Chrissie Wellington on… Budget triathlon gear

"Ultimately, you compete using your heart and your head, not your wallet," says Britain's four-time Kona champ

Tri on the cheap

Keen to get into triathlon but worried about the cost of going from one sport to three? Britain’s four-time Kona champ Chrissie Wellington says it’s time to get creative.


There’s no doubt that triathlons are harder on the bank balance than other sports. However, if the perceived (or actual) costs are a limiting factor, you can do the sport without breaking the bank.

I won the World Age Group Championships in 2006 using a borrowed wetsuit and a secondhand road bike with normal wheels; and won Kona in 2007 wearing my friend’s race shorts and a $20 pair of sunglasses bought from a petrol station three years before.

>>> Chrissie Wellington’s six top tips for triathlon beginners

Ultimately you compete using your heart and head, not your wallet. That said, it’s hard to ride without a bike and birthday suits aren’t overly popular.

You can use the same kit in racing that you wear in training and, as long as it fits, it can be rented, borrowed, bought secondhand or in end-of-year/ ex-rental clearance sales.

The essentials

I’d say that the essentials are: a swimsuit for training and for pool-based races; goggles; swim cap (if your hair’s long) and a wetsuit (in open water when the water temp necessitates it).

>>> Check out our forum’s secondhand gear pages

Bikes range from a few hundred pounds to the price of a car. Regardless, it must pass a safety inspection. There’s nothing stopping you using a beach cruiser, shopper or mountain bike. Chunky tyres can be swapped for skinnier slick versions, while superfluous paraphernalia like mudguards, chainguards and pannier frames can be removed.

If you have a spare £300 lying around, a road bike would be a good investment – for training, racing and even commuting. Using normal pedals (or those with cages) means you can use the same shoes for biking and running. A regular helmet is a no-brainer.

The best road bikes for triathlon

Despite the barefoot-running fad, the rules necessitate that running shoes are worn in races. Socks make for a more comfortable, less blistered experience.

Instead of a race-specific tri-suit, a swimsuit can be worn from start to finish (although it’s not pleasant, trust me), or you can slip into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt/cycle jersey/running vest post-swim. A set of £5 elastic laces can save you more time in the bike/run transition than a £150 aero helmet might on the bike.

Get creative

Creativity is cost-effective. An inflated bag from inside a wine box is an effective substitute for a swim pull-buoy, while free web tools plan and measure training runs and rides with no need for all-singing computers.

>>> UK triathlon clubs – what to expect when you join

Running and biking outside are free, while public pools are much cheaper than private gyms. Consider joining a local tri club for a nominal fee and accessing their free coaching. Club members might get discounts at local pools and tri stores and often have equipment exchanges or second-hand sales.

Good nutrition doesn’t mean spending a huge slice of your salary pie on sports-specific products. Make your own drink using a third of orange juice with two-thirds water and a pinch of salt.

For recovery, blend semi-skimmed milk, a banana, peanut butter and chocolate powder. Oats (or Rice Krispies), nutbutter, honey and dried fruit make for great energy bars.

(Image: Ewelina Karbowiak)

Pick your race carefully

Bigger high-profile races generally involve road closures, mass stewarding, security, and a pro field, so they’re also expensive to enter.

>>> Check out our race listings

Opt for smaller, lower profile events that are cheaper to enter, but which might not come with all the bells and whistles. Race entries and travel are cheaper if booked well in advance. Could you combine your annual holiday with a race to get bang for travel buck?

The issue of triathlon expense is as much about the perception and reputation as the actual cost. Once you fall in love with the sport – and your wallet can handle the pressure – you can add optional extras or upgrade. Ultimately, the best investment is in the form of hard work, drive and determination.


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