What to Wear to a Sprint Triathlon

Person in bike race
You're required to wear your helmet during the bike portion of the race. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When you combine three sports that usually require three different types of performance wear into one competition, you're bound to be confused. Simply training for a sprint triathlon, which consists of a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and a 5-kilometer run, is hard enough -- but what you wear can make or break any of the three events. Your choice of clothing can also save you time in the elusive "fourth" event in triathlon: the transition. Therefore, a T-shirt and shorts isn't going to cut it.

Swimsuit Only

In warm climates, triathletes wear a performance swimsuit for the entirety of the race. You usually swim in a pool or in open water that is too warm for a wetsuit, so supportive, skin-tight trunks for men or a one-piece suit for women is appropriate. You dry off your feet quickly in transition, put on your helmet, shoes and sunglasses in transition, and you're off on the bike. Men do need to put on a shirt before riding and running; a slim-fitting shirt made of moisture-wicking fabric is best. For many triathletes, a 20-kilometer ride -- which comes out to about 12 miles -- is not long enough to need padded cycling shorts. Running in a swimsuit is also possible, as long as it's supportive. If you choose to wear a swimsuit for the entire race, you'll save time in transition.

Wetsuit for Warmth

The swim in a sprint tri may only be 750 meters, but a wetsuit is essential if you're doing it in cold open water. Wetsuits come in myriad styles -- full sleeve, sleeveless, short, full-body; the type you choose depends on your personal preference. A wetsuit improves your buoyancy and can make you go faster, especially in short events reports "Peak Performance." You'll have to peel off your wetsuit in transition before getting on the bike. Underneath your wetsuit, you can wear just a swimsuit and finish competition in that or slide on a pair of tight-fitting shorts over your swimsuit for cycling and running. Women can wear their swimsuit top while cycling and running, while men will need to slip on a shirt.

Triathlon Kits

Cyclists wear padded shorts to protect tender areas during long rides. While many riders do not need padding for a sprint triathlon, you might prefer to wear a pair to prevent chafing and saddle sores. Triathlon kits feature bike-style shorts with a slimmer, less-bulky pad and a jersey that is slightly tighter than those made specifically for cycling. You can wear this whole kit underneath your wetsuit and for the running portion of the race -- the pad is discreet enough to not get in the way. If you wear a swimsuit under your wetsuit and try to put on the kit over it once you get to transition, you'll waste precious time. Triathlon kits also come in skin-tight, one-piece suits, which are more streamlined than two-piece options. You can swim in them with or without a wetsuit and go straight onto the bike and the run without having to change. One-piece suits offer all the advantages of wearing just a swimsuit, but provide more coverage and have the padding you might need for the ride.

Accessories

You'll need goggles and a swim cap for the swim, and sunglasses and a helmet are a must on the bike. If you use clipless pedals, you'll want to wear your cycling shoes. If you have regular pedals, use the shoes you plan to run in for the cycling portion of the race. Don't forget your running shoes and socks, either -- roll your socks down to the toes to make them easier to slip on after your swim.

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