Note: For an updated version of this post, see the Spring 2012 Guide to Plus size Triathlon apparel (including selection and shopping guidance). For some older ideas, see the Summer 2011 Guide to Plus Size Triathlon Clothing.
It probably comes as no surprise, but the clothing posts on The Plus Runner get quite a lot of traffic. At first, I wasn’t surprised, because we all want to look cute – but as I move into the third month here, I’m still amazed at how many of us are looking for cute clothes that fit – and make us feel like the athetes we are – or are becoming.
With that in mind, I’m conquering one of the final frontiers in Plus Sized Active clothing – the triathlon.
I’ve been doing triathlons for quite awhile now, though this year probably presents my biggest personal challenge. But for many of you, it’s your first season, your first race, the first time you’re going to be baring yourself, in all its wet glory, to the world after an exhilerating swim, and you’re probably wondering “what in the WORLD was I thinking?”
You were thinking this was a great way to get in shape, get a tan (as politically incorrect as THAT seems) and try something amazing. Now you just need to look good doing it. And you’re wondering, “What the hell do I wear? These clothes are made for chics with no chest, no ass, and definitely some questionable color choices. Help!”
That’s where I come in. I’ve been searching retailers for years, and I’ve provided a little guide here to help you dress for your Big Day. I’m breaking the clothing recommendations into two groups here: training and racing. Why? Because sometimes it’s just easier that way. No, really.
How do you dress for a three-sport race? Very carefully.
Even if you just want to finish, completing a triathlon can take some planning. The first race I ever did, I wore my bathing suit in the swim (with my bra underneath it – please, a 38D running without a real bra? Yeah RIGHT!). I waddled into transition, (somewhat confused by the 20 yard sand-dash that I had to conquer to get to my bike), pulled on skin-tight men’s running shorts, over which I put on a loose pair of mesh workout shorts, threw on a tee shirt, and EIGHT MINUTES LATER sauntered out of T1. Take my advice: the fewer things you have to add to your body in transition, the better. You will be wet, somewhat out of breath, and trying to just get on the bike. Don’t let your clothes get in your way.
So. To start, get comfortable with the fact that people are going to see you in some skimpy clothes. Cultivate the following phrase: “I am incredibly strong. These people are cheering for me. My body rocks.” Then, get used to showing some skin.
Let’s begin with what the little people wear. An average woman racer will throw on the following for race day:
1) Triathlon-specific shorts.
2) Triathlon-specific tank top with a bra built in.
3) Wetsuit over the top of the whole shebang, and off she goes.
The Big Girls’ list is a bit more extensive. In all likelihood, your list will look like this:
1) Compression shorts which may or may not be triathlon-specific
2) Your regular running or training bra.
3) Wetsuit over the top for the swim (if you have one).
4) Wicking tank top for the bike and run.
Notice that you’re not wearing your bathing suit in the water. It’s just too much of a pain in the ass, frankly. And you’re not going to whip on a pair of diaper-like bike shorts for the bike, only to run around in them looking like you have a load in your pants on the run. Nope. You’re going to pick a few pieces of clothing, get comfortable in them, and get moving.
Some guidance to get started, and what to look for. I’ve searched EVERY store on the web, and in person, and this is the best list I can come up with. If you know of something more, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
Triathlon-specific race shorts
- include a light bike pad in the seat to keep your butt from getting really sore;
- are quick-drying (read: NOT COTTON, and in fact are more like swimsuit material);
- have silicone leg grippers at the bottom to keep the legs in place as you swim, bike and run, eliminating chafing).
- Danskin short here. $48.00. Only runs to an XXL, which “offiically” fits 46″-48″ across the widest part of your hips. I am currently running about 53″ at the hips, and I’ve worn them without any see-through activity, so if you’re close to these measurements, I’d order them – they are, quite simply, the best alternative I’ve found if you’re a 22 or below. Browse the Danskin site for some additional triathlon shorts, but most of their clearance items from last season are gone in a Size XXL. SUMMER 2010 UPDATE: REI has these shorts in stock, though the 7″ black is sold out in an XXL, the 5″ cute ones are still in. in an XXL (and other sizes). Danskin tells me they will call to let me know when their stock is updated in July, 2010.
- Aerotech Designs carries plus-sized women’s triathlon bottoms, here. $34.95.
My Swimming Race Day Choice (Bottom) The Danskin short.
In the summer of 09, I thought I’d be racing in the REI short (which is great, but REI isn’t offering it this year). Instead, I’m living in my Danskins. My old Tyr triathlon shorts from a few seasons back are a Unisex/mens short, and I’m usually willing to try a men’s short, but since I’m a slave to the size charts (and you should be too, if you’re ordering online), I’m not going to risk that the men’s shorts will not be wide enough to cover my Texas-sized stomach and hip region. So, after much, much searching, I was going to try the REI Compression Short here as my racing short. They are a simple compression short, but quick-drying, which is good. I ordered two pairs from REI (one in a 2X, one in a 3X), tried them both on when they shipped (for free) to the store…and took them both back. I wasn’t thrilled with the leg gripper (there was none, and I was concerned it would ride up) and I also wasn’t convinced they were the best fit.
