What You DO Need and What You DON’T Need For Your First Triathlon

Hallo!  So I have been doing triathlons for about 8 years now.  I did my first one waaaay back in the fall of 2009, a sprint in South Carolina.  Triathlon is a demanding sport, in that you need so many things just to do it.  Luckily I was on a very supportive college club, and was able to figure out what all I needed to complete my race.  In case you don’t have a training group or more experienced friend, here is a list of the things that you either would need, want, and definitely do not need, for your first race.

Alright, so here are some things you definitely need to complete your first triathlon:

  • Something to do 3 things in – ideally a tri suit, but you can also wear a swim suit + shorts or jammers.  Guys, make sure you check the rules, sometimes you can get away with just wearing jammers, but some races require you to wear a shirt.
  • Goggles
  • Bike (ideally a road bike, but any bike will do)
  • Flat repair kit & extra tube
  • Helmet – You will not be allowed to race if you don’t have a helmet.
  • Running shoes & socks
  • Wetsuit depending on water temperature
  • Water bottle
  • Flip flops that you don’t mind losing (so you can walk to the swim start and ditch them)

Okay, so that was the basics.  Now here are some things that aren’t necessary, but are totally worth the expense for your race experience:

  • A tri suit – Tri suits move in the water like a swim suit, have a little bit of padding and pockets like a bike kit, and are dry by the time you’re on the run.  You can get good deals on tri suits on Swim Outlet, or REI.  Also, ladies, there are a bunch of women’s specific brands that make cute ones!  Check out mine from Coeur Sports, or Betty Designs.
  • Swim cap (however they are usually required an provided by the race if its an open water swim)
  • Bike shoes/pedals – shoes that clip into your pedals make you a more efficient cyclist, saving your legs precious energy for the run.
  • Quick laces for running shoes – Okay you have done two workouts for the day and you are onto the third.  Transition is chaos.  You can’t get your feet into your shoes and your brain is not communicating sufficiently to your fingers.  This sounds crazy, but believe me, you are going to be so happy to just slip your shoes on and not have to tie them.  I personally like Yankz the best, but there are a ton on the market.
  • Race number belt – You technically only have to wear your race bib during the run.   You definitely can’t wear it for the swim, because its paper, and I don’t love having the number flapping around while I’m biking.  With this, you can grab your race belt, and clip it on while you’re on the way out of transition.  Bonus a lot of them have little loops for you to stick energy snacks into.  There are bunch available on Amazon.
  • Your own sharpie – So that you don’t have to wait in line for body marking.  Race mornings are stressful enough, and you can get ahead of the porta-potty line 😉
  • Towel – Just to wipe your face and dry your feet off a little bit before you head out on the bike.  Nice to have, especially on cold mornings.
  • Your own bike pump.  There will be a mad rush by everyone to use the 2 bike pumps provided.
  • A good friend/significant other that will be your race sherpa and carry all your things.

Alright, and finally, here are some things you probably don’t need unless you are a professional athlete or trying very hard to set a PR.  If an overzealous store rep is trying to talk you into buying these things for your first race, trust me you don’t need them:

  • A triathlon bike – while definitely more efficient, if its your first race then a road bike will be just fine and more versatile.  If its going to be a windy course, aerobars that you can attach to your road bike is a wiser purchase.
  • Aerohelmet.  These things have shown to take only seconds off time in a perfect wind tunnel.  Us joe shmo’s who are just in it to complete the race won’t feel the benefits of an aerohelmet.  Save your money.
  • The lightest bike components.  Stick with the middle of the ground components for your bike like Shimano 105, or SRAM Force if its your first race.  These are good, reliable components, and worth the splurge.  Anything above that drops only grams off your bike, which again unless you are a pro, you won’t really feel the benefit of.
  • Compression socks – two words: placebo effect.  They don’t actually help with your race performance.  They are better to be worn afterwards if you are experiencing some aching and swelling.


Have a race coming up?  Is there something that I missed?  Comment below!



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