Triathlon cost-cutting: how to train and race on a budget

Don’t let misconceptions of cost, carbon and crazed competition stop you from making 2020 the year you take up triathlon. It’s easier, cheaper and more accessible than you think. Here are 19 ways to cut the cost

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Thankfully, despite its reputation, triathlon doesn’t have to break the bank. You see, as Britain’s former ITU world champion and one of the fastest-ever Ironman Tim Don, “Ultimately, you compete using your heart and your head, not your wallet.” And if you use your head – and time – wisely, you can make huge multisport savings.

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Time then, for us to morph into a multisporting Martin Lewis…

1. PARK A PB

Parkrun is a fitness phenomenon with more than 600 free 5km runs taking place all over the UK. Its inclusivity is highlighted by the weekly average time, up from 22:17mins in 2005 to 29:22mins in 2018. That said, there is a competitive edge. Simply set up your account at parkrun.org.uk and you can monitor your speed-endurance improvement over time. The benefits stretch beyond the physical: research conducted by Staffordshire University showed that Parkrun boosts mental health, including a sense of achievement and connecting with others.

How to use Parkrun to test your run form 

02  MAXIMISE TRAINING TIME

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle, and is why some of us feel more alert in the morning (larks) and some in the evening (owls). Studies show that 10% of us qualify as morning people, 20% night owls while the rest sit in the large spectrum in between. You’ll probably know which you are, but you can quantify your self-assessment more accurately by undertaking the free Morningness-Eveningness questionnaire. And then what? Look to undertake your harder sessions when you’re at your circadian peak to extract that bit more from the session. 

03 PLOD BY PODCAST

Numerous studies have shown that music can boost exercise performance. Music that’s motivational or synchronised with your run cadence, for example, is shown to elicit multiple physical and psychological benefits. Which is great but, for us, we’d complement the music with free podcasts. Their recent rise matches their quality and our current favourite is The Hurricane Tapes by the BBC, which tells the story of boxer Rubin Carter’s conviction of a murder that many say he didn’t commit. Wirelessly sync to your smartphone via a set of Mpow Flame headphones. We’ve used these for years and they’re impressive, especially for under £25 (at Amazon).

04 HUNT FOR BARGAINS

The likes of Decathlon, More Mile and even Aldi stock extremely affordable bike and run gear all year round. You can also take advantage of the likes of eBay and Facebook Marketplace to grab yourself a bargain. Keep an eye out for older models of run shoes in particular as they’re generally as good as the latest, pricier version.

05 RACE CLOSER TO HOME

Challenge Roth, the Alpe d’Huez Tri, Escape from Alcatraz – all events that should be on your bucket list. And all events that, once you’ve factored in travel, accommodation and race entry, will leave a dent in your bank account. The solution? Simple. Race closer to home. 

18 of the world’s best triathlons – that you’ve probably never heard of

21 must-do UK triathlons

  

06 WEIGH UP YOUR GYM OPTIONS

Brits waste half-a-billion pounds on unused gym memberships, but it needn’t be so. There are numerous gym chains up and down the country, including PureGym and Xercise4less, that offer deals that don’t lock you into a 12-month contract. You can also buy day passes for an increasing amount of gyms and, if you’re really canny, tap into free trials that usually last from a day to a week. Outdoor gyms that nestle within parks are another frugal option.

  

07 JOIN A CLUB

Securing the services of a personal triathlon coach will move you one step closer to multisport nirvana – but it’s not cheap. That’s why we’d recommend joining your local triathlon club. Joining fees tend to be nominal, and some of the biggest clubs offer technique and social support every day of the week. Go to britishtriathlon.org for a comprehensive clubs listing. You can also tap into the forum at 220triathlon.com and seek training advice from like-minded, goal-achieving folk.

10 reasons why you should join a triathlon club

UK triathlon clubs – what to expect when you join

  

08 BE CREATIVE

When it comes to training, a little creativity sends you a long way. Save money on a float and pull buoy by using an inflated bag from inside a wine box, while swim shorts, often reserved for summer sojourns, can act as drag pants for added resistance and increased power. Trainers, instead of clipless shoes and pedals, are fine on the bike. And when it comes to the run, free internet tools such as MapMyRun save on expensive fitness watches. 

09 GO EAST TO GO LONG

Those of you who’ve raced triathlon for a while and are looking to make your Ironman debut in 2020 will baulk at the £500 entry fees. But not if you enter the full-distance offering at Triathlon Estonia on 22 August, which is an incredible €68. With return flights from the UK to Tallinn starting from less than £50, you’re onto a memorable long-distance bargain.