(Update, 6/18) This is the one downside of ordering all your clothing online. Sometimes, it’s trial and error. While I was at REI, I picked up the Danskin tri shorts in a Size XL. They were definitely too small for me, but they were MUCH more generous than the men’s Zoot shorts…so I ordered up a pair of XXL’s online. Per the size chart, I’m about 3 inches bigger in the hips than the shorts should allow. BUT when they arrived, I’m happy to say they are comfortable, do not cut off circulation in any area, AND are not stretched so thin as to be see through. The silicone grippers in the leg are perfect (not too tight, no chafing); and the most ingeneous part of the short may be the side pockets, OR the stealthy additional fabric that runs up the middle of the back panel – giving you JUST a little bit of protection from the world seeing the, um, dividing line of your behind, when you’re on the bike or the run. Awesome shorts – I rue the day I ever mocked Danskin.
Why not the Aerotech short? I have the Danskin in hand, and I know it fits, but for you, Aerotech may be the way to go. One of our readers says to tell you this: they run a little big, so you may want to order down if you’re between measurements.
My Swimming/Biking/Running Race Day Choice (Top)
Because I’m currently a 40D, I can’t get away with not wearing a bra on race day. I’ve tried to put one on in Transition, and unless you’re looking to amuse the 40 people watching their loved ones in T1, I’d skip that exercise. Instead, wear your bra in the water, under your wetsuit. You don’t have to wear anything on top of it, but if you have a tight, wicking tank top that you want to wear all day, go for it. On race day, I’ll be wearing my Moving Comfort Maia bra, (Black). (I decided not to splurge on a wetsuit this year, so I’ll be wearing the bra alone, no top.) In T1, I’ll put on a wicking tank top, similar to this one or this one, and wear that for the bike and run. (Update: That Nike Victory Top is wonderful – flat seams, breathable, and more than long enough to cover my stomach and not ride up my back on the bike.)
If you’re not wearing a wetsuit on race day, then you might want to consider a different top over your bra for the swim.
Triathlon specific race tops:
- Danskin tops here. Includes some great looking tops that have built-in bras (use at your own risk), around $50. Size XXL will fit a chest of 44″-46″ and a waist of 35″-37″.
- Junonia tops here. Includes a really nice “typical” multi-purpose swim/bike/run top like this one which, if you’re not wearing a wetsuit, I’d throw on over a bra and compression shorts, and you’d be set for the entire day. *****NOTE that Junonia also offers a unitard, which is also pretty typical tri wear. Now, I have a friend who loaned me hers once, and it fit great, definitely makes life easier, but I felt really, really warm in it, and also had the uncomfortable sensation that nothing was “held in its place” very well. Others might feel differently, but for me, it’s just too much movin’ and shakin’ going on, with not enough holdin’ it togetha’. If you know what I mean.
My Swimming Training Choice (Top + Bottom)
I do some of my training in the pool, some in the open water. A pool will eat up my sports bra pretty quickly, so I’ll do most of my pool training in my regular tank suit. In the open water, I’ll be in my bathing suit (under my wetsuit) or in compression shorts and my sports bra (yep, just me and the folks at the Ohio Street Beach). No one cares how pasty your stomach is when you swim a mile and they’re eating burgers and fries on the beach. Really, I promise!
And What About Plus-Sized Wetsuits?
Triathlon wetsuits are not marketed to Plus-Sized women – but that doesn’ t mean you can’t get one that fits.
In 2003, I purchased an Xterra Long John wetsuit in a size Large. The 2009 model is a Vortex 3 John, and the size charts are interesting. I wore it until I was at about 235 pounds – at 5’9″. The size chart states that anyone over 5’4″ and 180 pounds should wear this size.
For me? Possibly a Zoot Fuzion, Men’s XXL, which has a higher weight ratio (up to 240 pounds) that may work. I investigated DeSoto, Xterra, and Quintana Roo, and none of them looks as if it will work.
UPDATE: As of the summer of 2010, I’m rocking around in a lovely Xterra Vortex 3, which I picked up on sale for $99 last summer (sleeveless). Feels great, and lots of room!
If you’re looking for a westuit, I’d encourage you to try them on, rent them online for a week, or borrow a friend’s before buying. I bought the Xterra after swimming in it several times – and still love it (it just doesn’t love my love handles). If you live in Chicago, Fleet Feet Sports offers rentals on weeknights and weekends at Ohio Street Beach – and also allows you to rent for a week and apply the cost of the rental to the purchase of a suit. Ask around in your town for similar programs!
My Biking Training Choice (Bottom)
You’re dozing off now, but one more quick point. When you’re training, you SHOULD get used to the clothing you’ll be wearing on race day. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a little comfort here and there. I’ll be doing some 90 minute rides getting ready for race day, so I’m going to be wearing my old Terry T-Short bike shorts for the ride. I’d recommend finding a good pair of bike shorts that you like and you’ll wear for a few years to train in.
As with any gear or clothing purchase, try to keep some perspective: the purpose of this sport is not to bankrupt you. However, if you invest now, you may find yourself using that gear a lot.
Have questions? Drop me a line!
See you on the path….