So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Entering The Swamp

Two weeks out from my first triathlon of the spring season, and the first triathlon ever for my buddy Scott, I decided to ask last night what equipment he had together for the tri. He's not blissfully ignorant of the equipment triathlon demands of its participants, but it seems he hopes to get through it with as low an expense as possible.
Our discussion went from informative to almost a debate, as his (well-meaning) girlfriend added her opinions to the mix. My consigliere and I, who have participated in a number of multisport events, remained adamant on this point at the end of the discussion: While there are some pieces of equipment that are absolute, there are other items that make doing all three disciplines a lot more comfortable.
I found an article from the Beginner Triathlete web site that went in a little more detail than I would have, and missed a very serious piece of mandatory equipment - the helmet - but provided some of the source material from which I have borrowed. Thanks to Javier Gomez for writing the source material from which I will shamelessly rip-off:
What do you need to start in triathlon?
First you need to determine what type of triathlete you really are or want to be. The age-group triathlete (amateur) can be divided broadly into two types of athletes: non-competitive and competitive. This is really determined by what your goals are for doing a triathlon. Are you doing this for the fun of it? To get in shape? For the adventure? Then you probably fall into the non-competitive type. If you are doing triathlon for all of the above but also have a very competitive personality, who likes to see yourself on the podium often, then you are the competitive type.
To get ahead in racing, the equipment you use really does make a difference. However, if you are a non-competitive type you can pretty much ignore most of the advertising material in a triathlon magazine, (I like to call it tri-geek porn) such as Triathlete, Inside Triathlon, 220, and so forth.
So what do you really need? I will go through the different skills involved in triathlon and list what I feel you need to start.
Most folks find the swim the hardest, not because it is more physically difficult, but because it is the most unnatural for land-dwelling animals. It also is the most dangerous part, due to the very real possibility of drowning.
If you are non-competitive, all the equipment you will need is a good pair of goggles and a bathing suit. A wetsuit is not required, but it helps in dealing with cold water and aids buoyancy, making the swim a little easier. You may want to get triathlon-specific shorts. These have a thin padding so you can hop on your bike after the swim and saves time spent changing to cycling clothes.
The non-competitive type can use ANY bike they want. However, try to get a bike which suits the distance. A fitness bike (road bike with an upright cross bar instead of racing handle bar generally seen on road bikes) will work fine; mountain bikes also work if you switch the tires to ones made for road riding. Entry level road bikes can be obtained for a few hundred dollars. You may want to borrow a bike from a friend and try it out first before taking the (often-expensive) plunge. If you do like triathlon, you may want to invest a little more; the higher-end-priced bikes are really better equipment. A few hundred dollars more in cost can greatly improve your bike selection. Lighter bikes and/or bikes with tri-specific geometry can run from a bit over a thousand dollars all the way up to the price of an entry level car (however, lighter doesn't always mean faster - the bike is only as good as the engine powering it).
There are three pedal types: basic pedals, cages (or clips), and clipless. The basic pedal is the platform you push down on with your foot; functional, but not very efficient. The cages are basic pedals with a cage-like structure that keeps the foot from sliding forward off the pedal. This allows you to put more force on the pedal without fear of your foot sliding off. You can also put force on the pedal through more of the pedal cycle. The clipless is the most efficient type of pedal, and allows you to use your energy and force on the whole complete cycle of the pedal stroke.
Make sure your bike is the correct size for you, and properly fit to save you from wasting energy or injuring yourself.
Training for a triathlon is more demanding, a good running shoe will help prevent injuries. (Note: Javier went into excruciating detail here, but since most runners wouldn't make the same mistakes he did I'll pass on his commentary.)

Some things Javier missed I consider of utmost importance:
Helmets are mandatory in triathlon. Price doesn't matter, only the fact the helmet is approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Here, again, price can be an issue. If you feel your brain is worth $35, then buy a $35 helmet. However, a $35 helmet is better than no helmet.
Even the shortest distance triathlons will have you moving for at least a solid hour, so hydration during the bike and run (outside of established aid stations) will make the difference between a trip to the hospital and sitting on a bench quaffing your beverage of choice after the event. Make certain you can carry at least one 18-ounce water bottle on your bike, either in a frame cage or a seat-mounted cage. Some participants have taken to use Camelbak hydration systems which are worn like a small rucksack or fanny pack. These are also good, too.
Two types of straps fall into the realm of optional but highly recommended: The ankle strap for the timing chip, and the waist-cinched number belt. While your race number is inked on your arms and legs, your bike, and your helmet, the race number can get in the way while riding (if you are wearing it in the front) also makes it harder for race referees to know who you are if they approach from behind to enforce drafting rules. I use the ankle strap and number belt for road racing now, which saves the unlacing or unpinning hassle at races.

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