Selecting plus-size triathlon apparel for racing and training – the Spring 2012 guide for Athenas

Most triathletes admit that great gear and clothing makes training and racing more comfortable and efficient.  For plus-size triathletes (who manufacturers typically define as anyone over a US Size 16), the desire to look good – and feel good – while racing and training is no different than that of the average triathlete.   But until recently, the simple act of finding apparel in Athena sizing was nearly impossible.

Not anymore.  In the past few years, manufacturers have slowly begun to offer running, cycling, and triathlon apparel ranging from sizes from 16-24.  Danskin, Moving Comfort, Nike, C9 for Target, Pearl Izumi, Zoot, Terry Bicycles, New Balance, Sugoi, REI, Junonia, and Aerotech Designs each offer apparel in a variety of sizes, technical sophistication, and styles to suit everyone from the first-time Sprinters to the returning Ironman.  For many women, though, selecting training or racing apparel online (the only location most are sold) remains a challenge.

As an Athena with her eye on the Virgin London Triathlon in September, I’m searching for a multi-purpose top for run and bike training, and a pair of cycling capris and shorts for my daily ride to work and weekend long rides to the country.  I’m also in need of a new racing kit (top and shorts).  Here’s a quick view to how I’ve selected my kits, and a few rules to keep in mind as you shop this season.

1.    Prioritize your needs.   Purchasing Athena triathlon clothing requires compromise.  It’s unlikely that you’ll find a piece which is as flattering as your favorite little black dress, in the color you were born to wear, with the technical fabric worthy of an Ironman, at a bargain price.  Before you begin, consider what’s most important to you – and assess your options accordingly.

This season, I want comfortable training apparel that looks great.  On the bike, that means flat seams, great fabrics, and a women’s specific chamois; for both cycling and running, I want a multi-purpose top that fits but isn’t too baggy, and won’t catch the wind.

For my racing kit, I want a supportive and fast-drying, cool top which will fit under my wetsuit; and a pair of racing shorts with a stash pocket.  Both should be quick-drying but supportive fabric, with no risk of chafing.  Great colors are a bonus.

2.    Your measurements rule.  Write down these three measurements:  the widest part of your bust; your natural waist; and the widest part of your hips.  Understanding your sizing makes reviewing apparel options simple and eliminates unnecessary purchases and returns.  Generally speaking, once you know your sizing, you’ll also understand which manufacturers you can rely on for purchases.

From smallest to largest (Size 16 or XXL to Size 26), search for your apparel from retailers in this order: Zoot, Sugoi and Pearl Izumi; Danskin, Moving Comfort, and New Balance; and Terry Bicycles, Nike, Aerotech Designs and Junonia.

At 44-38-49 (measurements I’m certain my grandmother and mother will be appalled that I’m admitting, but which I offer in service to you, dear reader),  I limit my search to those with generous XXL sizing and dedicated plus sizes.   

3.    Select clothes that are well made and fit you well – and which may not be specifically made for triathlon.  Triathlon apparel tends to run very close to the body, which can be a challenge for many Athenas.  But racing in baggy, cotton clothing can lead to painful chafing and make you look bigger than you are.  Why bother when there are plenty of clothes out there which can fit you properly?  For my search, I select clothing no more than 1.5” larger (or smaller) than my measurements.  I also considered running, yoga, or other cross-functional tops in addition to triathlon-specific tops.  Not sure what’s a technically superior short?  Look for flat seams, quick drying fabric, a non-bulky chamois, and comfortable leg openings.

The final selections

For training – comfortable gear that gets the job done.

The Shirt. Nike’s Extended Miler is great for everyday running and cycling.  (MSRP $42, 1X-3X)

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The cycling capris. Terry Bicycles’ Knicker Plus capris (MSRP $100, 1X-4X) are  comfortable and ultra-flattering, and make early morning or evening rides a breeze. 

Terry's Knicker Plus tight handles the morning commute and then some.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mac daddy training short. Pearl Izumi’s PRO In R Cool short (MSRP $150, XXL fits to 47.5” hip, with just enough stretch to suit our 49” tester) is a technical dream with non-binding waist and leg openings and a UPF 50+ that can cool the body’s surface temperature up to 5%, a significant benefit for plus-size athletes who can be challenged with temperature control.  

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These shorts. The fit of an amazing piece of technical gear, great chamois. Check PI's sizing charts for details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For racing: a kit to take you to the finish.

