Tips and Tricks for the Triathlete on a Budget
Triathlon is an expensive sport. I heard the other day that the average income of participants in triathlon is just below that of horseback riding and sailing. But not all of us have pockets full of extra coin to throw at our hobby. So here are some quick tips to help you handle the spendier aspects of triathlon.
Fuel: Gels, powders, bars and drinks are spendy. You're not just paying for the fuel, but also for the R&D, production costs, marketing, packaging, shipping and other expenses associated with putting a bunch of sugar into a packet or bottle. So while engineered fuels are truly convenient for racing, they can break your bank if you're using them in your daily training sessions.
I personally try to schedule my training sessions so that they're taking place a couple hours after or immediately before my main meals of the day (breakfast, lunch or dinner) so that most of my exercising is powered by food, which is relatively less expensive than gels, etc. If that's not possible, I will typically grab a piece of fruit, like a banana, before I'll grab a two dollar gel.
Swim Gear: There are only two critical pieces of swim gear: a swimsuit and goggles. You can certainly fill a swim bag with chlorine shampoos and conditioners, swim cap, fins, paddles, metronomes, and other fancy devices that I talk about in this video, but they aren't crucial. In many cases, you can shop the clearance and the sales at websites such as swimoutlet.com, and slowly stock up on fancy swim toys as they become available over a series of months and years. I've personally built up a decent army of swim toys using that method.
Furthermore, if you live near a body of open water, you can get away with simply doing open water training and avoiding pool or gym membership expenses during warmer times of year. In the summer months, I've often gone for several weeks without so much as as single visit to my local gym. The only reason for me to retain my gym membership during that time is for my family to go to classes or to the weight room.
If driving to the pool takes up valuable work time or expense, you can also "batch" your training, so that your swim at the pool also includes a jaunt on the treadmill or indoor bike, or a trip to the weight room. An extra half hour to work every day can add up quickly in terms of your annual income or productivity.
Bike Gear: You should try to support your local bike shop whenever possible, but it's hard to ignore the deals you can get on bicycles and used bicycle equipment on craigslist.org, ebay.com or the classifieds section of many popular triathlon forums. If you're trying to save money on cycling gear, check these websites before you buy new.
You can also ask your local bike shop what type of deals they are able to get from the warehouse on last year's models, or see if they'd be willing to give you special discounts in exchange for logo placement on your jersey, website or blog.
Finally, if bike maintenance expenses add up for you, consider doing more of your training on a gym's spin bike or on a less maintenance-intensive indoor bike, rather than always training on your fancy time trial machine.
Run Gear: Of the three triathlon events, running is the easiest to go cheap on, with the only necessary equipment being shoes. But even those can be expensive! Websites such as zappos.com and runnerswarehouse.com offer good deals on shoes, and allow you to search for last year's models or clearance items. If you know you're committed to a specific shoe model, you can even buy your shoes in bulk at the beginning or end of the year and simply cycle through those shoes all year long.
Supplements: You can spend a boat load on nutrition supplements, which are extensively advertised in magazines, on websites and at race expos. While most supplements do have some value to offer, there are only a few basic supplements that are more crucial to your health and longevity, and the remainder are added bonuses. The only supplements I recommend "across the board" are magnesium, Vitamin D, a greens supplement and fish oil - all of which can be found for an affordable monthly price.
Race Registrations: For about half the cost of other iron-distance races, events such as Grand Columbian or Great Floridian will allow you to register for an iron-distance triathlon for about half the cost, and there are many independent half-iron distance events as an alternative to 70.3. These less expensive races may have fewer participants and be less well-known, but they're official races nonetheless!
Travel: I personally travel quite a bit to race. But I stock up on credit cards that are linked to travel rewards programs and use those credit cards for every imaginable expense, then use websites like tripit.com and milewise.com to track my travel and rewards. I'm sure to pay off each card by the end of the month so that I don't get dinged with excessive fees. With this travel rewards system, I can usually get 2-4 free flights each year, and 1-3 free hotel stays. Websites such as travelhacking.org or chrisguillebeau.com can teach you more of these money-saving travel tricks.
You don't have to eat rice and beans and live like a hermit to enjoy the sport of triathlon, and hopefully some of these money-saving tips will help you afford this fabulous sport. I know I've only scratched the surface when it comes to budgeting for triathlon, so now it's your turn...how do YOU save money on triathlon gear, supplements, food, race registrations, travel or other expenses?