As a runner for over 15 years, I reveled in the simplicity of the sport. It doesn't take much to get started, nor to stay in. If you run 25 miles a week, you'll probably go through three pairs of shoes a year ($300), two pairs of shorts ($60), half a dozen socks - that sounds like a lot, but let me tell you, the dryer eats more running socks than dress ones ($50) and a couple of tops ($60). Toss in a race or two and you probably spend $500 a year on a healthy recreational/fitness running habit.
Now, here's where the small print comes in: Your mileage and desire to race can seriously increase the amount of time, energy and money invested in this sport. If you're a fanatic like me, the total purchases per year goes up another $200 for shoes, and perhaps $200 for races, not counting incidentals such as travel, meals, other expenses. Still, that's pretty small cost compared to NOT being a runner and having the risk of all those nasty chronic health issues resulting from a sedentary lifestyle.
Triathlon is a totally different story. Of course, you can start out with a $20 pair of goggles and a $20 Speedo for the swim, use a $200 steel-framed Sears-Roebuck special, a $20 helmet, then add the single pair of running shoes...so the healthy recreational/fitness running habit can get you through the door of a triathlon.
When you see all the slick, sexy gear that the top shelf tri-dudes and tri-chicks are using, and you watch just how quickly some of them are getting from swim to bike and from bike to run... Well, actually the bug bites not long after you do your first tri. After you revel in the joy of finishing all three disciplines without drowning, crashing or bonking (too badly!), you start to realize that getting faster is a result of two functions.
The first one is obvious. Gear. The wetsuit is great for flotation (the first time you get into one and into the water you'll be shocked at how buoyant you are), add another $100 at the very least. A tri-friendly (road racing or triathlon-specific) bike can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars used. Tri-suits can cost up to a couple of hundred bucks, but usually are less...unless you're looking for a specific brand and aren't willing to settle for less.
Training is the second, and less obvious function. A $5,000 triathlon bike won't make up for a lack of biking skill, cardiovascular fitness or mental toughness. As my friend Robbie Mott says, it's all in the engine. Swimming with a masters' group can cost you in the lowest three-digit range per year, you have to get up in the morning and get it done. Membership with a triathlon group is also inexpensive and can get you hitched up with training and great advice...or at least words of warning on what NOT to do.
Let me tell you, when the triathlon bug bites, it bites hard. Exhibit "A" is posted at the top, a 1998 used triathlon/timetrialing bike...purchased for $770 on eBay. I tried to hold out for Robbie's order of a new Cervelo P2C triathlon bike, but the temptation was too great. Now I feel bad I couldn't hold up my end of the bargain. The only way I can make it up to him is by perhaps getting another set of wheels, I guess...there we go, more money...I am not certain there is a known cure outside of burnout or traumatic injury...maybe finishing an Ironman. Probably not, that's not like marathoning, where some folks say: 'been there, did it, received the t-shirt, no more.'