The swim/bike/run short.  Danskin’s 7” Tri Short (MSRP $52, to XXL/ 20 ) is long, lean, and worry free with flat seams, a light racing chamois; multi-panel, wicking construction; silicone leg grippers and a small back zip pocket.  A tried and true tri short practically fitting most up to size 22. (available at Danskin.com or REI.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nike’s Women’s Shape Sport Top (MSRP $55, 1X-3X) isn’t made for Triathlon – but it serves a purpose for Athenas, works great under your wetsuit and promises to dry quickly.  Sturdy shelf-bra included; but feel free to supplement with your own.

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20 thoughts on “Selecting plus-size triathlon apparel for racing and training – the Spring 2012 guide for Athenas

  1. I love that you advocate plus size women finding clothing for them. It makes such a difference. It is getting easier with online shopping, but it is still hard. You are so right about the key measurements. Wishing the best as you move forward toward your next triathlon.

  2. Sallie, do you have any recommendations this year for someone a bit larger than an xxl? I wear about a size 24, and I’m signed up for a couple triathlons this summer. I have tri shorts I got last year (THANK YOU by the way, your reviews and advice were soooo helpful!) from aerotech (and I sewed my own drawstring into them, so no falling off this year even though they’re a bit too big now, yay!) I’m trying to figure out what to wear on top, though. I’ve got a good sports bra, but definitely need someone over it for the swim and also the bike/run. I’m wondering if there’s anything I can wear for all three parts so I don’t have to change after the swim. Something not too clingy, something that won’t ride up and that’s long enough to cover my back.

    I’m actually wondering if I can wear my sleeveless cycling jersey in the lake. Would that be bad? It’s comfy, it dries fast, and it’s perfect for the run/bike parts. (I have the “tourista” tank from terry, and I love it). But would that be bad? Or weird? I don’t want to ruin my jersey, but the idea of not having to change my shrit and let everyone see my belly, even for a second, sure sounds nice.

    If you don’t think that’s a good idea I do have a rashguard top, which I wore in the lake last year, that I can swap out like I did last year. It’s just a little awkward due to um…certain people coming to cheer me on who I’m a little shy around and would prefer not to be topless in front of even for a second.

    Love your blog! Thanks so much for advocating for us big girls. ❤

    • Hi Rebecca, and thanks for the note!

      I’ve been struggling with this for a few years myself – the “stripping down” aspect of changing out of the lake gear and into the cycling gear is not to be underestimated. Here’s my experience:

      IF you go for something more body-conscious, something that’s got a heavy lycra content and fits closer, then you’re probably okay in the water. The challenge is if you’re swimming longer than a Sprint, you really don’t want to be in something that’s really “big” on you in the water – it grabs water, slows you down, and generally makes life harder. Now, the Tourista looks pretty good – not too baggy (but are you swimming in your old one?) and looks to dry quickly.

      But, what about this? Check out this top from Land’s End (not available when I published the original). It looks like it would have plenty of coverage for swim, bike and run, and promises to dry a little faster than the heavier Terry jersey. The only possible complication I can see is the clasp at the back of the neck, but I bet you can manage that with some Body Glide. Thoughts?

      http://www.landsend.com/pp/womens-sport-scoop-tankini-top~234989_57.html?bcc=y&action=order_more&sku_0=::GD7&CM_MERCH=IDX_women-_-swimsuits-_-special-swim-sizes-_-plus-size-_-plus-size&origin=index

      IF you’re going to swim in the Terry top, just make sure to tuck it in to your shorts when you get in the water as tight as you can – and body glide up under your arms. The seams in a “regular” top will sometimes chafe a bit against your arms while you’re swimming since they’re not always made for it.

      Hope that helps, and let me know what you decide! Either way, test out your Terry top in the pool and see how it goes. It won’t ruin it, I promise!
      Sallie

  3. Sallie you are FAST!

    I’ll test the tourista in the water just to see what happens in case anyone else ever wonders about that option, since you assure me it won’t ruin it (I love the tourista, so I was scared to try it just in case), I’ll let you know how it goes.
    I actually just got the tourista recently, so it fits well and pretty close to me, not too big at all. (I wish I could afford smaller shorts, but since whatever I buy now will be too big soon anyway it’s just not worth it. The homemade drawstring is working well though!) My concern was dry time and wondering if seaweed would get stuck in the pockets or something. I wouldn’t have thought to tuck it in, but that makes sense.

    I think I’ll order this lands end top, though! I’m crossing fingers it’s long enough to suit me and not too clingy. It LOOKS like it should be perfect though! I don’t know why I always forget about Lands End, that’s where I got the top I swam in last year (though I wore a c9 tank from Target for the bike/run, and it was so short and clingy I was really self-conscious the entire time).

