Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Price of "Tri"-ing - and How To Tri For Less

I stumbled across this article about the cost of triathlon a while back on Twitter and it got me thinking - which lead me to this article.  Training for my first sprint triathlon certainly wasn't cheap, but it was nowhere near as expensive as the article made it out to be, so I'm somewhat inclined to call bullshit.  I feel like these articles are designed to scare people off from triathlon, rather than encouraging them to give it a shot - which makes me a little sad.

 The articles suggest the following:
  • As of 2009, the average triathlete's income is $126,000 (trust me...I'm waaaay below that average!)
  • It's nearly impossible to get a decent road bike for under $1000
  • Swimming is expensive. Private lessons can cost up to $100/hour
  • Accessories add up quickly - and they're all absolutely necessary just to get to the starting line.
According to the second article, the cost of completing a triathlon is nearly $4800!  I can guarantee you that I didn't spend anything close to that!  I understand that some triathlons, an Ironman for example, are going to be more expensive to train for than others, but $4800 for a sprint seems ridiculous to me.

For the sake of this little cost analysis, I'm going to run the numbers twice.  The first analysis will assume that I had to go out and buy all my gear brand new at the outset of last season.  The second analysis will take into account that I already owned a lot of the gear as a result of already being a runner/duathlete - and I'll point out which of the items in my arsenal are nice to have, but not absolutely necessary, and how to possibly save a couple of bucks if you want some of them anyway!

First Analysis:
If I'd have had to buy all my stuff (and I'm including the "toys" here) new at the outset, this whole adventure would have run me approximately: $2904.00 It's a huge price tag, but still far below the $4800.00 from the second article.

That breaks down as follows:
  • Gym Membership (w/ pool privileges) $156.00 ($52/month at the local YMCA)
  • Garmin 910XT $400.00
  • Swimsuit $40.00
  • Swim Cap $12.00
  • Goggles $16.00
  • Wetsuit $230.00
  • Suit Juice/Suit Wash/Suit Repair Compound $40.00
  • Road Bike $750.00
  • Helmet $50.00
  • Cycling Shoes $125.00
  • Cleats/Pedals $90.00
  • Cycling Gloves $25.00
  • Bike Shorts $80.00
  • Cycling Jersey $60.00
  • Bike Speed/Cadence Sensor $50.00
  • Water Bottle $15.00
  • Water Bottle Cage $10.00
  • Chamois Butter $10.00
  • Bike Bag/Flat Kit $50.00
  • Indoor Bike Trainer $150.00
  • Climbing Block $25.00
  • Running Shoes $100.00
  • Running Clothes (shorts/top/sports bra) $150.00
  • Sunglasses $20.00
  • Assorted Bars/Gels $45.00
  • Tri Shorts $50.00
  • Tri Top $40.00
  • Race Entry Fee $75.00
  • Triathlon Team Membership $40.00
Lucky for me (and my credit card) I had already amassed a lot of the things on that list as a result of 8 years of running and a year of cycling/duathlons before I took the plunge into the triathlon world, so the cost was spread out over several years. 

