How to tri it on a budget
Let’s set the scene – There sits a 40 something in front of the computer gathering information, determined to start training for an Olympic Distance triathlon. Overwhelmed by the thoughts of fitting purposeful exercise into life, the huge amount of online training programs, material about gait and running shoes, bikes, bars, and pedals, oh my; the wanna-be triathlete heads to the kitchen, head spinning, for a Coke and some trail mix, and calls a friend. “How do others’ lives and bank accounts afford this sport?”
Maybe you are the one sitting in front of the computer wanting to dive into the world of triathlons. People all around you are talking about his/her latest race results, how many great friends they’ve made, how many pounds they’ve dropped, how much more energy they’ve had since getting off the couch and starting their triathlon careers.You think, “But I have a full time job, two kids, a spouse, ‘ol Lassie needs her walk, and I don’t even own a bike! I’d love to start training for that one race the guys were talking about before the boss walked in. When was it, October? That seems so soon, only 14 weeks away. Where would I even start? How will I find the time?”
These types of questions were posed to five Arizona triathlon-based companies; Anne and Bill Wilson of Camelback Coaching, Ron Arroyo of Arroyo Racing, Brian Grasky of Grasky Endurance, Tom Demerly of TriSports.com, and Kevin Weitzel of Tribe Multisport. For precision’s sake, the question posed to them was this.
“I am a healthy individual who can swim but I'm not the greatest. I don't really have a great bike to ride, but I'd like to be ready for my first Olympic distance triathlon in mid-October. I have kids, so really I can only workout in the early morning and on the weekends. Maybe twice a week, I can get away from the office for a noon workout of some kind.” And here’s the clincher…. “A) I have $1000 or B) I have $3500 to spend. Under each of these constraints, where and how should I spend that money and my time?”
Of course, as with any research question, more questions arise. Brian Grasky posed several variables which would play into a real life answer such as
1) Are you self-motivated or do you need external motivation?
2) Are you willing to research on your own? Or do you need concrete direction, i.e. a coach, to tell you what to do?
3) How dedicated are you to sticking to a schedule?
4) Is your goal to complete or compete?
5) What is your sports/exercise background, meaning are you a recovering couch potato or a bored injured runner? These two groups, incidentally, are largely the feeder demographics of the sport, sites Demerly at TriSports.com. As a practical matter, where is the race going to be? Will you absolutely need a wetsuit because of water temperature?
Five varying responses ensued. However, given the scenario at hand, all agreed on three ideas. First, even though the sport of triathlon sometimes gets the rap of being “the new golf”, marketed by companies to the higher end, a.k.a, those not living in my neighborhood, at $1000 anybody could get into training and racing for the virgin voyage Olympic Distance triathlon.
Second, at $3500, your equipment should not be your excuse for performing poorly. Third, and perhaps the most important as this was most stressed by all five, GET A PROPER BIKE FIT!
All have seen once-enthusiastic wanna-bes come and go from the sport simply because they didn’t like being on the bike, mainly due to the fact that it wasn’t the right bike for the individual. Weitzel, of Tribe Multisport, offers free bike fitting whether the bike costs $500 or $10,000. In fact, many stores that sell bikes will provide this service for free when you purchase there because they know that a body’s happiness can depend on it. When the body is happy, the bike is less likely to be returned.
I Can Really Do This? The $1000 Breakdown
The best possible scenario in getting the most out of your $1K is to borrow a bike that fits you, thus eliminating the largest output of financial resources. If you have to buy a bike, Demerly, suggests getting an entry level road bike, spending no more than $600 which leaves $200 for bike peripherals such as helmet, shoes, cage and bottle, possibly pedals.
The remaining money will be for a good pair of running shoes (with free gait analysis which many stores offer), something to compete in such as a tri top and shorts or a swimsuit and shorts, goggles, spare tires, and maybe a book or two with training plans and suggestions. Don’t be afraid to hunt for and/or negotiate deals on your equipment. With a computer, you can search on sites such as Craigslist.com to find used items still in great shape.
Demerly, Weitzel, and Arroyo warn that some places will try to oversell you the first time out. You don’t need anything more than an entry level aluminum frame. You don’t really even need a road bike, a mountain bike will do. Not as fast – but again - what are your goals?
“Don’t get suckered into buying a beginning tri kit,” says Weitzel. “It’s usually cheap stuff and often not all that practical.” Regarding a wetsuit, borrowing from a friend or renting one from places like Tribe is definitely the best way to go if you’re under budget constraints. Plus, as Demerly points out, if you don’t fall in love with the sport, you won’t have spent the money on one.
