # of night stays for hotels
- Special Needs bags (many of the things you take to the race, you might not get back. So if you need an extra pair of socks or shoes…then sometimes those are throw-aways…and gone forever)
- Bike Transport (whether you use Tri Bike Transport or fly with your bike, there’s an added layer of expense)
- Race Day Clothing (weather is often unpredictable at best on race day. You may need to bring and dress for all four seasons – and you may lose, or not get back many pieces of this clothing)
- Nutrition (real food and race day nutrition is expensive with all that training. Also much of that is trial and error – you may not like 3/4 of the stuff you buy for nutrition, and that’s just a money pit)
- Physical Therapy / Massage (this is suddenly more of an issue with the longer training… you need to care for the body in ways you may not have needed to at Sprint or Olympic distance.)
- Laundry detergent and deodorant. Stock up on it. You will stink.
*Ironman brand is going to cost you more than a non-branded race. Rev3 and other series races are going to be cheaper, and might not require the minimum stays for hotels, etc. Something to keep in mind and prioritize as you proceed.
Yes, triathlon is expensive.
But here’s the thing. You will save money in other areas of your life. You will be happier and healthier from all those endorphins from exercising. Does it make you happy? Does it help you show your kids what working hard is all about? Does it make your life better?
Then do it.
- You’ll never buy another t-shirt again
- You aren’t ordering pizza as often
- You are getting the exercise high, so that saves you money in therapy
- You should drink less (allegedly) – and that saves money, because a wine habit is ‘spensive
- You wear stretchy clothes out to public functions, so you don’t need or care about those nice clothes as much
Happy Triathlon-ing! 🙂
*Y’all fee free to post in the comments some of the things you love, that are budget-friendly.