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WHAT TO WEAR IN A TRIATHLON

So what do triathletes actually wear in one of these darn things? Today we boil down triathlon to its three essential areas, starting at the feet and working our way to the head, as if you were a paper doll, with the right outfit for each discipline in the sport.

What to wear?
The question plagues us all, but never more so than when trying something new. Think back to your first middle school dance—not the correct moment for innovation, right? We are, at our most animal, creatures of habit and herd. When joining a new subculture (especially one that appears comfortable running around in underwear), we love to know the bounds of normal behavior. Our personalities can surface later, when it’s safe.

So what do triathletes actually wear in one of these darn things? Today we boil down triathlon to its three essential areas, starting at the feet and working our way to the head, as if you were a paper doll, with the right outfit for each discipline in the sport.
1. FEET. For the swim, this is easy: nothing. For the bike it’s a little more complex. Many triathletes will forgo socks during the cycling portion of the race, since your feet are wet coming out of the water and putting socks on wet feet is hard (go ahead, give it a try - we’ll wait). Wet feet = wet socks, and then you’ll probably have wet socks for the run, perhaps also full of sand. Our advice? Skip socks on the bike (pro tip: make sure your cycling shoes fit well without socks on!). For the run, it also depends, but we say go with socks. Sure, if you’re doing a sprint distance triathlon, or maybe an Olympic distance race, and every second counts to you, then skipping socks can be advantageous. But if you’re like most of us (or if you’re doing anything longer than an Olympic) put socks on in T2 before you put on your sneaks, and your blister-free feet will thank you later.
2. LEGS & TORSO. You’ll cover up most of you with something that endurance athletes usually call a “kit” or “tri suit.” That’s a pretty vague and unhelpful term, so what do we mean? You have two options here, which we’ll call “one piece” and “two-piece.”
a. A two-piece kit consists of a pair of shorts/bottoms and some kind of separate top. Tri shorts or tri bottoms are snug and low-drag, shed water nicely, and provide enough support/padding between you and your saddle without making you feel like you’re competing in a diaper. A tri top may be as minimal as a sports bra, or as complete as a full cycling jersey—the distinction here is that the top is completely separate from the bottom. Tri tops often have smaller pockets than traditional jerseys, since you don’t want them filling up with water in the swim or catching the wind on the bike. Some tri tops have sleeves and some don’t. What’s the difference? Well, sleeveless tops may be a little more comfortable in the heat and during swimming, but usually test a little slower. When you spectate your next race, see how many triathletes sport sleeves instead of going bare-shouldered, you may be surprised. The biggest reason most triathletes go two-piece? It’s easier to go to the bathroom when your shorts aren’t connected to your shirt.
b. A one piece kit is, well, one complete piece. The top and bottom are completely connected. Athletes opt for one piece kits because they tend to stay in place better and generally test a little faster out on the race course. You’ll see more athletes in one-piece kits with sleeves than those with two piece kits, so these tend to be your overachievers (see above about sleeves being slightly faster). The bathroom thing is real, but if your kit is designed properly, someone has thought through a way to make it a little easier. This type of kit is usually referred to as a “speed suit.”
c. Oh yeah. The swim. You’ll most likely wear a wetsuit on top of your kit. If the water is WARM (like, more than 76 degrees Fahrenheit/25.5 C) you’ll wear something called a swimskin. which much like a wetsuit, simply goes over your kit. You don’t need, either, though! You can keep it simple for your first races, though and just wear a one-piece or two-piece kit for the whole race (provided the water isn’t too cold, of course!).

THE ONE PIECE TRI-KIT "SPEEDSUIT"

A one piece kit is, one complete piece. The top and bottom are completely connected. Athletes opt for one piece kits because they tend to stay in place better and generally test a little faster out on the race course. You'll see more triathletes in one-piece kits, so these tend to be your overachievers (see above about sleeves being slightly faster). The bathroom thing is real, but if your kit is designed properly, someone has thought through a way to make it easier. This type of kit is usually refereed to as a "speedsuit".

3. HEAD. During the swim, you’ll need a swim cap but your race will probably issue you one. If the water’s cold, it can be nice to have a second one you can slip on under the race-specific cap (which is required, since it helps identify which wave you’re in and makes you visible in the water). You’ll also need some goggles that ideally don’t fill up with water or fog within seconds. On the bike you’ll wear a helmet, of course. For your first few races, you don’t need one of those silly alien-looking things that has a long tail. Those are called “aero helmets” and can make you faster but for now just use the helmet you’ve already got. On the run we suggest a hat of some sort, to keep the sun off your face, move sweat away from your head and to corral your hair. which, after the rinse cycle of the swim and the blow dry of the bike, may be somewhat unruly.

SO THAT’S IT!

A bare-bones list of triathlon apparel. We know that this sport can be expensive and confusing, but it doesn’t have to be either. Make sure you’ve got shoes that work for both cycling and running, socks that feel nice, a one-piece or two-piece kit or tri suit, a pair of goggles and a hat that makes you feel fast. You’ll get a brand new swim cap on race day!

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