What a new triathlete needs to get started: The Run

author : alicefoeller
comments : 3

Third in a series of three articles about the basics, the niceties and the luxuries

By Alice Hohl

Finally we arrive at the sport that requires the least equipment: the run.
As usual, there is a broad spectrum of opinions, ranging from those who think shoes themselves are one piece of gear too many, to those who won't leave the house without a GPS tracker, music and a backpack full of water.



It's hard to say that anything is required for running. Some of the fastest marathoners in the world train without shoes. But for most of us, a good pair of running shoes and comfortable clothes are a sound investment. Much has been written about different types of running shoes and the differences between them can be overwhelming. The best place to begin is a a running shoe store that offers a "gait analysis " or some form of analysis of your footfall. At such a store, employees can recommend a shoe that suits your footfall. Various shoes may correct for a flaw in your gait, or be less structured, less padded, or perhaps be more like running barefoot.

If you plan to keep running for the foreseeable future, you might consider buying two pair of shoes at the start and rotating which pair you wear. This makes the shoes last longer, according to some, because they have time to recover from a beating before being used again.

If you pursue this strategy as a beginner, try buying two different brands of shoes. By switching between them, you may get a better idea of what you like in a shoe.

If you choose to pick up shoes somewhere other than a running store, a good rule of thumb is that they should be snug in the heel and arch, but you should not feel your foot touching the top or sides of the shoes in the toebox.

Also, beware of shoes designed to correct a problem you don't have. If you choose something off the rack at a department or discount store without any professional guidance, you may end up in trouble. I once purchased a pair of Asics at a Kohl's departments store because they were on sale. They felt fine on my feet, but when I ran in them, I kept twisting my ankle severely on the smallest flaws in the sidewalk. Finally I compared them to another pair of shoes and noticed the curving plastic stripes at the back of the heel (which I thought were decorative) were actually designed to pull the back of the shoe outward. No wonder my heel was twisting, causing my foot to roll all of the time!

There is such a thing as a triathlon-specific shoe. A few manufacturers (Zoot and K-Swiss come to mind) have created a special line of shoes for triathletes, featuring quick entry (usually built-in elastic laces and a decent place to grab behind the ankle to pull them on quickly in transition), soft insides for those who run sockless, and holes in the bottom to drain water if you are pouring a lot of water on your head to cool yourself. Most of these shoes are great, but if you already have running shoes, there is no need to purchase these. You can put elastic laces (Yankz and Speed Laces are two popular brands) in any running shoe. And the holes in the soles of the shoes are great unless you are wearing those shoes on a chilly training run and step in a puddle. (Hint: The water flow goes both ways.)

As you investigate more about triathlon, you're bound to hear about the barefoot running movement, or about Vibram shoes, which mimic barefoot running. There are strong opinions on both sides of the debate, but everyone agrees that if you try barefoot running or running Vibrams or other minimally supportive shoes, you must start slowly with very short runs and build up gradually.

Saucony Kinvara Zoot shoes  Vibram Five Fingers
The Asics Gel-1160 is a structured shoe meant to keep your foot from leaning one way or the other, and it has a lot of cushioning, which you can see under the heel.The Saucony Kinvara is an example of a traditional shoe, but without much cushioning or stability. It is lightweight.Zoot Ultra Tempo 4.0 is an example of a triathlon specific shoe. Note the loop at the back to help you pull it on quickly, and the built-in elastic laces.Vibram's Bikila is an example of a minimalist or "barefoot" shoe.

Here is a link to reviews of running shoes by BeginnerTriathlete members.


Socks are a must for all but the most hard-core. (And lots of hard-core people wear socks, too.) Anything that is not cotton will work well, although a big old pair of cotton crew socks is not going to kill you. They will just be sweaty and possibly cause blisters.

Here is a link to reviews of running socks by BeginnerTriathlete members. Socks for men; and socks for women.


Running shorts are an interesting topic in the triathlon community. Many triathletes, after racing and/or training in trishorts or other compression shorts, come to prefer them. Or they just don't want to buy another item. And so the flimsy nylon shorts that brush the top of the thigh -- worn by decades of marathoners and sprinters alike -- are not seen frequently in the triathlon community. However, you should wear whatever makes you comfortable, or whatever you already own. All types of running shorts (traditional split shorts, trishorts, compression shorts, etc.) are designed to be worn without underwear. Violating this suggestion can cause chafing and discomfort when fabric bunches together and gets sweaty.

traditional running shorts  2XU compression shorts
These Brooks split shorts are traditional shorts worn by runners in track and distance events.Some athletes find they enjoy wearing triathlon short for training runs, too. These are DeSoto tri shorts.These 2XU compression shorts mimic tri shorts, but without the padding.


Here are links to reviews of running shorts. Shorts for men; and shorts for women .

