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A Brief Complaint From a Salty Triathlete: Needless Gear

Illustration by Matt Collins

Look for a new “Salty Triathlete” from Kelly O’Mara every month in Triathlete magazine.

Gear makes me mad. As triathletes, we like to dot our i’s and worry about the details. We’re told champions are made in that last 1 percent, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose because I didn’t buy the right kind of swim paddles. The problem is this philosophy assumes we’ve already gotten the other 99 percent right. And you know what 99 percent of our race time comes from? Actually training.

The point of all our gadgets and gear and fancy equipment is to supplement and showcase our training. The devices should make you faster on race day after you’ve already trained. They should make it possible for you to train smarter so you can train harder, not so you can avoid work. That’s why heart rate-based training was revolutionary in its time, and why power meters took the idea another leap forward in cycling. Not because it allowed you to buy your way out of work, but because it allowed you to work more effectively and, in sum, harder. That makes you faster. Not the device itself.

You know what doesn’t make you faster? Losing a gram off your bike—for $1,000. Yes, that perfectly woven carbon fiber looks hella sweet, but you’ll pee that weight out at your next pit stop and your kids want more than a Sharpied coupon good for one trip to the park for their birthdays this year. All that fancy très cher gear and equipment is only as good as its owner. Jan Frodeno is allowed to worry about the last 1 percent of details because he’s already nailed the other 99 percent. The rest of us haven’t yet.

There’s a lot of stuff to buy to become a triathlete in the first place. That quickly can morph from needing a bike to needing a faster bike to needing the fastest bike. So let me just tell you now: You don’t need that new bike. You don’t need new clothes or a new watch. You don’t need toys. You need to train.

And if you are going to get some toys, be smart about it—do not show up on a ride with a GoPro and Bluetooth helmet but no power meter; I don’t want to have to drag your ass home when you blow up.