By Taren Gesell

Tax season has come and gone, and that means one thing for a lot of us: it’s time for new triathlon gear!

Most taxpayers-turned-triathletes in the U.S. will have returns just over $3,000 burning a hole in their bank accounts, waiting to be spent in the nearest swim, bike, or run shop. It’s only fair to our ever-so-patient race sherpas (aka spouses) that we earmark the lion’s share of those tax returns to responsible investments like 401(k)s, home improvements, or a decade-long subscription to the Wine of the Month Club. But, hey, a triathlete’s gotta live, right? So, here are five of the best sub-$1,000 triathlon-related investments you can make that result in the best dollar-for-speed ROI.

Aero helmet and aero bars

Good aero helmets with a visor start around $250, and the most expensive are typically just over $500. An aero helmet saves 3–8 watts of drag and 67 seconds over a 40 km time trial for a rider completing the distance in 48 minutes. Cyclists who ride at faster speeds like this will see bigger effects of aerodynamic improvements, but average triathletes like us can still benefit.

Carbon aero bars with good adjustability in height, reach, arm pad width and angle start at $500, with the most expensive upward of $2,000. A triathlete’s own body generates almost 80 percent of the overall drag that slows us down, so simply getting into the aero position and being comfortable enough to stay there will make a huge difference. You can get a lot of the same benefit of the expensive aerobars from the more basic models.

Entry-level aero wheels

Deep-section rims have long been looked at as the single best upgrade you can make to your tri bike. These speed gains aren’t cheap though, as a good aero wheelset can run you anywhere from $1,000 for entry-level wheels like FLO Cycling and 3SIXTY5 options, all the way up to the $5,000 range for higher-end models.

While the high price tag means that the dollar-for-speed ROI isn’t as high as other investments like aero bars or an aero helmet, the absolute gains you’ll receive from aero wheels cannot be argued. You can expect a triathlete who upgrades to deep-section wheels to reduce their drag by 20 or more watts and gain one to two minutes over the course of a 40 km time trial.

Entry-level aero wheels often give up a lot of the new technology featured in higher-end wheelsets. A couple of good things to look for in a new or used pair of wheels are:

  • Carbon rims, which are a big advantage over aluminum rims because any weight savings around the circumference of your wheels results in four times the rolling weight reduction (i.e., a quarter pound saved in both of the wheel rims is like 0.25 lb × 2 wheels × 4 = 2 lb).
  • Wider tires have a smaller ground contact area because less of the tire touches the ground when measured from front to back. Look for wheels that fit a 25 mm or wider tire.

Your first destination race held by Ironman

This past March, I completed my first Ironman-branded race in Campeche, Mexico. It was incredible, and I can see why so many triathletes around the world brand themselves with an M-dot tattoo.

When you go to a triathlon put on by the World Triathlon Corporation (the company that owns Ironman), you know you’re going to have an excellent race experience. They have their events so well systemized that they’re like a Starbucks franchise: you know exactly what you’re going to get every time you go.

Huge crowds from the community, safe and well-supported roads, aid stations with more food and drink choices than your local lunch buffet, an exciting finish line, and some seriously cool schwag and hardware to remember your race by.

I’ll admit, after hearing the stories of the “uber-capitalist World Triathlon Corporation,” I was skeptical of my first trip to an Ironman event. However, while I don’t have a freshly inked M-dot tattoo, I now know exactly why so many lives have been changed by Ironman, and I can’t wait to go to my next one. I highly recommend you take the plunge and do the same. It just might change your life.

Six to 12 months of coaching

After self-coaching my way through my first six years of triathlon, I finally hired a good friend and excellent triathlete, Patrick Peacock, to coach me through my 2017 race schedule. Six months later, I cannot recommend a good coach enough!

There were several main benefits that I got from a one-on-one coaching plan:

  1. Motivation to train was higher than I’ve ever experienced because my workouts were pre-planned three weeks in advance. I never had a day where I woke up and had the chance to talk myself out of a workout. My job was just to show up and do the work.
  2. Training consistency was higher than I’ve ever experienced. Patrick knew my training load and progressive adaptation training phases so well that I was able to train more frequently and more intensely than I ever have before, and I did it all without any sort of injury. He pushed me hard but held me back from getting hurt.
  3. Most importantly, my training numbers (functional threshold power, tempo pace runs, heart rate) were all hugely improved over my previous fittest times in my life. Pat’s objective approach to my training plan carved me into a better, less-sucky version of myself.

I believe anyone can benefit from the objectivity and experience of a good coach. In my limited experience, I’ll say it’s critical to have a coach who you get along with well and can communicate with openly. Pat and I were friends for years before he became my coach, so he knew my communication style, my real-life workload, my motivations and my stressors. All of that together resulted in a coaching plan that fit so well into my life that it was a (sick and twisted) joy!

Swim coaching or swim camp

In a recent survey I sent out to my “Trainiacs” (YouTube followers), almost 50 percent of respondents said that of the three disciplines in triathlon, they have the biggest difficulty with swimming.

Swimming is the Achilles’ heel of many triathletes who enter the sport without a swimming background. We’re land creatures, so it’s pretty unnatural for us to stick our faces into water, never mind sticking our faces into water and trying to perform extremely intense exercise with thousands of other land creatures thrashing around to the left and right of us. But don’t lose hope: tens of thousands of challenged swimmers (myself included) have had great success with learn-to-swim (well) programs such as Total Immersion swimming.

Total Immersion is an excellent program meant to throw away everything you thought you knew about swimming and replace it with a new, easier, “effortless” swim stroke that leaves you full of breath and ready to hop on the bike.

Total Immersion regularly holds multiday swim camps around the world. Costs vary but an upcoming event costs $495 for a two-day freestyle swim camp. Add your flight and hotel, and you’re right around $1,000.

Triathlon training and racing can be expensive, addictive and time-consuming, so it’s important to be selective in what you spend your money on. Hopefully these suggestions give you some good ideas for excellent ways to become faster and still keep the peace in your household.

See you soon, Trainiacs!


Taren Gesell is better known as Triathlon Taren on YouTube, where he documents his triathlon lifestyle and provides tips for age-group athletes like himself, in daily vlog posts. Check him out at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1AKDrz2GvLxD29W9tow66g.