Sports bra

For women, a sports bra is an obvious requirement. If you are heading out to purchase something new, you may want to think about selecting a sports bra that can double as your top on the swim. I have now accumulated three or four synthetic, quick-dry tops I can wear under a shirt on a training run, or for a swim workout or race.

 Zoot bra top Under Armour sports bra Pearl Izumi tri top
This Zoot top is an example of a sports bra that can also be your racing top. It is designed to swim in. (Note the high neck, to prevent drag in the water.)This Under Armour sports bra is a more traditional solution. Be sure to look for wide shoulder straps.This Pearl Izumi tri top is meant for swimming, biking and running. Sometimes on a hot training run, a triathlon top can be just the ticket.

Here is a link to reviews of sports bras by BeginnerTriathlete members.

Nice to have

Hat and/or Sunglasses

Some athletes can head out for a run in the blazing sun with nothing shading or protecting their eyes. Most prefer a hat or sunglasses or both. Some nice, sun-repelling, cool hats have come on the scene in recent years, including one with a pocket made by DeSoto, shown below.

You can spend $8 or $300 on sunglasses. It's entirely up to you. Features to look for include: 

rubber along the arms, to keep them from sliding and bouncing around on your ears when you run
A design that doesn't hurt your head when you put your helmet on to cycle with them
And, if you want to splurge, interchangeable lenses, so you can put in clear lenses to keep bugs out of your eyes during dawn or dusk bike rides.

Here is a link to sunglasses reviews on BeginnerTriathlete.

Fabric that breathes

While it's not necessary to replace all the cotton shirts you own with Coolmax shirts, after you receive your first technical shirt (technical usually means synthetic performance fabric) for a race, you will realize how much lighter, less sticky and more comfortable it is than cotton. That should inspire you to ensure that any new purchases are made of lightweight fabric blends that dry quickly and pull sweat away from your skin, instead of absorbing it and sticking to you. Alternately, you could save the money you might spend on 2 or three coolmax shirts from your local running store and enter some triathlons instead. Most races are including technical shirts in their goodie bags.

(Some of us are a bit too addicted to this sport, and would be happy to give you 10 or 12 technical race shirts to free up some space around the house.)

If you have a money tree

If you have a little extra to spend, or you really hate running and want to make it more fun, there are some cool items to add to your collection.


A wrist-mounted GPS with heartrate monitor is a great toy. Rather than running the same old route you measured in the car, or sitting online for 20 minutes finding the streets and paths that generate the needed mileage, you can leave from your front door and go anywhere you want, and you'll always know how far you've run. Most models will even get you home if you get lost. If you think you may become addicted to this sport, please note that some models don't have the battery life to last for a full Ironman. Unless you finish with the pros.

Garmin 310XT
Here is the Garmin 310XT, a watch specifically designed with triathletes in mind. It can track your swim from inside your swim cap, and the battery lasts well beyond the 17-hour Ironman cutoff time.

There are other brands and models available. Click to read reviews of wrist-mounted GPS units.

Hydration Packs

CamelbakCamelbak is the brand name of a hydration pack you can carry on your back, and drink from (through a straw) without breaking stride. There are a variety of models and sizes, as well as some other brands that make similar products.

A Camelbak can solve the problem of how to carry enough water for a two-hour run on a hot day. They can also be used when cycling, but are considered uncool because "real" cyclists can pull a bottle from their bike frame, drink it, add crushed ice, adjust the concentration of sports drink and return the bottle to its cage without looking down or interrupting their pedal cadence. It's a point of pride. Others of us just want to have enough fluids.

Hydration packs are also useful for stowing a cell phone, music player, energy gels and more.

For reviews of different styles of Camelbaks and other hydration packs, read our gear reviews.

MP3 Players

Some people swear they cannot train without their playlist of favorite tunes to keep them going. Others feel this is a crutch or even an unfair advantage, in addition to being a safety hazard. It's one of triathlon's ironies that people who go running with earbuds in, are sometimes the same people who, when cycling, complain that runners on the path won't move over because they can't hear over their music.

However, if you come down on the side of having better runs with music, there are scores of MP3 players and related accessories to mount the player on your arm, waist, back or hat, not to mention earbuds designed specifically not to fall out while running. Just make sure the volume is not so loud that you can't hear someone calling out, "Passing on your left!" Also, you are not allowed to take music with you during a triathlon race.

This is the last article in the series highlighting gear for those getting started in the sport. If you haven't seen our articles on beginner gear for swimming and biking, you can find them here: Beginner Swim Gear and Beginner Bike Gear.

And, as always, remember the triathlon mantra: Nothing new on race day. That means don't wear anything or try anything that you haven't used in training.


Click on star to vote
62236 Total Views  |  34 Views last 30 days  |  12 Views last 7 days
date: July 29, 2011


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

View all 96 articles