From budget to baller: triathlon kit to make you a champ
© Lamborghini Cervelo
Whether it's for training or tri day, seasoned ironman Nick Busca reveals the gadgets and gizmos that could help you boss your swim, cycle and run.
If you’re getting into triathlon for the very first time, it can seem quite daunting: three sports blended together, some hard training ahead and, of course, lots of gear.
Some pieces are cheap and beneficial for your athletic development; and some are just expensive and you can get away without them. Others, however, overlap both categories. Here’s a list of recommendations for both essential pieces to get started with and some toys for those gunning towards the elite level.
Yes, really. When I first saw these torture tools appearing in my swim training, it was as though my coach had turned into Mickey from the Rocky series. His explanation was pretty straightforward: "Hold stones in your hands and swim with them, focusing on a high-elbow catch." It's brutal but effective, increasing your stroke strength in open water and ensuring you have a big edge when water is choppy.
Ankle bands and pull buoy (from £10 each)
Many triathletes who come from a running or cycling background often make the mistake of thinking the swim is just something to survive. But no, a triathlon is swim-bike-run, not just warm-up-in-the-water-bike-run, and a few quid spent on the right tools can really make your stroke more efficient and improve your times massively.
Pool buoys, for instance, will help you counter sinking legs by keeping your hips up, developing a feeling of a stream-lined body position in the water and reducing your drag. Throw an ankle band into the mix, which forces you to engage your core and keep your legs straight and on the surface, and you have the ultimate training exercise.
Auto-lock laces (from £10)
A 'marginal gain' perhaps, but auto-lock laces (which you can put on any pair of shoes) are actually the easiest marginal gain you can get for a triathlon transition. The idea is simple: laces that you have previously set to your feet size and that don’t need to be tightened up while swapping shoes. Just take your bike shoes off and jump into the running ones in no time. Just make sure they are not too tight, because if the race temperature is hot and your feet swell, then you need to stop and loosen them.
Heart rate strap (from £20 to £40)
A heart rate strap (or monitor) is the number one tool that will mark your way into data-driven nerd status. To efficiently use one you will need to perform benchmark testing to set up your maximum heart rate and find your heart rate thresholds, repeating the tests on a regular basis to monitor your improvements and see how far you can push yourself as an athlete.
Tri-suit (from £40 to £140) and wetsuit (from £70 to £500)
With the vast majority of races set outside in the rough environment around lakes, rivers, seas and oceans, a tri-suit should be your first expense. Tri-suits are designed to be used in the water, on the bike and on the run – with all the pros and cons of being gear for all three disciplines. There are various models and prices (sleeve-less and long-sleeved ones for all conditions), and some are of a high-quality, breathable material for the hottest races.
However, if you’re racing in open water that is cold, wetsuits may be mandatory. There are several upsides to wetsuits: for example they help you float on the water (and make you faster) and keep you warm. Finally, buy a tube of Vaseline to apply on your skin when putting the wetsuit on. It will help you keep from chafing!
Tri-watch (from £199)
Keeping track of your progress is not only rewarding – particularly when you start seeing the improvements – but is also the easiest way for a “remote coach” to see how you've trained. That allows him or her to guide you if you need to change something in your routine. And you can do it all with a good tri watch.
Turbo trainer (from £50 to £1K)
For those short, dark, cold and rainy winter days, a turbo trainer is the best investment you can make. And to be honest, the physical benefits of training indoors even for just one hour – away from traffic fumes and red-lights – are massive. There are many turbo trainers on the market (some 'smart' ones that connect to third-party apps and to online training platforms), but even the lower-end ones will make you sweat lots and work just fine.
Of course, if you’re really keen and want to ride on Zwift – a training platform where you can ride with other users all over the world – then you need to go for a 'smart' one. Oh and Zwift is also good for running.
Power meter (from £400 to £800)
One natural progression towards an even more precise training plan is a power meter, a device you can mount on your bike (pedals, on your cranks, hubs …) which will tell you which wattage you’re actually riding at. You need to have a structured training plan in order to truly benefit from the gizmo, but if you want to evolve in your cycling knowledge and effectiveness, this is the way to go.
TT bikes (1K+) aero helmets (£50 to £250)
When you spend a lot of time on the saddle, be it middle-distance or full-distance triathlons, a time trial [TT] or triathlon-specific bike is definitely a good call. The aerodynamic proportions can make a huge difference – just ensure the frame and seat suit your stance and style before you buy. Other aero gadgets like TT helmets and aero wheels can also bring big advantages to long courses.
Cervelo P5X Lamborghini limited edition (£15,000)
When one of the most luxe triathlon bike brands on the market, Cervelo, meets one of the most expensive car manufacturers in Lamborghini, you know you've got something built for speed. It's a rocket alright, but such is the limited edition nature of the bike (only 25 units were produced), you'd better get a few major podiums finishes before you go about trying to find one.