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)
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.
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.
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.