Why Not Try a Tri? Basic Gear to Get Started

I know many of you are runners (if you run, you are a runner) and I will always love running! It’s an easy sport to pick up, fairly inexpensive to participate in, and you can explore new places with it when you travel. But have you thought about trying something new this season? If you’re already a runner, maybe it’s time to tri a triathlon!


Cross-training is a great way to help prevent injuries and can even strengthen your body for your primary sport. In fact:

  • Biking is GREAT cross-training for running. It using your leg muscles in a different way, which increasing your overall leg strength for running.
  • Swimming is a great way to add variety without any impact. It’s also great for your core and gives your legs a break.

Add these two activities to the running you’re already doing and you might as well add a triathlon (or duathlon) to your calendar. Interested? If you’re ready to give it a try, you’re going to need a few things to train and race in your first triathlon. With the six items below (and two optional items)  you’ll have everything you need to get started.

Swimming Basic Gear

  1. Swimsuit – you could swim in a bikini, but it’s not going to be quite as comfy. Although it might turn a few heads when you swim laps.  A basic one-piece swimsuit at Target or an online swimming store will work nicely. I have had good luck with “uglies” at swimoutlet.com.
  2. Goggles – Another item you can pick up at Target or an online store. I use Aqua Sphere Kaiman, but you may want to try a few to find a pair that fits comfortably on your face.


Biking Basic Gear

  1. Bike – any bike will do. If you’re just thinking about your first triathlon, there’s no reason to go out and buy a fancy bike. Have one collecting dust in the garage? Pull it out and put it to use. Have a friend with a bike collecting dust? Borrow theirs. If absolutely no one owns a bike you can use, look for a used bike on Craig’s List or eBay or a local garage sale.
  2. Helmet – Please DO NOT ride your bike without a helmet. You can get one at Walmart, Target, or a bike store. It can save your life and it’s irresponsible to ride without one. Get a helmet!
  3. Shoes – If you’re on an old or borrowed bike, you probably can just use running shoes to ride your bike. If the bike has clips on them, you can swap them out or you’ll need a pair of cycling shoes (if you have a pair from spin class, those should work!).In that case you will need to get cleats that screw into the bottom of your shoes. Bring your bike to a cycling store and they can help you find cleats that work with your pedals.
  4. Padded Bike ShortsYou can technically go without this one, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It will make you more comfortable to get a pair of padded bike shorts and your butt will thank you for it.
  5. Bike Pump – Unless you live near someone’s you can borrow, you should probably get a bike pump. I pump my tires every 2-3 rides, depending on the frequency and the distance.  


Running Basic Gear

  1. Running Shoes – A good pair of running shoes that are fit correctly for your feet. Spend some time at a running specialty store to get this crucial piece of running equipment. Read more about why running shoes really matter.

And that’s all you need! There are plenty of other things that you can get and may help as you get further into the sport, but I encourage you to go the basic route to start out.

For my first two triathlons, I rode an older mountain bike (knobby tires and all) with regular pedals and my running shoes. After that first year, I decided I really liked the sport and upgraded to a road bike. Bikes aren’t cheap, so save that investment until you know you’re going to have it (and use it) for a while!

Don’t miss the other posts in the Why Not Try a Tri series:

Editors Note: This post was originally published in April 2012 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and the latest information.


Questions for you:

  • Have you done a triathlon? What was your favorite (or least favorite) thing about your first race?
  • Have you thought about doing a triathlon? What’s held you back?

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  1. says

    I did one sprint triathlon last summer and LOVED it! I needed to change up my usual running workout routine and the tri was the perfect thing. I grew to love swimming (after I learned how to swim competitively). Biking I still don’t love, but I definitely don’t hate it. I love how the sport incorporates three sports and even the short distance that I competed in was super challenging!!

    • says

      Swimming will never be my strength, but you should have seen me when I started! I think Kirk lovingly called me a “flailer”. Anyone can get better though – I promise! :)

      But the bike thing might be harder for you – you never learned to ride a bike? I think you need to add that to your to-do list – it’s fun! :)

  2. says

    Great post and totally true! I did my first and second tri last year on a 30-year-old Raleigh road bike I bought at a police auction for $80 (not including the $150 I put into it to recondition it – still much cheaper than buying new). I swam in a one-piece Speedo, pulled bike shorts on over.

