An official sprint distance triathlon consists of a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride and a 5K run, although local races sometimes offer variations of these distances depending on course logistics. In the world of triathlon, this may seem like a blink of an eye when you compare it with Olympic, 70.3-mile or 140.6-mile distances, but you still need all the gear endurance triathletes use. Being prepared will help you tackle this tri-sport event so you can have a successful and fun race.
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Many first-time triathletes choose a race with a pool swim. Although these types of races are less common, they do help alleviate the anxiety that comes with open-water swimming. A pool swim also minimizes gear complications. All you'll need is your suit or a water-proof, streamlined fitness outfit that can double as comfortable, efficient biking and running attire and a pair of swim goggles. Most races provide you with a swim cap, but bring one just in case. If you're doing an open-water swim in cool conditions, you'll also need a wet suit. Vaseline, wet suit lubricants or specially made anti-chafing balms help the suit slide on and off easily.
You obviously need a bike -- the type depends on the race terrain and your fitness level. For some races, any old bike will do -- especially if the course is paved. If you are entering an off-road triathlon, you'll need a mountain bike. If you ride with clips, bring your bike shoes as well. A helmet is an absolute must -- most races will not permit you to leave the transition area until your helmet is strapped onto your head. Equip your bike with a small pack that holds a spare tire tube, just in case; you'll also need a mini pump and tire levers. If you pop a tube on Mile 1 of the bike ride, your race is over if you don't have the equipment with which to repair it. You aren't born knowing how to change a flat, so ask a seasoned cyclist or your local bike shop for a quick lesson. Bike shorts are optional for a 20K ride -- if you need them, slide them over your swim suit once you get out of the water. You might be happiest with triathlon shorts that have a smaller pad and make running more comfortable.
Shoes may seem like a given, but don't forget to pack them on race day. You'll want running shoes, rather than cross trainers, which provide you with proper support for your 5K. A race belt to which you can affix your run bib is helpful, but you can always pin your bib to your shirt. If you plan to change from a cycling shirt to a running shirt, make sure you pin a bib to both -- most races provide two bibs for just this purpose. Socks, if you didn't use them during the cycling portion, are another necessity. Some seasoned triathletes will brave a 5K in a Sprint tri without them, but if you aren't accustomed to this strategy -- race day is not the time to try. If you run with a hat, bring it on race day. It shields the suns rays and can be dunked in water to cool you down if you race on a particularly hot day.
Transition and Beyond
A towel in the transition area is used to dry your feet. Don't forget sunscreen -- apply it just before the race starts and if you have a moment, in transition. You might also want lip balm in your bag as well as a small snack to have just before the run. Sports gels, chews or mini-energy bars work well. If you wear a timing device or a GPS watch, bring that as well so you can keep track of your pace during the race. Some triathletes attach a balloon or a brightly colored ribbon to their transition row to help them identify their location. This can be especially helpful if you are participating in a race with hundreds of participants. Also, don't forget to pack sunglasses, which will be essential during the cycling and running portions of the race.