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You don't need to liquidate your savings account to compete in your first tri, so go ahead and back away from the $5,000 bike. While solid equipment is clutch in helping you have the best race possible, pricey gear could very well end up rusting in the garage if you decide your first triathlon will also be your last. For your first go-around, Kreideweis suggests borrowing or buying an entry-level road bike or hybrid. Besides only costing between $100 and $1,000 depending on the model, they are more comfortable and easier to ride. Tri bikes are less stable and cause strain and achy muscles for novice riders.
You'll also need a helmet (safety first!), running shoes, and -- if your race allows it -- a wetsuit. Available for rent, they actually make you more buoyant and help you stay afloat despite the waves, which will make your swim a little bit easier. And if you're up for a totally worth-it splurge, a tri top and tri shorts or a tri suit (like Zoot Sports Performance Tri Racerback Racesuit, $90, zootsports.com) can be worn under your wetsuit so you don't have to change clothes. If you have a delicate derriere, shorts with a built-in chamois pad can give your bum a bumper, support sit bones, and prevent chafing. But don't worry, it doesn't feel like you're wearing a diaper.