Mark on Monday: Pragmatic Triathlete…Triathlon on a Budget

By Mark Cathcart
Many people starting out in triathlon do so with a minimal investment, and get hooked on the sport only to find spending mounting up quickly.
For some, lightweight gear is essential, but for the majority, it will make little or no difference. My ZIPP race wheel set looks great, but over the first year I had them, averaged out, they made no difference to my 10-mile Time Trial (TT) speed. A friend bought a new bike, and it cost him about $300 per second on his TT time.

Looking good is half way to being good, isn’t it?
In this column, I’ll give you some tips on how you can save money, and be prepared to step-up a gear in triathlon performance.
Find a good club, team, or set of regular events to attend.
You can piggy back on swim sessions, open water swims, training days, time trials, group rides and much more. It’s often the first thing I do when I move. Try Boulder Tri Club, Rock Mountain Tri Club and many more. They are great launch pads to learn the tricks of the trade.
Clubs are always a great “marketplace” for used kit to borrow, bull and sell. You’d think that in the day of Craigslist, eBay and Facebook for sale groups you’d be able to find everything online? My experience is people ask too much online, and people often don’t think that anyone would buy their old saddle, a waterproof jacket that has some oil stains, or the pedals they swapped out last year. Clubs and teams are a great place to ask “do you know anyone that has…” – I gave away my Garmin 310XT last year this way.
Small races remain much more affordable and better value, and they also often have good refund policies.
Starter Kits
Many triathlon and multisport shops offer starter or beginners sets. Entry level versions of everything you need, some even include running shoes, or a voucher to a partner shop. When buying a starter kit, have a budget and stick to it. You can always upgrade later, and the shop will price some items cheaper than you get them anywhere else.
If you don’t have a lightweight road bike, don’t worry. Mountain bikes with slick tires and often as fast and easy to ride until you can average 14-15MPH over the whole course. Remember to keep low, tuck in your elbows
Inflate the tires as high as you are comfortable with, and lower than max pressure on the sidewall. For almost all first or second year triathletes, aluminum frames are good enough.
Aero Bars
Everyone gets aero bars. Check the wind tests – buying clip-on aero bars early on is also only a marginal benefit until you can average 18+ MPH over a race distance.
You are better off spending the money on a good road bike fit, make sure you tell the fitter you’ll be racing triathlon as there are very different requirements for fit between group rides and riding solo in a non-drafting triathlon. Again, keep low, tuck your elbows in.
Go for a good set of road tires, not lightweight racing tires. These will get you through 2-years of racing and training, and minimize punctures.
See if you can find a “rent to buy” deal. You can rent the wetsuit for a race or a weekend, see how it works and often then put the rental price towards the purchase.
Also, wait until October. Shops tend to sell off their rental gear at the end of the season that only been used a few times, often at half price or less. Don’t but a shorty or sleeveless wetsuit just because they are cheap.

Running Shoes
Be careful when buying cheap running shoes. Make sure they’ll give the support you need. They’ll be a false economy if you get injured and running injuries tend to creep up on you.
When your shoes look worn, it’s already past when you should have changed them. They lose their support well before they are worn out. If you buy discount shoes, make sure you buy the type of shoe you need, don’t buy based on style and worse, color. If you don’t know the type of shoes you need, visit a specialist store like Flatirons Running, and buy shoes from them.
And yes, this is me at my first triathlon in 1999, We all make mistakes. Gloves, what was I thinking?
Mark Cathcart took up triathlon in the late 90’s to get fit for adventure racing, which to this day he has never done, and has since taken part in 170+ events. His pragmatic approach to training, racing, and life have lead in from being the Chairman of one of the bigger UK Triathlon clubs 15-years ago; British Triathlon volunteer of the year; a sometime race organizer; The organizer and ride leader for Austin Texas award winning Jack and Adams triathlon shop; doing sometime Sports Management for development and professional triathletes; he has attended all the Triathlon Business International, and Triathlon America conferences, where he usually asks the questions others won’t; moved to Colorado in 2016 and is a co-owner of Boulder Bodyworker

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  1. Fred Rzymek

    Going back to the roots of triathlon and staying and racing local may be the key to all of this. Sometimes less is more. Triathlon is in transition shall we say.

    • Mark Cathcart

      Thanks Fred, totally agree!


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