Triathlon On a Budget

I raced my first triathlon in July. One of the best things about running is that its cheap. Races are expensive. Marathons cost up to $100 or more but even a local 5k is prohibitively expensive for my family and our budget. But running itself? All you need is a decent pair of shoes.

Triathlons on the other hand, require equipment. Shoes, swim caps, bikes. And those are the bare minimum.

Still, I wanted to do one race last summer while in the US and I chose a triathlon. After I paid the entrance fee, I had to scramble for the equipment.

My brother let me use his bike. I used my regular running shoes for everything, including the bike. I found a swim cap at the bottom of my parents’ swimming gear. I wore a sports bra and spandex shorts. No bike shorts, no wet suit, no racing bike. I spent zero money on my equipment.

This meant I showed up at the race with the only non-tri bike. The only one. No problem. While everyone else zipped past me, I sat up nearly straight and pedaled like crazy. I told myself this meant I was stronger and faster. Not that I was slower and burning out my legs for the upcoming run.

It also meant I didn’t have to change clothes or shoes. So while I probably lost about ten minutes on the bike, I saved about thirty seconds on the transitions. I simply threw on a tank top over the sports bra I swam in and took off.

It also meant I didn’t have shorts with bike pads. So yeah, after 12 miles, my butt hurt but it wasn’t too bad. For much longer of a bike distance, I would recommend a pair of bike shorts.

Overall, it was awesome. I loved the training variety, the fresh challenge, and doing it with my brother. I loved how even though people zipped past me on the bike, I flew by people on the run. I loved how I felt at the end, utterly spent and super strong.

Triathlon on a Budget

  1. Pick one race a year. Just one. A local one so there is no travel expense and no hotel expense. Make it a good one, a half marathon or full marathon, a triathlon, a race for a cause you support, a race you can do with someone you love to be with.
  2. Borrow equipment. Not shoes, you should buy your own shoes. Not sports bras, buy your own of those, too. Protect your body. But bikes, goggles, swim caps…ask around and see what someone might have for you. The bike might not be a racing bike, no problem. It will make you stronger. If someone lets you borrow a racing bike but only on race day, use a less expensive bike for your training. Again, no problem. This isn’t about winning, it is about participating.
  3. No fancy clothes. I wear sweat wicking running shirts but I buy them from the clearance rack. I can’t afford to care about fashion or style and, to be honest, when I run in Djibouti, the fact that heat and humidity turn me red and 100% soaked through my clothes (including my shoes) and the mere fact of running as a foreign woman render me such a spectacle already, there is no need to invest in fancy or good-looking clothes.
  4. No expensive fuel. If you are racing a shorter distance, you don’t need gels or gu or Gatorade and certainly not at $1.50 or more a pop. That doesn’t sound like a lot but if you are using them on a regular basis, it adds up. Eat a banana. Dates. A peanut butter sandwich. Drink water from the faucet.
  5. Buy last year’s shoes. Most shoes upgrade every year. Try to get an older pair. They will be $20-40 cheaper. See #3 for why fashion in racing gear is a waste of money.
  6. Regular watch. I have an awesome watch, a TomTom Spark. It was a gift from several people going in together last Christmas. But a nice watch isn’t necessary. If you can’t afford one, go without. No problem, there are timing mats all over most courses.

Go out and enjoy your race! Since you’re doing just one, make it count and have a wonderful day with family and friends (who can come support you because you’ve stayed local!)

p.s. As my kids will testify because they kept laughing at me when I checked out my body, there is nothing quite as cool as walking around with permanent markered black numbers on the upper arm and back of the calf. They mean: I am a triathlete. Aaaah, yeah.