TRIATHLONS ARE(N’T) EXPENSIVE

I’m a minimalist by nature. As much of a planner as I am, people tend to be surprised that so much of the rest of my world is so much more laid back. My garden, although I do spend a ton of time planning certain aspects, ends up being what I’m calling a Frozen garden, meaning that I like to “let it go, let it gooooo.” I care. I am diligent. But I also don’t fret about something green and flowering in my garden that I didn’t plant, that most would maybe call a weed, that I love and realize its beauty as a native plant. If it’s pretty, it likes its home, and it makes me smile, I’ll usually leave it and love it. Better than a bare patch of dirt!

My fitness world is no different. Yes I care. Yes I put a ton of work into it. But I don’t like to spend money on all the latest gadgets. I fell in love with running because of the simplicity of it. Grab some shoes and go run. No gym membership needed. I don’t even wear headphones anymore. So I guess it may be strange that I fell into the world of triathlon. Especially in the endurance sports world, it’s a bit of a prima donna. There are so many things that go into it, and because it is a multi-sport, whatever gear you may need for one discipline, multiply that by three and that gives you an idea of how much gear you may need, or you may think you need. I balked for awhile at this. I guess I still do.

Yeah, there’s no getting around that you do need more “things” to do a triathlon (it is hard to cycle without a bicycle after all). But, it doesn’t have to be expensive. I consider myself to be a sustainable athlete, because I consider the environmental impact of every decision I make when it comes to my fitness. I also consider the monetary impact, because let’s just say it, quarantine or no quarantine, ain’t nobody got time for those $2,000+ tires! If you’re the type of person who loves to pour money into a hobby, that’s your prerogative. Go for it. I, on the other hand, have found ways to get the best bang for my buck by building up over time, being mindful of value, and by DIY-ing my way through the triathlon world.

Usually, my biggest question when I buy something is “Can this serve more than one purpose?” If the answer is no, I typically disregard it immediately.

Nutrition : I make most of my own nutrition, with the goal of cutting down on food waste, trash from packaging, and amping up water conservation and my own nutrition. It also saves a pretty penny to make your own food. My apple and sweet potato race fuel costs about $0.55 per serving. Compare that to $1.24 for a gel or $0.95 for a baby food pouch, and you can see how that may add up:

  • I go through 1-4 pouches per week. This is a savings of between $0.40-$2.74/week or, after 1 year of training, up to $142.48 just on fuel.

I also choose whole foods for my training, as opposed to synthetic bars, etc. This is cheaper and also I’ve found them to be easier to customize and easier to digest (let me know in the comments if you’d like more recipes and/or info). Even better, the environment is happiest here it all but eliminates plastic and packaging. Some of my favorites include bananas, dates, peanut butter, and my homemade bars.

Clothing : You can spend a fortune on clothing. Athletic clothing is not typically environmentally friendly. Most athletic fabrics are some plastic/synthetic polymer mashup, because they are typically aimed at being moisture-wicking, fast drying, waterproof, water resistant, or other adjectives that are definitely helpful if you’re trying to keep the sweat or rain off.

  • Buy secondhand. Both bikes I have were purchased secondhand. Sport is a ’92 Schwinn Paramount Series 5, which I paid $200 in 2012 (originally $800 new in 1992 — she’s vintage and only 58 were ever made!). Blade is a Kuota K-Factor, for which I paid $900 used in 2014 (originally $4,599.00). Check sites like this, look for bike co-ops in your area, or check Facebook groups to see if you can get a good deal. Always remember to get your bike fit, especially if you are purchasing used. Most clothing and gear can be purchased secondhand, and it is totally worth it.

Gear : A short list of the gear that I think is absolutely necessary for triathlon training and racing looks something like this: running shoes, bike, bike shorts, tri kit/swimsuit, goggles, swim cap, helmet.

The gear you can do without but I would still highly recommend include: a watch, a bike bag for your tools, wetsuit (depending on the water and temps you’ll be swimming in) and sunglasses.

However, there is plenty of gear that you can do without, especially if you’re just starting out. I have done 2 sprint distance tris, 3 olympic distance tris, and 1 half Ironman over the course of just a couple of years without clip-in pedals, for example. Other things I have chosen to forgo include: lubricants (I just use Vaseline for hot spots/chafing prevention), swim toys (buoys, paddles, fins, snorkels), fancy helmets/aero-helmets, race wheels, heart rate monitor, turbo trainers, power meters, transition bag, swim skins, and probably a lot more I can’t even think of!

Additional Money Saving Tips

  • Plan ahead of time. I’ve known since 2018 that I was going to complete my Iron-distance triathlon this year (2020). So, keeping an eye out for when registration opens is the best way to save up to hundreds of dollars on your race entry. Plan your race calendar in as much advance as possible. This goes for purchasing gear, food, and more, too. If you wait until a race expo to purchase your nutrition, for example, chances are you’ll pay a bit more for it.
  • I’ve mentioned this a couple of times in the post, but it is all-encompassing, so I think it merits another mention. Buy secondhand. Almost everything you need can be purchased used, saving an incredible amount of money.
  • My favorite question to ask myself is, “Can this serve more than one purpose?” If I am purchasing something and it will only do one thing or be a one-time use, I will almost always opt out of buying it. It’s easy to get sucked into the “I need this” or “This is so cool” or “This is totally Aero” headspace, but take a second to think.
  • See if you have something that can be repurposed or made into whatever you are looking for. YouTube is a great tool for DIY projects, too. Sometimes just searching “whatever you’re looking for + DIY” will yield some pretty awesome and inexpensive results.
  • When it comes to food especially, buy in bulk. If you are purchasing gels, energy chews, bars, or whatever your flavor is, take the time to search online and purchase an entire box/carton/whatever. Just this one simple step will save you from spending the per item price that you’d get in the grocery store.
  • Consider renting. Bikes, wetsuits, and a lot of other gear can be rented for the day of. If you don’t consistently need something for training, or you think you may only need it for race day, renting can be a great option. Just make sure that you give yourself enough time to get used to the new item.

I guess more than anything just remember that while you are more than likely to spend some amount of money doing triathlon (just like any other sport or hobby), you don’t have to let it rule your wallet! Make smart, informed decisions to get the most out of your gear!

Get fired up! What are some of your money saving tri tips? Let me know in the comments below, or try out one of the ones listed above and tell me how it goes! Remember, triathlon doesn’t have to break the bank!

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