Ironman-distance triathlons: 10 of the cheapest

  

10 DO YOUR OWN SWIM, BIKE & RUN TESTS

 Fitness tests help you to create training zones accurately, with full-on aerobic and anaerobic efforts within the confines of a university or performance centre the ideal. But that ideal comes at a cost. Instead, undertake gratis swim, bike and run tests. For the bike and run, warm up for 10mins before riding or running as hard as you can for 20mins. Take your average heart rate as a maximum, from which you can then create zones. In the pool, swim 50m, counting strokes and measuring time. The combined number is your swim golf score, which you’ll then look to lower through technique and stamina work. 

11 LOAD UP YOUR BIKE

It’s a fact: lightweight carbon bikes will end in a faster bike split. But when it comes to training, there’s a strong argument that heavier is better –  the greater effort required to move a substantial force demands more muscle power. So, that £200   mountain bike gathering dust in your shed? Use it. And even add a water bottle packed with iron filings for further resistance. It’ll pay dividends come race day.

12 GO TRI IT FOR YOURSELF

Go Tri is arguably one of British Triathlon’s finest initiatives, providing newcomers to our splendid sport the opportunity to complete manageable swim, bike and run distances for a small outlay. Take March’s Go Tri Bath Duathlon, which features a 1.5km run, 10.5km bike and 800m run, all for £20. You can also complete Go Tri challenges at the gym and even organise your own events.

13 TAKE THE SUNSHINE SUPPLEMENT

You could spend your entire salary on supplements: it’s not needed. A healthy, nutrient-packed diet is sufficient to optimise training gains. Apart from vitamin D, that is. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption so is linked with bone health. There’s also evidence that vitamin D is important for a strong immune system and muscle function. Predominantly you get vitamin D from the sun and it’s hardly present in food. So, a supplement during the UK
winter is essential. Prices start from less than a fiver.

Vitamin D: why it’s important for athletes and when you should take it

  

14 MAKE YOUR OWN ENERGY DRINK

Many commercial energy drinks are nothing more than a bucket of sugar loaded with preservatives and sweeteners. So, make your own. One option is ‘Orange Energy’, which requires mixing 700ml water, 300ml orange juice, a small amount of sugar to taste, plus a pinch of salt to replace sodium lost through sweating. Or go for ‘Energy Ice Tea’, mixing one tea bag, six teaspoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, 60ml lemon juice and 800ml of boiling water. Refrigerate to cool.

15  INVEST IN LIGHTS

Many of us use our commute to work as a training hit, and a study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported that the average daily cycle trip to work and back is around 44mins. At this time of year, most of that’s in the dark. Which is where a £5 set of front and rear lights from Cycle Republic comes in. They’re certainly more ‘to be seen’ than ‘to see’, but that’s fine when tackling the urban jungle. They’re also easy to clamp on and off. A must-buy, we say.

16 RENT YOUR WETSUIT 

Incredibly, Scottish brand Lomo’s triathlon wetsuits start at £79. That’s not even an arm panel of 2XU’s £600 Pro offering. But there’s an even cheaper option – and that’s renting. Take mywetsuithire.co.uk for example, whose two-week hire starts from £29.95. For that, you can choose from any number of the top brands, including Zone3, Huub, Blueseventy and Orca. It’s also a great way to test out fit and sizing before you manage to save up for the full purchase.

17 SPEED UP TRANSITION

Aerodynamic helmets and deep-rimmed carbon wheels are all well and good, and there’s no doubt that used correctly they can save you time. But you can arguably race as fast by investing in a set of triathlon laces. There are many on the market to ensure a swifter transition, starting with dhb’s £3 pair . Conserve further time in transition by attaching a strip of bright ribbon to your bike, helping you to avoid transitional turmoil and locate your steed quick-smart.

18 BRUSH UP ON BIKE MAINTENANCE 

 There are hundreds of fantastic and affordable independent bike shops that’ll have your bike running perfectly in no time. But even more affordable is maintaining smooth shifting and precise pedalling yourself. Haynes classic, The Bike Book, is a good place to start, covering every topic imaginable, from basics such as mending a puncture, to more advanced gear-cable changes. Haynes and our sister website Bike Radar have also teamed up to produce an app The Road Bike Manual available on the App Store (iOS) or the Play Store (Android) now!

19 MIRROR JACK MONROE

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Value-packed, tinned food isn’t the enemy. Studies show that the amount of minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, protein and carbohydrates remain relatively unchanged through the process of canning. The main nutrients either lost or diminished are water-soluble vitamins that can’t be stored in the body. The most nutritious cans are oily fish, such as omega-3-rich salmon, and chickpeas and lentils, which are good for swifter muscle repair and rebuild