Second Analysis (if the item name is orange it's something I already had from previous years)
  • Gym Membership (w/ pool privileges) $156.00 ($52/month at the local YMCA)
    • I'm fortunate enough to have a free gym membership and pool privileges through Mr. R&R's job. If I didn't have that, I would have joined the local discount gym for approximately $25/month.  I did, however fork over $40 for the Monday night open water swim program at Pewaukee Lake. The regular price is $50, but my tri team membership knocked the price down by $10.  If you live near a swim-able body of water and have someone who is willing to hang out in the water (or on the beach) with you since you should never swim alone in open water, you can swim for F.R.E.E.
  • Garmin 910XT $400.00
    • This is absolutely not a necessity. I am a total slave to data/numbers, so it's very nice to have, but before I had a GPS watch of any sort, I functioned just fine with a $20.00 watch from Target - which also isn't really a necessity.  In my case, I combined a Memorial Day Sale at REI and a hoarded gift card to bring the out of pocket price down to $250.00 - which is less than I would have spent to replace my Garmin 305 when it started misbehaving.
  • Swimsuit $40.00
    • There's no getting around this one. You've gotta wear something in the water!
  • Swim Cap $12.00
    • Also a requirement, but you can get a basic latex swim cap for about $3.00 on Amazon. I went with a silicone cap because a) I hate how latex caps pull my hair and b) silicone is more durable. 
    • Do yourself a favor and order the tackiest, brightest cap you can find - preferably neon green or pink - since you need to stand out in open water.
  • Goggles $16.00
    • Another must have. My goggles are pretty cheap as far as these things go.
  • Wetsuit $230.00
    • Unless you plan to swim in really cold open water or are a complete chicken about weeds/fish/etc. like I am, the wetsuit is completely optional.  Another option is to rent a wetsuit just for race day, which around here will run you about $20.
  • Suit Juice/Suit Wash/Suit Repair Compound $40.00
    • If you don't have a wetsuit, you don't need the stuff to go with it.
  • Road Bike $750.00
    • If you have an old mountain bike/hybrid/whatever sitting around in your garage gathering dust, it will work just fine for a sprint tri. I spent about $650 on my bike in early 2012 by waiting until the shop was having a really good sale to clear out some inventory.  Another option, if you really want a road bike, is to see if your local bike shop sells refurbished bikes - I know mine does.  One of my teammates got a really nice (read over $1000 brand new) bike for about $500.
  • Helmet $50.00
    • Not negotiable. You must wear a helmet at any USAT sanctioned race and it's just good sense to wear one any time you are out on the road. If you crash and it cracks or the foam is really damaged, it's time to replace it.
  • Cycling Shoes $125.00
    • Nice to have, but not a requirement. Most road bikes come with cages on the pedals and they'll work just fine. Bike shoes and the accompanying clipless pedals give you more bang for your buck with each pedal stroke, but you can totally ride without them.
  • Cleats/Pedals $90.00
    • If you go with the cages, you don't need these!
  • Cycling Gloves $25.00
    • I like them because they make it easier to hang onto my water bottle and keep my hands from sliding around, but again, they're a convenience, not a requirement.
  • Bike Shorts $80.00
    • Believe me when I say you want bike shorts.  Unless you're used to it, that bike seat is murder on your bits and pieces - and even after you're used to it, long distances will still require a nice, thick chamois.
  • Cycling Jersey $60.00 
    • I like them because they look cool, wick away sweat, and they have nice deep pockets in the back to hold gels, but you can ride a bike in any old t-shirt.
  • Bike Speed/Cadence Sensor $50.00
    •  Another purely indulgent thing. Mine pairs with my Garmin, which is where all those nifty speed/cadence graphs on my blog come from, and fuels my addiction to data.
  • Water Bottle $15.00
    • Riding a bike is hard work. You will get thirsty. My first bike bottle cost a whopping $3. My current one is a little larger and is insulated so my water stays a bit cooler on hot days - especially if I throw a little ice in it before I leave home.
  • Water Bottle Cage $10.00
    • Gotta put that bottle somewhere while you're riding!
  • Chamois Cream $10.00
    • Chafing in your bike/tri shorts sucks. Spend the $10 on a tube of this stuff. Use liberally. Reapply as necessary.
  • Bike Bag/Flat Kit $50.00
    • Picture this: You're on a bike trail about 15 miles from home and one of your tubes goes flat. Do you really want to walk 15 miles back while carrying your bike so you don't bend the rim and incur repair costs, or would you rather pull out a new tube, inflate it, and continue with your ride?
  • Indoor Bike Trainer $150.00
    • Total luxury item. I live in a climate that makes riding outdoors nearly impossible for about 8 months a year, so it's nice to have the option to ride inside.
  • Climbing Block $25.00
    • It's good to have something under the front tire when the bike is in an indoor trainer. There are cheaper options starting around $5 - or you can always shove an old textbook under there!
  • Running Shoes $100.00
    • Running Rule #1: Do NOT cheap out on the shoes. Go to a running specialty store and get fitted. Trust me.
  • Running Clothes (shorts/top/sports bra) $150.00
    • You do not need an entire wardrobe of specialty running clothes. Run in whatever makes you comfortable.  The nice part of doing races is amassing a wardrobe of technical fabric t-shirts!
  • Sunglasses $20.00
    • I picked mine up out of a bargain bin at REI and I use them on both the bike and the run - and when hiking/kayaking/rafting/etc.
  • Assorted Bars/Gels $45.00
    • Unless you are planning to go long distances or have a stomach like mine that doesn't tolerate much in the way of food before a workout/early in the morning, you can skip this stuff.
  • Tri Shorts $50.00
    • Again, not a necessity. Yes, tri-shorts make it easier to transition from swim/bike/run since you wear them for all 3 sports, but one of my friends prefers to slip on a pair of regular shorts over her swimsuit when she gets out of the water - and it works just fine for her!
  • Tri Top $40.00
    • See note about tri shorts
  • Race Entry Fee $75.00
    • Unless you know someone who will let you race for free, you're going to have to cough up some cash on this one, but there are often early-registration or team discounts. In my case, my tri team membership saved me about $10.
  • Triathlon Team Membership $40.00
    • This has already paid for itself and then some in terms of race discounts and discounts at businesses that sponsor the team.  It also provided me with a coach in the form of the Iron Cheerleader (cost of group coaching around here is about $325/month) - and I got to know a bunch of really cool people as we trained together.
Long story short...too late...I spent about $818.00 (would have been less if I hadn't replaced my Garmin) to become a triathlete this summer. If you've never been a cyclist or a runner and you're thinking of getting into triathlon, go for it...just try not to buy into the hype that you need all kinds of fancy stuff to become a triathlete. All you really need is a swimsuit, a bike/helmet, and a pair of running shoes - the rest is just icing on the cake.

4 comments:

April said...

Same goes for backpacking. I collected my gear over a period of time. Good, lightweight gear comes with a hefty price tag. Some things you can skimp on, some things you cannot.

Mary said...

It's unfortunate that there's such a high cost of entry to some sports, but I think people miss out on the idea that you don't need the "best of everything" right away. For me, it's about starting with a few key things and then upgrading over time.

The Mountainista said...

I feel the pain of your wallet. You know they say that BOAT stands for Bring Out Another Thousand. I did a lot with very little for a long time and invested in better when I could. It's a balancing act of what you can live without and what you can't.

Mary said...

You're right, it's definitely a balancing act.