    I’ve got my first tri of the year on June 3rd, so I should be able to get the lands end top in plenty of time to try it out a few times before then. I’ll definitely let you know how it goes! Bodyglide on the clasp is a good tip, I would have forgotten that. And the arms too. I never think of the chafing around armholes, I’m usually more concerned with shorts chafing and feet blistering and I forget about my top half. But I’ll definitely body glide ALL OVER this year. That stuff is a wonderful invention.

    Don’t suppose you know of anyplace that sells larger-sized race belts? I may end up just making one, but I wondered if they existed for purchase. I bought a regular race belt and it WILL stretch and fit around me fine, but it’s very uncomfortable. I plan to use it as a pattern to make my own that fits better. Not sure what to do about the snaps that actually hold the race bib, but probably will add some sort of button/snap system to it for that.

  4. So happy to find your site, so full of info. I’m not into tris, yet … I’m a solid 3x runner, 5’6, 270. I started running in 2006, bought several Moving Comfort Women (MCW) tanks, 3x, loved them. Had my son in 2007, stopped running for a bit. I’ve been wearing the same shirts over and over because I can’t seem to find a tank/singlet that is big enough since Moving Comfort stopped making the 3x. So frustrating. I can get into some 3x mens shirts, but not tanks.

    I love my MCW Maia bra, have tried a few others prior to finding it, but they never held me like it does. I wear the MCW compression shorts, and just ordered a 3x in 110% compression shorts, will be trying them on today. Also love the 3x in the sparkle skirts that I’ve bought for half marathons (gotta look cute!). So with bottoms and bras, I’m in a good place.

    Thanks again for updating the shopping info and sharing your experiences, I really appreciate it and will share your blog with my plus size running friends. 🙂

    • Hi Christy –
      I’m not sure why I missed this to reply (travel, I think?) but I’m really glad that you found the site! Let me know who and how the 110% compression shorts work, eh? And where did you get the sparkle skirts?

      Good luck finding tops – they are really hard sometimes, but also, check out Columbia, who seems to be making a good array – and also, maybe check out Nike, Champion, and REI. (Thoguh I think REI’s done iwth tanks for this season!)

  5. Hi! I love your article and can’t wait to wonder around the rest of your blog!! I am a plus size runner, and just finished my first sprint triathlon in June–I LOVED it! So, I intend to do more. But, as someone else mentioned above, I did a complete change from lake to bike and that was tiresome, scary, and just took way too much time! I’ve been looking for a good plus size tri suit for days when I found your article, and it’s a blessing for sure!

    I was also going to suggest something else–like I mentioned, I started running before doing a tri, and I found that I could go to Academy sports and buy their brand of men’s basketball shirts to wear for running. I wear a plus size (2X) NIke running capri (these are my fave), and I found that I could buy the men’s basketball shirts (I get a Large) to train in, and they’re a little forgiving around my mid-section, plus the large arm holes allow for me to be cooler, and they come in great colors. They’re also cheap, around $15, so it’s a win for me. I haven’t had any problems with chafing, and I’m thinking once I decide on a tri suit, I’ll actually throw one of these over it for the running portion, just to hide all that I’m self-consious about! I’m going to order the Danskin shorts you posted above. I’m glad to find a pair with a longer inseam–all the others I’ve been seeing are too short for my thighs!

    Oh, and I also own the Nike Extended Miller shirt you posted above in a pretty sky blue color. It is by far my favorite running shirt. My only complaint with it is that when I run in the sun, I get sleeve tan lines (haha!). But seriously, I use it more than any other shirt because it’s soft, comfortable, and it’s longer in the back than the front, which is ideal for plus size women!

  6. Hi!
    I’m about to start a 6 month training program for my first sprint triathlon and I am so happy to find your blog! I was wondering if you could give me some recommendations for a bike. I have NO idea where to start. I’m 5’9 and 280. What do you recommend? I really would like to stay under $600. Thank you!

    • Hi Carolyn! I would start with your local bike shop. The simplest thing to do before you go is to see the inventory that someone like Trek or Specialized has on hand (Trek usually runs deals around now with the end of season sales and tour de France). If your never races before, I would say to get a bike that you want to Ride for life – literally, something that you can ride on trails and pavement, that isn’t too uncomfortable. Trek makes a range of road/hybrid hybrids called “fitness” bikes that have slightly skinnier tires, a lighter frame, and some carbon that you may be able to get from last year’s model under 600…. I started my tri career on a hybrid (two seasons) switched to a Trek 1000 (three seasons) which I bought for $550 new in 2003; and switched to a Trek Pilot 2.1 later (around $1000, sold the 1000 I pay for part of it). The geometry on the Pilot is nice, but my cousin had a killer Specialized hybrid/road mix that was also great and I felt better for log term fitness.

