This damn sport is expensive! Sometimes it’s frustrating to think about how much money we spend toward it. One reassuring thought is all the money we spend is an investment in our health, if we are consistent and committed to this wonderful sport.
Some people have no issues with budgets and costs with our sports, especially those who are in the demographic of our sport, or those who exceed it, but many who are considering the sport and still feeling it out are not quite willing to commit the dollars required to see success.
So what if you don’t have a lot of money? One of the biggest questions I’m asked as an elite athlete and coach is “With a limited budget, where should I invest to get the most return for my money?”
Although there is no direct and simple answer for each person, there are definitely certain principles which are worthwhile and helpful for us achieving our goals within the sport of triathlon. It is these principles which should be addressed first, no matter your budget.
Here are my rankings on the best items you can invest in for the money, if you’re on a budget. I have broken these down according to your commitment and experience level with triathlon, and assume you have the basics of a wetsuit, bike, and bike trainer. And of course, this does not take into consideration entry fees and travel expenses to races, as these can vary considerably per athlete.
1. Bike Fit – If you are just joining the sport, you haven’t probably put much time in the saddle, and as you increase your time riding your bike, injuries will begin to happen. What seems comfortable for an hour is not necessarily comfortable after 2, 3 or up to 5 hours on your bike. Invest in a quality bike fit which addresses your biomechanical issues, deficiencies, and/or tendencies, and you will find enjoyment in your increased time commitment, rather than injury and frustration.
2. Physical Assessment – Much like you see a bike fitter to address and expose your biomechanical deficiencies with regard to cycling, your increased running will take an even bigger toll on you if you have certain issues which need to be addressed. Go see a physical therapist, or strength coach to find out what your biggest issues are and what sort of specific exercises and routines which will help to address and alleviate them. Why is this not before bike fits? Well, most beginners spend a lot of money on a bike, and therefore tend to want to put more time in on their bike than in their cheap running shoes. Besides, running isn’t as glamorous as cycling.
These two items are the best things you can do as a beginner, because they address your basic needs to enjoy the sport, no matter the further extension of your commitment, and should you decide to dive further, these will provide the basic foundation for future success.
If you’re past the beginner phase, and are moving up in the triathlon world, here are your next considerations:
- Get a Coach – If you’ve increased your commitment to the sport, and are ready to advance up the results page, then you need to begin organizing your training to meet your goals. Most people train according to how they feel, or what their friends are doing, without purpose or physiological direction. This mixed style of training normally leads to inconsistent performances, burnout, injury, and frustration. A quality coach provides the proper training direction, as well as accountability for you to complete the workouts, (or complete rest sessions!), and education for success which otherwise would only come with experience. If you can pay for a coach, DO IT! If you aren’t sure you can afford one, shop around. Ask people in the community for a recommendation, and talk with potential coaches. There are plenty of good coaches out there, and you normally get what you pay for. If you can’t afford a quality coach yet, invest in a training plan, but realize these plans do not address your individual history, limiters, needs, goals, and schedule, as well as lack an opportunity to modify the program should something arise, such as injury or travel. It is always best to have a coach you can ask questions to, use as a resource, and help with race-specific preparation.
- Get Techno! – If you don’t already utilize technology in your training, you are certainly not maximizing the quality of your training. In fact, you’re just guessing. The affect technology is having today on athlete training is PROFOUND! WKO+ software allows coaches to quantify the stress of training sessions on athletes like never before, and therefore allow us to better assess fatigue, form and fitness levels. The absolute best thing you can do if you’re serious about your success level, is to have a coach who uses WKO+ and TrainingPeaks software, while you utilize a power meter on your bike and a GPS and heartrate system for running, such as the Garmin 305 Forerunner. (No, I am not sponsored by Garmin, nor TrainingPeaks, but am considering asking them!). Seriously, as a coach I have yet to find a better combination for the serious athlete. Until they create power meters for running and swimming, (which is coming soon), these are the absolute best tools you can utilize! WITHOUT QUESTION!
- Get Specific Coaching – Though there are plenty of other limiters, such as weight and time constraints, we all have a weak sport in the swim-bike-run triad. In coaching, we call this your “performance limiter.” If swimming is your limiter, you would certainly benefit from an underwater video session with a coach, and perhaps from joining a masters program, with a coach on the deck working with you consistently. If running is your limiter, you certainly could benefit from a video and drills session with a coach, addressing your economy and efficiency issues. If cycling is your limiter, a bike fit, pedal stroke analysis, (spin-scan), strength training and/or aerodynamic assessment are all ways to specifically address your limiters and make them strengths!
- Massage Therapy – Consistent training will certainly lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue, despite our best attempts to address the biomechanical issues you may be predisposed to. Talk with any elite athlete, and you’ll find that CONSISTENT massage therapy is one of the most important tools of their training. But as we all know, massage therapy is expensive. What do I recommend? I recommend getting it as often as you can!!! Chances are if you search around, you can find affordable massage therapy you can utilize once every two weeks. Look for some massage therapy schools to get started, but try some more expensive therapists once in awhile to make sure you are aware of the quality differences. Believe me, there is a big difference! If you can’t afford massage therapy, your best bet is to get a toolkit which will help you do quality self-massage. My suggestion, even if you get weekly or bi-weekly massage, is to get the TP Total Body Package with Ultimate 6 Guidebook, which comes with a DVD and manual to help you use them properly. These items work incredibly well, and I use them in my own training, (and I am a weekly massage therapy guy!) You can get the full kit at www.tpmassageball.com. Type in JVANCE in the coupon code area to get a 10% discount. (No, I am not sponsored by them, but I do believe in their products and have negotiated a discount for my clients).
- Product Upgrades – The last step in the process is product upgrades. This is where you look at your wetsuit, frame, wheels, helmet, bike weight, run shoes, and other items which can provide you with the other seconds, possibly minutes, you’re ready to take back on the course. You’ll notice these are last on the list, but first in most people’s minds. Yes, you can buy speed, but you can never buy as much speed from these products as you can from the giving proper attention to the prior 4 items. Remember, the engine is still the most important factor!
Remember, there are plenty of free resources out there too, such as this blog! You can also talk with coaches in your area and gather plenty of free advice. Don’t expect them to write out a free plan for you on the spot, but a quality coach will be happy to share their general knowledge with you, as it helps show their ability.
If you’re on a budget, consider these items and your commitment level, and you’ll be able to maximize your experiences. Best of luck!