Triathlon on the Cheap

 

I kind of see the sport of triathlon as mid-life crisis sport because it’s so freaking expensive. TT bikes, aero helmets, designer tri kits, fancy bike shoes–all of that costs lots of money brand spankin’ new. And it’s nothing short of intimidating to see athletes donned in full tri gear when you have a hybrid bike and a regular swim suit.┬áSo, how can you get into this sport if it’s so expensive? It’s possible with a little bit of cash saved up and some patience. In fact, lots of triathletes didn’t buy all of their gear new before they even did a triathlon, so why should you?

Your biggest expenses will be a bike and a gym membership with a pool. Many road bikes can be purchased used for around $500, and gym memberships vary. Oftentimes, if you teach at least one class at your local gym, you can get a discounted membership, so look into that. I pay $120 a month for a family membership to the local Y, but since I work there, it’s a lot less now. For the record, my road bike cost $500. However, a word of caution if you’re like me: your bike(s) will be a hole that you throw money at all the time on maintenance and gear. The thing to remember is that the cheapest way to buy speed without upgrading your bike, helmet, jersey, tri kit or whatever is to become a better cyclist. Anyway…

You’ll need some bike tools, spare tubes, and a helmet. But other than that, here’s what you really need:

  1. A swimsuit–buy on sale on Swim Outlet or your local shop. I got a Speedo Endurance swimsuit for $50 at Toad Hollow in Paoli, and it will last me for a few years. Yes, a Speedo Endurance suit will last for a very long time, so buy one you like! And, it’s cheaper than spending $20 on a suit that will only last a month (I did that and won’t do it again).
  2. Cap and goggles–$15 for both. Make sure the goggles fit your eye sockets without the strap before you buy. The most expensive pair may not be the best pair.
  3. Running shoes–look for sales! I got a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline for $80 instead of $120 at my local store. Replace them every 300-500 miles.
  4. Cheap running shorts or cycling shorts.
  5. A used road bike $500-$800.
  6. Helmet, spare tubes, saddle bag with tools, CO2 cartridges. $20-$60 for a helmet and $40 for everything else. Bonus if you buy cycling glasses to protect your eyes from rocks and whatnot. Tifosi is a less expensive option compared to Oakleys. $70 vs. $120.
  7. Beach towel–for your transition mat (find one at home).
  8. A bag to put it all in–check thrift stores, use a canvas grocery bag, anything works.
  9. Water bottles–free at many races or pick up two for $10 each or less.

I guarantee that you will not be the only one at a triathlon to swim in a regular swimsuit and throw on a pair of running shorts for the bike with your running shoes, especially for a local sprint tri. That’s another thing: do local sprint races that are way cheaper than branded races.

It took me a few years to get a tri kit, clip in shoes for my bike with the new pedals, an aero helmet, Roka goggles, a TT bike (I bought mine used for $1800 on Ebay), and all of the other stuff that goes with the sport. Heck, I’m still saving up for gear like new racing wheels for my awesome TT bike because my bike and gear is how I like to spend my money besides family trips. So what are you waiting for? Borrow a bike, get a used one, and sign up for one of your local triathlons!

Hilly Ride

Hills are unavoidable around where I live, so I usually head to the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) since it’s the flattest and fastest ride near me; however, with Ironman Chattanooga coming up, I need to practice on hills with my TT bike, Ikaika. Sadly, Ikaika is in the shop getting some new bright red tape and longer shifting cables because I had the aero bars raised, which means that this ride was on my road bike, Bia, and she’s perfect for hills and steep climbs.

I had a three hour ride to complete, but I wanted to head for the hills for the first half of my ride before cruising on the SRT. I looped around Valley Forge’s ribbons of trails and roads at least three times–past Washington’s Quarters where he stayed during the war in the actual valley that was a forge for making all kinds of items out of iron. His house was modest and near the workshop, but it was way better than the cabins and rustic living of most of the troops in the wintry mud of the valley. I’ve been in Washington’s Quarters a few times and glided my hand up the railing he and others touched. It’s kind of gross if you think about it too hard, and my family has a running joke about Washington with all of the signs in the area about “George Washington slept here.” If he slept there, he must have peed there too, so I remind everyone that George Washington peed here, or somewhere around here anyway.

I passed the cabins too along with replicas of the forts the troops built to look out for the British. I rode by the church where they all worshipped, past monuments with spectacular views of the valley below. Valley Forge is a day’s march from Philadelphia, so if needed, the troops could swoop down and defend the city. Although, they may have been too late if the situation was dire.

You can get an idea of how the hills are from the photo on the left, but there’s no substitute for running or cycling up and down them. I went up that hill three times, which is a good 5-8 minute climb. Around Valley Forge, you’re either climbing or descending; there are no flats. When I had enough, I headed to the SRT for some easy riding.

French Creek Racing Swim Series

It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.

The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.

I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.

The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.

I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.

The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.

Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.

To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link:

Open Water Swim Series