What equipment do I need to train and race my first triathlon?
The purpose of this blog is to lay out the minimum equipment that you might need, in order to have a good experience at your first triathlon. Triathlon is notoriously expensive and you can, and will probably get more stuff (some more useless than others), should you decide to continue in the sport. My hope is that if you have the below list, you will not feel like a complete clump compared to the people around you and you can put in a good physical preparation for the day (which the most important part). So here we go...
For training at this point, all you need are bathers (bathing suit), goggles and a cap (or not if you're bald). You can get all of this from Blue70 or Finis (use TCMTRISQUAD! for 20% off) . You likely won't do all your training in the open water, so you'll need to find a pool too. For most races out there, you'll also want a swimming/triathlon wetsuit (not a surfing wetsuit). Sure, plenty of people have done their first triathlons without one, but your experience will be greatly enhanced in a wetsuit especially made for water under say 68 degrees (20 C). Firstly, you'll be warmer and secondly it's easier to swim in the elevated body position that a wetsuit provides. One beginner's error is not using any lubricant, especially on your neck area as even the most expensive wetsuits can give you an uncomfortable neck rash.
For the race itself, the best option is a triathlon racesuit (M, W). This can be worn under your wetsuit during the swim and throughout the rest of the race. Go for the one piece so you don't have to worry about any changing during the whole race. You will likely look like a sausage. We mostly all do. Own it.
What exact bike you should get for your first triathlon is beyond the scope of this blog and it depends on things such as your budget, where you live, what your other goals are in life. However, you'll definitely feel more at home on a road or triathlon/TT bike, rather than a mountain or gravel bike. And, buying a second hand bike is absolutely fine if you've got someone who knows what they're doing and can help you find a good deal. If you go for a road bike, I'd suggest the additional small investment in some clip-on aerobars and this will really help you feel the part.
The other investment in time and money I'd suggest (which some might consider controversial) is to set yourself up with bike shoes, pedals and cleats. This takes a little getting used to if you're only used to the flat pedals that beginner bikes generally come with, but if you've gone to the trouble and expense of buying a bike and entering a triathlon, you may as well take advantage of the increased power and comfort that comes with having your shoes attached to your pedal.
For the bike shoes, stay away from complicated locking systems and go for something with one or two velcro straps like the Pearl Izumi Tri Flys (Men, Women). Then you'll need road bike pedals and cleats (which attach the pedal to the shoe). Make sure the pedal and cleat are compatible with one another. The shoes will generally fit any cleat.
Now, the whole clipping-in thing may seem scary, but I've taught novices from 11 to 65 years old who got the hang of it in 30-45 mins. Not saying there wasn't an occasional tumble, but they all did it and once you've got it, you've got it. I've found the best way to start is to set yourself up on a cheap bike trainer (you can probably find one online for $50-100, or borrow one) to practice clipping in and out. Then find an empty parking lot or bike path and practice it from there.
You'd be surprised how long it takes and how hard it is to tie your laces during a triath, so you'll definitely want a pair of inexpensive lock laces. You'll of course also need running shoes. Exactly which brand is another rabbit hole I don't want to dive into but I've been using Salomon lately after testing nearly everything in my lifetime. You'll also need a race belt which is required during the race to display your number. You only need to wear this on the run so lay it over your running shoes in transitions (see above image) so you don't forget it. I'm also an advocate of sock-less racing, so some talc powder for your shoes is a good blister-prevention technique. You don't need anything else special to train for the run portion.
Of course, some of these equipment decisions are very specific to you, your budget, your goals for your first race. However, the above list should ensure that no gear disasters occur and will help you not feel out of place or at a great disadvantage for your first race. If you need more help, schedule a consult with me and I can answer any questions about your set up. Good luck!