Completing Your First Triathlon on a Budget

By Adam Glymph

The idea of pushing your body to accomplish something you have never done before is something triathlon is uniquely qualified for. Getting to that start line is both exciting and daunting; even beginning to train can be a chore in itself. The equipment barrier to triathlon is high, both in volume and cost, turning away people who would love the sport. With a little help, this high barrier can be lowered and you can be on your way to completing your first triathlon without too much trouble.

Here is a checklist of things you will need to complete your first triathlon

  1. Swimsuit
  2. Goggles
  3. Helmet
  4. Bike
  5. Running Shoes

If you have these 5 things then the only thing keeping you from the finish line is you; however, getting the correct gear is the issue. It is easy to waste time and money on shopping instead of training and having fun. Here are some steps to collect all things without breaking the bank.

Step 1: Go through your garage and closet

For your first triathlon your main goal is probably to just complete it; not be the fastest or set a new personal record (it’s your first race everything is a personal record!). Don’t go out and buy stuff you already have. If you have a rusty old mountain bike in the garage with a flat tire; it will do. Take it to your local bike shop and get it tuned up. Have swim goggles under your bed? As long as they keep water out; they are perfect. Have some swim trunks from your last beach trip? As long as they cover what needs to be covered, use them. Got a pair of running shoes that feel comfortable? You can run. Helmets we will talk about a little later.

Step 2: Get Swimsuit and Goggles

Any ole swimsuit should do. But, if you are doing a triathlon getting a racing swimsuit can only be a couple bucks more than a basic one you wear to the beach. This is especially true if you don’t care about color. The trick is grab bags. It is how swim suit companies sell old stock. You pick your size and style and the company will send you a random colored swimsuit. For men, I am recommending Jammers. Jammers are great because they are fast to swim, bike, and run in. For women, I am recommending a standard one piece. It takes some time to get used to wearing only a swimsuit not in a pool. Many first time triathletes also bring a pair of gym shorts they can put on before they bike in Transition 1. 


At the end of the day, goggles just need to keep water out. When you put them on, they should create a seal all around your eye, be tight, and not cut into your nose. The Speedo Vanquisher is a great middle of the road goggle with plenty of vision and comfort. It also has mirrored lenses that act like sunglasses. These are great goggles that do anything you could ever want a goggle to do. 

Speedo Vanquisher 2.0

Step 3: Find a Bike

If you don’t have a bike in your garage that you can ride, then go ask your friends or coworkers and see if they can lend you one. If all else fails, and you have to buy a bike, then go to your local bike shop. I am not going to recommend a particular bike here, I will mention some brands and bike styles in a minute, but my best advice is go to a bike store. At the bike store, ask for an entry level bike for someone doing their first triathlon.  They will probably show you road bikes, mountain bikes, or a hybrid bike. I would say go hybrid, it is very relaxed and comfortable, the tires are wide, and it is great on road and gravel. If you end up not racing ever again then you will have a great bike just to ride on the weekend. Any brand at your local bike shop should do, since most bike shops only carry brands they like. If you want some brands to keep in mind then check out: Trek, Giant, Fuji, and Specialized. These are quality brands and have entry level bikes. Do not overspend, but you should expect to spend $350 to $800 for a quality first bike.

I don’t recommend going to Walmart or similar stores, sporting good stores may be okay if the staff knows what they are doing, but big box store bikes are extremely low quality and not put together well. I see so many bikes with handle bars on backwards that I fear for people who ride them. The bikes may be cheap, but its more pain than its is worth. The internet is also very hit or miss. Inexperience with bikes on the internet can quickly turn into over paying for a bike or getting something that does not fit. If you really really want to buy off the internet and are okay with a little headache, go to a bike shop, do some test rides, learn your bike size in the style you want, then go check the internet and see if it is cheaper. Be careful, new bikes on the internet come disassembled in a box which means you will need to pay a bike shop $70+ to build it. Be careful of old bikes, test ride before you buy to make sure it works and is safe. Old bikes still might require maintenance at the shop, too.

Also, since all I really recommended here was going to a bike shop, while you are there have them show you how to change a tire and put on a dropped chain; these will be lifesavers at some point, I promise.

Step 4: Pick a Helmet

This is a piece of safety equipment and can save your life. That helmet that has been in your garage for years may not be safe anymore. Since helmets are just foam, they can dry out and crack. ANY CRACK at all NO MATTER how small means your helmet is no good. A helmet is only good for one impact. After that replace it.

The fit is one of the most important things for a helmet. A high quality helmet is no good if it falls off your head. A correctly fitted helmet should sit just above your eyebrows on your forehead. Your chin strap should be snug against the bottom of your chin, not choking, but you can’t easily stick your finger in between your chin and strap. Your ear sits in the V of the straps. The rear adjuster should be tight enough so that the helmet presses against your head, but not painful. The helmet should not move if you aggressively shake your head or if you grab the top and try to pull it backwards. A helmet that moves when just on your head will move a lot during impact, offering no safety value. 

When picking a helmet make sure it is rated by an independent third party. Most helmets nowadays have a certification sticker on the inside of the helmet. Do not get a helmet without this, some triathlons even require it. Some brands to trust: Bell, Giro, Schwinn; there are lots more, but these are inexpensive and quality. I am going to recommend two helmets here. The first, is the Bell Overdrive, it is a good entry level helmet and will last long into your triathlon racing no matter how serious you get.The second is the Schwinn Thrasher. It is as entry level as you can get, but it is safe and that is what matters.


                                                                                                                Bell Overdrive                                   Schwinn Thrasher

Step 4: Get Some Running Shoes

The end of a triathlon is rough; get a shoe that is comfortable and you like running in. I can’t really say anything more that we haven’t already said somewhere else on this site, with that in mind, here is a link to our How To Choose A Running Shoe blog. 

By now you should have an idea how to get the stuff to swim, bike, and run in. That is really all you need. Maybe get a water bottle and some food, so you don’t pass out (I am speaking from experience here). But go train, have some fun, and enjoy your triathlon adventure.