You’re Doing the I’ve-Already-Got-A-Bike Dance
If you are fortunate enough to have a bike at your disposal that won’t cause you to throw it down like a guitar at Oz Fest after your first long ride, rejoice at your small financial windfall. After buying what you need, like running shoes, and other bike peripherals that you may not have, then you can partake of coaching services like those offered by Arroyo Racing, Grasky Endurance, and Camelback Coaching.
Arroyo suggests starting off with Metabolic and VO2 Max tests and purchasing a heart rate monitor. Knowing your starting point and your end goals greatly helps in planning how to get there efficiently. Anne and Bill Wilson at Camelback Coaching, have twin 8 year old boys, and know first hand the balancing rigors of working, training, and real life.
“With coaching, you’ll get the most out of the time that’s available to you,” said Anne Wilson. “There’s only quality work with no junk miles. You learn from a neutral party what equipment you really need to get started as well as the pragmatics of racing day, the transitions, nutrition, and race strategy.”
Grasky agrees that after purchasing the necessities, with disposable cash in hand, seek out a good swim coach. “More so than cycling and running, swimming fitness is almost entirely technique-driven,” said Grasky “As a swim coach and provider of private instruction, I couldn’t agree more. I always tell the triathletes who work with me that I want them to be able to swim, spine in-line, on top of the water without using their legs for anything more than propulsion, i.e. not as anti-drowning mechanisms. Knowing proper technique saves the oxygen-sucking legs for the bike and run, the majority of the race.”
Grasky also suggests spending any extra money on clinics whether they’re about open-water tactics, transitions, racing nutrition or race-day execution. The information provided is bound to include something a green-horn hadn’t thought of before.
Cha-ching, And for $3500?
Well, if, with the $1000 budget you had to buy a bike, now you can easily buy a “good brand name bike with all the peripherals,” says Weitzel.
Plus you might consider items like aerobars, better pedals and wheels, maybe even an indoor bike trainer which, according to Ann Wilson, adds flexibility with the AZ heat and when family and work issues invariably pop-up during your normally planned training time. With the remaining money you could invest in coaching, a membership to your local US Masters Swimming group and/or private swim lessons and supplemental training toys like the heart rate monitor Arroyo suggested.
Basically, with a $3500 budget, “Your equipment won’t be your limiting factor,” says Demerly. His breakdown includes shopping the sales in-store and online, spending 50-60% of the $3500 on the bike itself, again, making sure to get a proper fit; spending extra on quality clipless pedals, shoes, a helmet, cages/bottles, and a cyclometer. After all this, you’ll still have $1000 to spend on a wetsuit, coaching and a plan, good running shoes and a well-made training and racing wardrobe.
One more concept that all five interviewees agreed upon was the fact that an un(der) trained person on an expensive bike is still un(der) trained. A $3000 time trial bike with a titanium/carbon frame, top of-the-line components, and disc wheels will not make you a physiological superhero, so don’t go in thinking you buy your way into having a good race. If you find yourself with a little extra cash, small purchases like a set of $99 clip-on aerobars have been cited on www.Specialized.com to provide a significant savings in physical output versus staying with the drop bars the road bike came with, a handy 30 watts per kilometer.
You Got Gear, Got a Plan?
You’ve got your gear, now what do you with it? It’s imperative, especially if your time is not entirely your own, that you maximize your training time. Time in the water and on the road invariably equates to time away from your significant other, children, and other responsibilities, maybe an ailing parent. At this point, I think it’s fair to say, be honest with those who will be most affected by your new goal and the time it will take to achieve it. This could save hurt and/or neglected feelings later on.
Recall that the goal race is in October which means that most of your core training time will be during the hot(ter) summer months. Not so much of a problem in Flag and the other northern AZ areas, but, in the desert, the weather presents special training challenges.
At Camelback Coaching, the Wilsons suggest beginning with a 3-3-3 schedule if you are already in some kind of physical shape. That is, set up a schedule that allows for 3 swims, 3 bikes, and 3 runs per week. If you’re starting more from scratch, try a 2 swim, 2 bike, and 3 run schedule giving your body a chance to adjust to the new energy requirements. In the southern half of the state, swimming twice a week at lunch time when it’s hottest is a necessity.
This leaves the cooler mornings for biking and running. With the real life training time ‘limitations’ of work and family, put the long bikes and runs on the weekends, again, early in the morning, leaving 1-2 bikes and 1-2 runs during the weekday mornings and perhaps a third swim on another weekday morning.
Next to your supportive family and friends, your ability to stick to your training plan will be your greatest ally come race day. Possibly the best advice for long term peace of mind and happiness with your new triathlon career was given by Grasky who contends that no matter what your budget, spend your last $100 on a nice evening out with your significant other because she/he is often overlooked and neglected during peak training time. “If you want support for the long haul, don’t forget to invest in and include him/her,” said Grasky.”
Now get outside, train smart, have fun, and good luck!