      If I had to make one recommendation it would be to get fitted when you buy and be careful to make sure you are buying for the long term….

      Hope that helps???

  7. I want to just say that I have been looking for a suit I can wear that covers my legs in both open water and USMS swimming events. I found this site that has a number of suits… though some seem to be polyester.. a few are lycra… and one that I ordered is made with some material I don’t know. So I got IDK material and another lycra. I hope they work… They go up to size 22 or xxxl if you are looking…. 🙂

    http://www.theswimmall.com

  8. I’ve been a plus size triathlete for 7 years now, and I can tell you when I started there was next to nothing available. I was reduced to tears on a regular basis trying to find gear – the only thing that came close to fitting (at the time I was a size 24, now I’m closer to 18) was the Danskin tri suit (and it’s not at all cut for a large bust). I pulled it out of the closet today and realized it’s time to upgrade – so happy Google found me your post, you saved me a lot of time!

    • HMS –
      Thanks for the great note! It sounds like we started at around the same time – when there was really NOTHING that we could wear and we were all just squeezing into anything that covered up and prevented chafing 🙂 I hope that the suggestions work – let me know what you think. Good luck with the shopping – this year the best one-piece suits I could find were a mystery. Louis Garneau has some, and so does Aerotech designs – and there’s another US based group who does them – I’ll look and post a link.

  9. I Googled plus- size tri clothes and found your article. I am so happy that I did! I started training last year for a 15k and had so much trouble finding clothes that supported me. I know I get shin splints really easily so I looked for women’s plus size running tights. After not finding anything out there I found CW-X Men’s Full Length Ventilator Tights (Black, X-Large, sold by Amazon $85.00) that looked like they would fit my 260 lb frame. And they work like a wonder. I have since ran and finished the 15k, a 10K and trained for and completed a half marathon in them. I also wore the Champion Mesh-Vented Compression Plus-Size Sports Bra ($21.99) & the Champion Plus Women’s Fitness Plus-Size Tank Top (Clearance Spring 2012 $ 9.99). I love them both.
    I have to say I have been running almost every day with the tights and saying I love them is an understatement! They are still going strong, although I’ve lost weight and the knees have shifted below where mine are. The top and the bra (for being on clearance) have held up well too.
    I hadn’t thought of wearing the tights in the water and I wonder if they would hold up in the pool. Maybe I will have to wait until it is warm enough for me to switch to open water training. Thank you for writing this and for the other posts and ideas as well. I was feeling kind of lonely, but knowing there are other plus sizes- “Tri-ing” makes me feel like part of a secret exclusive club!- Jes

  10. Do you have any suggestions on a bathing suit for training? I got the speedo conservative ultraback and it does not offer much support up top and stretched out really fast. I’m contemplating just swimming with a sports bra under the suit to help support and cover up for the time being. Love your blog!

    • Hi Ashley –
      I use my Speedo for the swim but you could also try Land’s End for lap suits. To be fair, I find there’s a hard time finding a balance between the suits which are comfortable enough to allow range of movement (like the Speedo) and the “compression” suits which try to make you look slim but are, in reality, a real hindrance to getting your arms over your head! I did swim quite often in the lake (in Chicago) in just my Maia sports bra from Moving Comfort and my tri shorts, sometimes with a wetsuit, sometimes without. I found it worked just fine and had enough coverage. HOpe that helps!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and recommendations! It has been so helpful as I am attempting my first sprint tri this summer and have been stumped about what to wear on race day and what to do in transitions. Do you happen to have any 2013 updates? I just looked and Danskin has almost nothing on its Triathlon page, only a few items for sale (mostly size XS). Are they discontinuing this line? The link to the Nike shirt also says the item is no longer available. Thanks!

    • HI Maureen! I’m super behind updating for 2013…if Danskin has nothing on their site, you can try calling them directly and asking when their stock will come in – they always stock the 7″ short in an XXL but sometimes it sells out fast. REI also typically carries it in an XXL but again, stock goes quickly. Another place to visit is Team Estrogen and then finally, Aerotech Designs (though their shorts get a bad rap). If you visit Nike.com and search for “plus size” or “1X” you will see the shirts available in that size – and Zappos is carrying some of the Nike plus size stuff also – search “Nike plus size”. Last but not least, you can try using the Men’s XXL tri shorts which you can get from REI (Zoot and others). HOpe that helps!

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