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Beginner Triathlon Gear Checklist

The eight things you really need to become a triathlete.

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The eight things you really need to become a triathlete.

Running shoes

The key: Some triathlon-specific run shoes have quick-closure systems instead of laces, but triathlon coach and author Matt Fitzgerald believes “overall comfort” is a shoe’s most important attribute.

Find yours: The surest way to choose the shoe that’s best for you is to run in a number of models and pick the one that simply feels best. “Research has shown that runners are more efficient and less likely to get injured when they choose footwear by comfort,” says Fitzgerald.

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The key: Forget teardrop tube shape and fancy, high-priced features. “A triathlon bike should fit so that the athlete is comfortable for the duration of his or her race and can still get off and run,” says bike fitter and former pro triathlete Geoff Nenninger.

Find yours: Get fitted before selecting a bike, even if you’re thinking of buying used. Most can be adjusted, but the range is limited. With the help of a knowledgeable bike fitter, you’ll be able to decide between a road bike and a dedicated tri setup. “The more one trains and competes on hilly roads, the more focus should be put on having a comfortable upright climbing position in addition to an efficient aero position,” says Nenninger.

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The key: Wide peripheral view and glare reduction are great bonus features, but a strong and reliable seal is paramount. Pick them for “function over form,” recommends super-swimmer  and pro triathlete Sara McLarty.

Find yours: Try them on. Goggle comfort and performance is all about fit, and there’s no way to find your perfect match browsing a website. Go to a store and press the gaskets against your face. If they seal without wrapping the band around your head, they’re likely to keep water out.

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Race clothes

The key: A race suit needs to be comfortable for all three disciplines—no chafing—and fit your physique.

Find yours: 2012 Xterra world champion Lesley Paterson recommends “picking a suit that makes you feel comfortable and good about your body so that you don’t have to waste any energy thinking about it during the race.”

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Cycling shorts

The key: The chamois pad needs to be forgiving, and the shorts themselves must hold it in place and prevent the pad from scrunching.

Find yours: Try bib shorts. The suspender-like upper portion looks goofy to the uninitiated, but prevents the pad from creating pressure points by bunching.

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The key: Your watch should provide the data you need to follow your training plan. Extravagant features won’t make you a better triathlete if you don’t fully utilize them to track and control your training.

Find yours: Pick a training plan and decide how you want to monitor your progress. If you’re going to use distance or speed, GPS is great. For heart rate-based programs, forget other features. Visit for the most in-depth reviews available.

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The key: Comfort is king. “Make sure your wetsuit is flexible, especially in the shoulders. When nervous and uptight during your first few races, you want to feel free to move without any restriction,” says Paterson.

Find yours: “Too snug and they are uncomfortable. Too loose and they create drag,” points out Olympic swimmer and coach Gary Hall Sr. There is no substitution for trying several suits. Look for one that fits snuggly without constricting your chest or neck.

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Cycling shoes and pedals

The key: Proper alignment enables efficient pedaling action without putting undue stress on the lower body.

Find yours: “A properly supported and aligned position will greatly help increase an athlete’s performance and prevent injury,” says Nenninger. Forget weight and color; get a fit first, then pick your shoes and pedals.

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