The Budget Guide To Triathlon

Triathlons are expensive!

I hear that a lot.  And triathlons definitely can be. When you see professional triathletes decked out in gear and apparel that looks as foreign and expensive as a space suit, it can be intimidating. But, with most things, money is very seldom a good excuse for not doing something cool. If you really want to do something, you can usually find the money to make it happen or you can find a way to do it for less than you thought it would cost.

Running a triathlon doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg (which is good, because then you would be swimming in circles and hopping your way through the race which would be awkward at best). You can still run a triathlon and stay on a budget.

The Budget Guide To Triathlon

The Swim – What You Need

Swimsuit – Free/$20

You already have this. You’re not going to want to wear your boardshorts though. They’ll slow you down a lot more than you think they will. Guys get a pair of compression shorts if you don’t already have one. They’ll run you $20. Yes, you’ll be standing around half naked with hundreds of strangers. It’s okay, there will be hundreds of half naked strangers standing around you. No one will care.

Goggles – Free/$20

Most people have a pair of goggles lying around somewhere. If you don’t, you can pick one up for anywhere between $12 and $25. Once again, you don’t need anything fancy. Most goggles are pretty similar and you won’t be able to see through most of the water you’ll be swimming in anyways. Get a pair that are comfortable and start swimming.

The Bike – What You Need

Bike – Free/$150

Bike’s can get ungodly expensive. Pro triathletes spend 5-10k on tricked out bikes with cool looking wheels and aero bars that are intense. Good news is, none of that is required. I did my first triathlon on a mountain bike I borrowed from my brother. That was not a good decision (mountain bikes are terribly difficult to ride). That said, you can borrow a bike from a friend. One of my buddies does one triathlon every year and still doesn’t have his own bike, he just keeps asking people to borrow theirs. That said, if you’d like to ride something on your own, there are tons of bikes to be had for $150. You just need to get creative, check the classifieds and be willing to put in some sweat equity.

Helmet – Free/$35

You have to have this in most races or you’ll be disqualified. Also, this helps protect your head from smashing into little pieces all over the ground like pieces of watermelon. That’s a good thing. You can get a cheap helmet for $20. My first race, I borrowed my sister’s. No joke. Get something that covers your head and get on with training.

Bike Shoes – Free

You can get really nice shoes that clip to your pedals . Chances are, if this is your first race, you don’t have clips, or pedals, or even a very nice bike. So you don’t probably don’t need clips either. I’ll be getting clips to bike with soon, but for my first year and a half of racing, I’ve used the same shoes I run in, to bike in. This saves you money and time on your T2 transition because you don’t have to get off your bike and change shoes. If you get serious about racing, you’ll eventually want to go ahead and get some nice clips, but for your first time out, don’t worry about it.

The Run – What You Need

Running is simple. All you need is a good pair of shoes. And, if you’re a barefoot runner, you might not even need that. You might feel like throwing on a shirt or a pair of shorts but you don’t have to if you don’t want. I’ve seen people run in the same gear they swam in and at that point, you’ve run around half naked long enough to not really care whether you’re wearing a t-shirt or not.

Running shoes – Free/$100

You probably have running shoes all ready. If not, you can grab some off Eastbay for $30. You can spend $120 on a pair if you want to, but it won’t make you run faster. Find a pair that are comfortable, break them in and get running.


That’s it. That’s all you need. Almost everything you need for your first triathlon, you already have or can borrow pretty easily (I did). If you don’t have anything at all and have no friends who know what a bicycle is, you can buy everything you need for less than $350. That’s a dollar a day for a year, or 12 bucks a day for a month.

Don’t spend your life savings your first time out on a race you don’t even know if you’ll like yet. Try it out with base line stuff. It does not need to be top of the line gear. If you like racing, do more races and then get nicer stuff over time. If you don’t like it, then move on to the next challenge and feel good about not investing hundreds of dollars into something you tried one. But don’t worry if you don’t have the nicest stuff out there. Just get training. No one wants to be the guy who spend thousands on gear and is getting passed up by the guy on the $150 bike. If you make a choice between gear and training, choose training every single time. That’s how you do a triathlon on a budget.

Want to do your first triathlon but don’t know where to get started? Start training today with Impossible TRI and start running your first triathlon in 3 months.

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  1. says

    Good stuff, this was nice to see.

    Whenever anyone goes on an exercise binge around here, the first stop is to the shops to buy some expensive skins. Don’t mention the protein bars..

    Nice post.

  2. Bekka says

    I totally agree! Awesome post, Joel :)

    For those that are contemplating a tri, think on this too: I just did my first tri in bike shorts and a green tanktop… So I stood out among the pros, but it made it easier for my friends to spot me and cheer me on from the moment they spotted me in the distance until I passed them. And honestly this was a huge encouragement in my first triathlon!

    So I definitely agree with Joel that you need not care what you look like!

    • says

      And you still did great! There’s ALWAYS someone who’s going to be dressed weirder than you, and if by some chance you do end up the oddest dressed person in the race, you get to be the one everyone else talks about. Win. Win :)

  3. says

    This is great, Joel! I’m working on keeping the costs down as I prepare for my first ever sprint tri next month. I had settled on dealing with just using my mountain bike, as well, until a friend lent me his super sweet old Pinarello racing bike, shoes and clips!!

    • says

      You should go give that friend of yours a massive hug. You don’t realize it now, but he just saved you an hour of absolute hell on that mountain bike :)

  4. says

    Nice post! I have been throwing the idea of a triathalon around and my mother in law send me a flier yesterday for one she has done for the past several years–so I think am in now. I don’t have a bike or swim at all, but have lots of running gear already. It’s nice to know what is necessary and what is not. Thanks!

  5. says

    Joel, thanks for the valuable and for me-much needed advice. Is there a bike you would recommend for triathlons and trail riding in Florida/south Alabama with no mountains?

    Honestly I was planning on getting a Walmart mountain bike if they had one big enough but you saved me from making that mistake.

    • says

      I don’t have a speicific model. My advice would be to go to a tri or bike shop and get fitted, and find something in your price range. I’m rocking a 80s era Fuji bike right now (super old, but reliable), so the bike you’re on matters a lot less than the training you put in and your willingness to do it.

  6. Aida says

    This was nice to find and read! I have been taking swim lessons (still very new), competed in a relay sprint a couple weeks ago. I made the swim and felt awesome! So neat to do that part..I want to do the whole thing next. I have mentioned the idea to friends and one of the first things they say is “that’s an expensive sport” :( wahhh wahhh…so I’ve been searching for some positive feedback . I went to a club meeting of triathletes and I was mind blown at all the info regarding just the bike part!!! Shoes, clips, right! Super excited learning about it. I’m not embarrassed to start off on a mountain bike.

  7. Ray Thompson says

    Iv’e just registered for my first Super Sprint, with focus only on complete…..The text above and comments make great sense and very much appreciated. More chance of surviving now. Thanks Ray


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