For those who have not done a triathlon before the whole concept can be quite intimidating. Especially if you have only seen triathlons on TV with all the “super bikes” that cost more than most people’s first and second cars combined.

For those wanting to “try” out triathlon and compete in one for the first time it does not need to be that expensive. To remove some of the intimidation here are some key things you need to compete in your first triathlon.

Choosing a Distance

For those in Western Canada there are a variety of events. For those not familiar with all the distances even this topic can be intimidating. With Super Sprint, Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman being the terms thrown around, even working out what to sign up for can be nerve-wracking.

A sprint in itself is misleading in its name, with most people taking somewhere between 1 and 2 hours to complete. A sprint traditionally has a swim between 500m and 750m followed by a 20km bike and 5km run while a super sprint will be close to half these distances.

So for those stepping up to their first race I would suggest racing a sprint or a super sprint.

Choosing Your First Event

For your first event, it is well worth getting in touch with your local triathlon association. By going through an event sanctioned by your provincial association, you benefit from knowing that the organization has gone through certain steps to help ensure the quality and safety of the event.

In Western Canada this includes:

Another consideration is the type of swim at the event. Some events have an indoor swim at a swimming pool. This can make this portion of the event a lot less daunting for first time athletes.  Your provincial association should be able to guide you in the direction of an event that has a pool swim.

The Gear You Need

So you have found a sprint or super sprint and now you are thinking – how much is all this gear going to cost me? For your first couple of events it is best to keep it simple, get a taste for the sport, and have some fun.


If you have signed up for an indoor event then you need a swimsuit, goggles and maybe a swim cap. If you are racing in a lake or ocean swim then you will also likely need a wetsuit, especially if you are racing in Canada. Many triathlon stores will rent wetsuits which is a great option for you to get a feel for the sport without spending a lot of money. If you are swimming in open water (a lake or an ocean) then it is a good idea to do a few practice swims with a local group ahead of the race to get a feel for swimming outside of the confines of a pool.


The next thing you need is a bike. There is no need to spend tons of money for your first race. Even though at the top end of the race there may be bikes that cost more than you could ever imagine spending, many people will be racing on a mountain or a commuter bike. This is a great way to get started as you don’t need special shoes, you can ride it in your running shoes. 

Although it won’t be the fastest bike out there, the one that you already have and use will get the job done for your first race. It may also be worth taking it to your local bike store for a safety check if you have not used it for a while. 

You will also need a helmet. This is a worthy investment, so if your helmet has been around since before you learned to ride a bike then it is a good time to invest some dollars here. Once again nothing fancy is needed and you definitely don’t need to get one of those funky-looking aero helmets. 

The Run

The run, this part is pretty simple (at least in terms of clothing). It is worth going to a speciality running store and getting a pair of shoes that fit and will last the journey as this is the big contact point between you and the ground. Other than that, a simple t-shirt and shorts will do the job. There is no need for special triathlon suits or clothing for your first event as you can put your running shorts and shirt over your swim suit for the bike and the run.

The Checklist

To get started, keep it simple – there will be plenty of time to buy fancy things once you start doing a few more races, if that is what you decide to do.


  • Swimsuit
  • Goggles
  • Swim cap
  • Wetsuit (for lake/ocean swim) – can be rented to keep costs down


  • The bike you already own (MTB, Hybrid, 10 Speed etc.)
  • Helmet


  • A good pair of running shoes


  • Running shorts
  • T-shirt


  • A watch with a stopwatch function is always handy (no need for a fancy GPS watch or bike computer)