    This year I’m upgrading to a tri suit, but I still have the Raleigh and still DON’T have bike shoes and clips (next year, I hope). I’m not the fastest tri-er, but I have fun!

    Oh, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and that type of store is also a good place to get high quality swimsuits on the cheap. I’ve purchased Speedos for as little as $17.

    • says

      Awesome!! And even without fancy gear, it sounds like you still got hooked! :) It’s not about being the fastest (especially at first), it’s about enjoying it and getting better!

      Great suggestion on Marshall’s/TJ Max. Although I’m not patient enough for those stores – too much stuff!

  3. says

    I’ve never considered a triathlon–but that’s because I really don’t like swimming/being in water. I think I’m part cat, haha. I would love to try biking–especially now that I live too far from a grocery store to walk but definitely close enough to bike! I’d definitely start with something cheap and used (Craigslist ahoy!) to make sure I liked it, as I haven’t been the biggest fan in the past. Maybe I’ll have to redefine a triathlon to slow jog-walking, biking, and lifting weights :)

    • says

      You need to try a duathlon then (I’ll write a post on that too!) – run/bike/run is for those of us who don’t love swimming. So once you get that bike to help with errands, you can train for a duathlon too! :)

  4. says

    Great post! I made the transition from running to triathlon in 2007 after completing a marathon in 2006. I liked endurance training, but it was just so much running! I was already using swimming and some biking as cross-training, and a friend told me once you try all three in a row, you’ll never look back, and he was right!

    Great advice, I’ve got a couple of caveats/comments
    1.) Helmets aren’t just ‘responsible’, they’re mandatory in any organized race. You can’t even take your bike off the rack until your helmet strap is done up, or you risk disqualification.
    2.) Please don’t make a half or full Ironman your first triathlon. There are sprints and try-a-tris for getting used to the format and at that distance, no, it doesn’t matter what kind of bike you have. I’ve seen a few people now who seem to want to cross an Ironman off their bucket list or whatever, but don’t seem to realize the benefits of starting small and building your way up.

    • says

      Great points!! And great info about the helmet rule – a lot people don’t realize that also applies if you ride your bike to & from the race. And I agree 300% about not making your first tri a half or full. There’s no rush and you’re just asking for trouble!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      I totally get the open water swim fear – I had to work to get over that myself and I didn’t think it would be a problem. I was able to overcome it with some practice – but there’s always duathlons! :)

  5. says

    Oh no Heather! Dont tempt me!!! I definitely intend to do a tri as soon as possible, but for now I am focusing on my running career. Until I get that Great Britain jersey in my hands, and run 2:30 in the marathon, I am sticking with running, but I cant wait to try! You have given some great advice, and I enjoyed reading about it. I have heard you may be a good runner…..but it is a whole different ball game trying to run after biking! I am intrigued! Have a wonderful weekend!
    Tina Muir recently posted…Training Update 4/20-5/3My Profile

    • says

      Tris and dus aren’t going away, you have plenty of time after you’re not as focused on your running career. And you are right – running of the bike can be tricky. It’s really more about your bike pacing than your running strength for many people, depending on your abilities. It’s fun to put all the pieces together!

  6. says

    Great post!!! I love the pictures of you, too! I have only done a few real triathlons, but several duathlons including a Half Ironman. I love endurance, but I’m just really bad at swimming … and even worse at making myself practice swimming :). Would LOVE to get back into tris … don’t currently have a place to swim but have been considering looking for one!
    Megan (The Lyons’ Share) recently posted…Healthy Cinco-de-Layer Dip (or Mini Salad!)My Profile

    • says

      Thanks Megan! The practicing of swimming is why I tend to choose duathlons for myself now – I just don’t enjoy getting in the pool that often. You have to find what is exciting to you!

    • says

      Duathlons would be a great start for you and I think it’s right up your alley! Check out trifind.com, which has a pretty comprehensive lists of events. Let me know if I can help you!!


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