Triathlon running, swimming and cycling kit

A guide to triathlon equipment

Whilst correct training for a triathlon is vital, the kit you choose to wear for the three disciplines of swimming, running and cycling can also dictate how well you perform come triathlon race day.

Here's our guide to the swimming, cycling and running gear that you'll need to help you train and perform to your best in your triathlon event.

Triathlon swimming kit

To swim in open water, you will need goggles. For a pool swim, again it is personal preference, but we would suggest that you do wear goggles. There are many types of goggles out there in the market but don;t buy the cheapest. Try the goggles on before you buy them. They need to fit your face. The nose clip in the middle of the goggles is adjustable, as is the strap for the goggles to fit around your head. The strap design today usually has a split in it; this allows the goggles to fit around the back of your head.

Competing in a triathlon

There are many types of swimming goggles. The new types on the market are those that resemble swimming masks. These types of goggles allow much wider vision in the water, and are a big advantage in large groups of people, and in open water. The goggles that you purchase should have an ‘anti-mist’ type lens. You can buy a special solution to put on the inside of your goggles to prevent them from steaming up.

When competing in triathlons in open water, you often need to wear wetsuits. Wetsuits provide extra insulation, and for the weaker swimmers out there, they provide extra flotation. Triathlon and swimming wetsuits are much thinner than those used for surfing and other water sports. To swim any distance in a wetsuit, you need plenty of movement in the upper body area. Triathlon wetsuits are very thin in the underarm and shoulder area. This provides maximum flexibility, thereby not affecting the stroke technique.

Although your first triathlon should ideally be in a pool-based swim, many novices take the plunge and go for an open water race. If this is purely a ‘give it a go’ kind of activity then we would suggest that you hire a wetsuit for the race. The race information sheet will sometimes advertise a wetsuit hiring deal for competitors. Large races will have wetsuit suppliers there to help you out for that first attempt.

When buying a swimming wetsuit, you must seek advice from experts. There are suits designed for all abilities in the water. If you are a weak kicker in the water, there are suits that are thicker in the legs, thus more buoyant in the water helping you along the way. It is important that the suit fits you, so we would suggest that you go and try the suits on before buying. If you have purchased a new suit for your first triathlon, try it in the local pool before you race in it.

Accessories for triathlon swim training include ...

  • Pull buoys — These are small floats that you place between you thighs when swim training. It raises your legs and makes you only use your arms, improving your stroke technique, and strengthening your upper body. Use it with paddles.
  • Paddles — These are plastic paddles that go onto your hands and improve stroke technique and upper body strength. The bigger the paddle, the harder the session will be.
  • Floats — Floats will help your leg kicking, through swimming technique and strength work.

Fancy taking part in a triathlon? Check out our charity triathlon event listings.

Triathlon bike kit

With the swim kit all sorted, the second element is the bike kit. The race kit that you wear in the bike section of the triathlon is usually the same as you wear in the water. Race kit today is designed not to hold water and dries very quickly. Usually after your first couple of miles, your kit is dry. Speed shorts, cycle shorts and swimwear are all acceptable to wear on the cycle leg of a triathlon.

The cycle top again is a personal preference. If you are purchasing your kit new, then most shorts will have a top that will accompany them. The racing tops are designed so that they are relatively tight to the body so that it doesn’t flap about on the cycle section. Most will be designed so that they can be worn in the swim also, either in the pool, or underneath your wetsuit.

Competing in triathlon

Features to look for are rear pockets, easy to get on and off if you’re not going to wear it for the swim and you’re going to change into it in the transition area. Most of them are sleeveless, and of a ‘singlet’ proportion. You must wear a top for the cycle section of a triathlon; it is a BTA rule.

Many triathletes wear the same kit that they swim in to complete the rest of the race. However, cycling in trunks or a swimsuit is very much a personal preference. We advise you to try a cycle ride in them before you race in them.

Cycle shorts or speed shorts are fine to swim in. Modern shorts are not heavy and will not weigh you down in the water. Speed shorts are slightly higher in the leg, and will have less padding than the usual standard cycle shorts. They are usually ‘lighter material’ than the Lycra short. Many come in a ‘dryfit’ form that is excellent for that swim-to-bike transition.

Triathlon running kit

When you have completed your second triathlon transition, it’s time for the run. For this, the only real piece of kit that you require is running shoes if you have worn cycle shoes for the cycle part. However, there is some other useful running kit to try:

Running hats. If you are competing in a race in the summer it is strongly recommended that you wear a hat. You can purchase very light running caps that keep the head cool, and are very light and breathable. For a 10km run, you could be out in the sun for an hour or more. You can also turn your hat around if your neck is burning, so that the peak protects your neck.

Elastic laces and lace locks for running shoes. These are designed to speed up transitions. Elastic laces replace your normal racing shoelace, and once your shoe is on, you just pull them and they tighten up your foot, without having to do the laces up. Lace locks are similar to those found on backpack cords. You attach them to your laces, pull the lock down, and it keeps the laces tight. Both are easy to use, and cheap.

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