Each year, many endurance newbies discover just how cool the tri world is – and how expensive it can be. Between the basic gear (running shoes, a bike, helmet, swimsuit, cap, goggles), without all the bells and whistles (road bike, tri bike, aerobars, aero helmet, wetsuit, and race wheels, to name a few) plus race registrations (generally around $150-$650 vs. $50-$90 for running event) even folks like me who have been doing this for 20 years are opting out of some triathlons for running events to save some money.
As with all tough budget decisions, you should evaluate and answer the “want” vs. “need” question. I’ve found there are very few “needs” in the tri world, but a whole lot of wants. I also see people spending lots of money to buy themselves speed and weight savings. In some classes of athletes, or for those with the money to burn, this can be justified; but for the average mid- to back-of-the-pack crowd, “investing” time and effort in training, rather than buying the latest, greatest gear can produce results you can be proud of.
There is no shortage of ways to spend money, but there are always alternatives that are good enough or that will work to get you through. This applies to all areas, from equipment to nutrition. Personally, I like to keep it simple and basic and I’ve saved a lot of money and still manage perform at a level I am very happy with.
I suggest examining your gear budget before your race fee and nutrition budget. Between wetsuits, bikes, trainers, heart rate monitors, and all the other stuff you can easily get caught up in the early-adopter/gadget-obsession frenzy and spend a fortune outside of race fees. To save on gear, look for used gear on eBay, Craigslist, and Slowtwitch. Along with off-season specials at your local tri store.
When choosing road or tri bike, if you can’t afford both, road is more versatile. No matter what people tell you, you don’t need a bike with a five-figure price tag.
• When looking at a less-expensive aluminum bike vs. a more-expensive carbon bike, both are light, and fit is more important, not the cost of the bike.
• If you really want race wheels, borrow or rent them instead of purchasing them.
• Choose a race with a pool swim over an open water swim if you don’t want to rent or buy a wetsuit.
• Choose a warm-water open water swim vs. a cold-water swim to save on wetsuit rental/purchase.
• Running shoe fit is most important, not the brand of shoe. Remember, pros are sponsored and don’t pay for their shoes, so you don’t need to choose your shoe based on what the pros are wearing.
• Don’t buy specialized clothing you don’t actually need. For things you do need, look to Target or other stores for options that will be “good enough” to do the job.
• If you join a tri club, they may have negotiated discounts you can take advantage of as a member.
• If anyone asks what you want for your birthday, Christmas, your anniversary, etc., ask for tri stuff that you need.
Race fee budget:
• Volunteer at an event. Many times you will earn a free entry.
• Be sure to register early to avoid fee increases closer to race day. Many events increase registration fees in January, March and May.
• Participate in smaller races (Sprint and Olympic distances). Look on trifind.com or active.com to find the local races.
• Look at non-branded races. You can spend $625 a year in advance for one race or spend the same amount to race three events, and wait to register two months before the race if you go to non-branded races.
• Plan your race calendar early and research when fees go up.
• Find a club that puts on “training races.” These are often pretty competitive and are free, or very low cost.
• Doing races closer to home means no airfares, less gas, no hotel costs, and no need to eat out.
• If you are going to use top-name nutrition products, buy in bulk and only use them during training, not as meals or snacks. It gets expensive not on race day, but while you consume these products during training.
• If your workout lasts less than two hours, don’t bother with energy product nutrition. Just eat normally throughout the day and you will have enough fuel to go the distance with no ill-effects.
• Skip the brand-name energy programs and try “real” food. Fig newtons, peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, etc. are cheaper alternatives.
• Try chocolate milk for recovery.
• Consider water+electrolyte tabs for hot/humid days (which tend to be less expensive than bottled drinks).
I also suggest spending some time thinking and evaluating why and what you specifically like most about tris. If it’s being with the people or the training or living the healthy lifestyle, those are things that don’t cost money. If it’s all about the racing and winning for you, you’ll probably spend more money. As a coach, my experience is that most age groupers get a lot more out of their training experiences and the social scene around their club