Starting Triathlon – What to Wear

We all know that a triathlon involves swimming, cycling, and running. But have you thought about what you should wear for your event? Your choice will affect your transition times, your comfort, and your pocket. In this fourth in our Starting Triathlon series, we look at clothing for the novice or first-time triathlete.

The Swim

The swim takes place either in a pool or in open water (outside). If your event is a Sprint or Super Sprint, the chances are the swim will take place in a pool, so you don’t have to worry about a wetsuit. On the other hand, if you have opted for a longer distance, such as an Olympic, you may need to wear a wetsuit. These are the rules on open water swimming temperature and wetsuits:

  • Below 14 C, you must wear a wetsuit.

  • Between 14 C and 22 C, wetsuit it optional, but recommended for novices and age-groupers.

  • Above 22 C, you cannot wear a wetsuit.

Note: British Triathlon Federation (BTF) rules for swims up to 1500-m. Other bodies and distances may have different rules, but don’t worry, the race organiser or officials will let you know.

If you choose to wear a wetsuit, it’s worth remembering:

  • Wetsuits increase buoyancy - for most people this makes the swim easier.

  • Use a swim-specific wetsuit – ‘shorties’ designed for some watersports can be difficult to swim in.

  • Practice removing your wetsuit several times before the event.

  • You must wear something beneath it. Either a tri-suit or a swimming costume are fine but avoid cycling shorts as they tend to become saturated and this doesn’t help your swim or bike.

  • You can rent wetsuits for an event or an entire season, saving you the investment in your own suit. This can be a great approach because wetsuits are designed to suit the needs of different athletes, so you may rent a beginner’s suit and, in the future buy one for an intermediate or advanced swimmer.

Tip: a tri-suit is a one-piece item of clothing that features a minimal pad to cushion you from the saddle during the bike leg. The key benefit of a tri-suit is that you wear the same item for all disciplines, and that can drastically reduce transition time. Expect to pay between £50 and £80 for an entry-level tri-suit.

If you are not wearing a wetsuit, you should be aware that BTF rules (other organisation’s rules may vary) state that in Olympic and shorter distance events you cannot change out of your swimsuit during the event. In other words, if you choose to add other items of clothing during the bike and run, they must go over your swimsuit.

The only other item of clothing you need during the swim, is a swim cap. Your event will provide you with a cap and you must wear this. If your swim is outdoors and you suffer from a cold head, you can wear more than one swim cap as long as the official one is the outermost.

The Bike

What you wear during an event is different from when you train. When training, your focus is on comfort; when doing an event, your focus is on speed. So, starting from the top down, this is it:

  • Helmetcompulsory and remember that you must don your helmet before touching your bike. Failure to do so means a big DQ (disqualification) for you – not what you want.

  • Shades – most people choose to ride with sports-specific shades to protect their eyes from sunlight, wind, and foreign bodies such as grit.

  • Tri-suit or shorts and top. Remember that whatever you wear for the bike, you’ll continue to wear for the run. You can choose to ride in your swimsuit as long as your torso is covered, but you may find it a little uncomfortable. Instead, pop on a pair of running shorts and, as a bonus, you may feel a little less self-conscious! The top you choose should overlap your shorts, but many longer distance events allow an exposed midriff. Also, if your top has a zip, it’s a wise idea to keep it fully zipped for the entire event to avoid falling foul of some federation’s rules.

  • Shoes – in our Starting Triathlon – Pedals article we explored your options for pedals and shoes. Whatever your choice, you will be wearing either trainers or cycling specific shoes.

  • Race Belt – during the bike and run you wear a race number. You can attach this to your top (assuming that you are not wearing a tri-suit) with safety pins, but a race belt provides a straightforward way to display your race number without needless fuss. Remember that during the bike, the number must be visible from the rear, and during the run visible from the front.

You may have noticed that there are two items missing from the list: gloves and socks. In the interest of speed, most triathletes do not wear these items.

The Run

Run-wear is simple: you run wearing what you wore for bike, with the exception of your helmet of course. Obviously, if you rode in cycling specific shoes, you will need to change into running shoes. Some people do wear socks to avoid blisters, but others give their running shoes a good application of talcum power to aid comfort and ease their foot into the shoe. If you choose to run without socks, it makes sense to do some trial runs well in advance of your event to make sure that you don’t suffer from blisters. Another thing that experienced triathletes do is use elastic laces. These laces are pretied and stretch to allow you to slip your feet in without the hassle of tying laces during transition.

Tip: if you’re taking part in a summer event, you might be tempted to shed your top to cool down as you run. Don’t. It’s against the rules.

In Summary

Triathlon clothing favours speed over comfort or appearance. If you are willing to make the investment, a tri-suit will decrease your times and make transitions far simpler. Whatever you choose to wear, practice transitions with your clothing choice to ensure you know what to expect on the day. And, finally, remember that nudity in transition is strictly prohibited and will lead to automatic disqualification!

If you enjoyed this article, please share and also check out the other articles in this series. And if you want to accelerate your progress on the bike, get hold of Simply Road Cycling - it will make you faster, a better climber, a confident descender, and so much more. See you next time.

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The Starting Triathlon Series

Photo Credit: Jorge Romero