Budget for a first time Ironman (and ways to save)

They always say that tri is a rich man's sports, and while I don't know who "they" is, I have to agree that it's very expensive. However, I think that it's hyped up to be more expensive than it needs to be because everyone becomes obsessed with getting all the fancy gear. I'm going to give you the costs of the bare bones essentials, but then maybe some add ons that might make things more comfortable. If you've never done a tri, then you are going to need a bike and obviously that's going to be your biggest investment but I feel everyone knows that, so we will start with that. 

I will say this. I was VERY frustrated with the "tri world" while training for my first half. It's like people have a chip on their shoulder because they have the fanciest stuff and always trying to tell me what I "have to buy" when I would post on instagram/facebook. I got really stubborn and did my half ironman in tennis shoes on the bike almost to make a point. Not everyone has thousands of dollars to drop at once and just want to race and that's okay. You can still be an athlete and do it even if your income doesn't support what some may throw down.


  • BIKE ($800-$10,000)

I think everyone knows that there are tons of different levels, but I just refused to spend thousands of dollars. I got mine for $880 at a local bike shop and it's a wonderful bike that I'm so very happy with. You want to really research bikes and see what things that you think are essential to your success but quite frankly, if Tanner would have let me, I would have done it on my pink lady cruiser as I'm a huge fan of building the machine and not all of the fancy gear. Butttttt, admitably, it's been the best present that my team ever gave me (they did a Go Fund Me page to raise money for me to get a bike almost a year ago now and it was pretty much the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me) and I don't know how in the world I rode anything different before. 

There is also a website called Bikes Direct that has great bikes for cheap.

  • CLEATS ($50) - obviously this depends and someone gave me cleats (I've been very lucky with the costs I've had to spend and I'm so very thankful for that)
  • CLIP ON PEDALS ($50) - I did my half ironman without these but some would call this essential
  • Helmet ($20+)-I put $20 because I've worn my walmart helmet and yea it's ghetto and yea, I've been made fun of but it works and not everyone wants to spend so much on everything!!
  • TRAINER ($200-300) 

I honestly am going to say this is essential because I don't know what I'd do without a trainer. I use it constantly with the bike because you aren't going to be able to do it all outside (maybe you could I guess so that's an area to save). I would search Craigslist and if you are a girl then join the Women for Tri group and sometimes there are Wednesdays where they do a thread about selling stuff so you might be able to find something. Tanner already had one from when he used to ride so that was something I didn't have to buy. I did find one on Amazon listed below for $55!! 

  • Bike Shorts ($50+)

I was stubborn during my half and trained for the entire half with no bike shorts. HAHAHA! I couldn't find a deal and if I don't find deals-I'm not buying so I stuck it out. I mean-it was fine as I knew no different. One of my clients gave me bike shorts and a top for Christmas this past year and it was the best thing I've ever been given. I wouldn't trade those bike shorts for the world, however that's still the only pair that I have and I wash them every other day and wear them like 3X per week! HAHAHA! Speaking of-I really just need to get more and going to go look for some deals now! Point being-you only need one pair if you are on a budget and you can make it work!

Total approximately: $1120 for the cheapest stuff out there, $320 if you have a bike


  • Goggles-$10 (got the cheapest pair at Walmart but I would say it might benefit you to maybe get the $20 ones because these suck LOL) 
  • Swim Suit-$20 (Nike outlet-I only have one suit and I just wash it and wear it twice weekly during my swims)
  • Swim Cap - $10 and you can get free ones at the races (Silicone is where it's at!!)
  • Wet suit - I rented mine out of Charlotte! My goal was an ironman so I wasn't interested in doing a bunch of halfs/olympics/sprints so I didn't invest in one and knew my two races would be my half and my full. Wetsuits run around $250+ and the rental is $50. I figured I was saving even by getting the cheapest wetsuit that isn't guaranteed to fit if I buy it online so I opted out of purchasing. However, if you plan on doing a lot of racing then this is something to consider.
  • Tri kit - ($30-$200)when I took off my wetsuit, this is what I had under it and wore for the rest of the race. I didn't change after the bike and only wore this under it. I found it on sale online for $30 so look for deals until you find them!

Total: $170 (includes 2 wetsuit rentals)


  • Shoes ($100) - but you might already have them! With ironman training, you are obviously going to be running a lot and if you do this sport then you probably run tons anyway and have to buy new shoes every few months. This is a reality I've faced that I was stubborn with at first. I said "oh these shoes are fine" and about 4 shoe related injuries later, I got over that. ;) 

Total: $100


The three essential things that I knew I needed before a full ironman was a half ironman. Before a half ironman, I knew I needed to have one open water swim as I didn't know what that was like. If you have friends that could meet up with you and go swim open water, then that makes for such a fun day. I did an olympic tri (and my cheap pink bike broke down on this course haha) but I got the open water in which is what I wanted. 

  • Olympic Tri - $100
  • Half Ironman - $300
  • Full Ironman - $700 
  • AirBnB (I basically don't do hotels anymore)-$40/night (but obviously this could be a lot more if you get a hotel but I think the price shows you why I don't)
  • Flight travel if you aren't close (however I'm within 4 hours driving distance of mine)

YEP YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT!! The logistics of an ironman and the set up I know has to cost them a lot of money. You pay a lot for the brand "M-Dot" as well. I'm sure they are making tons of money as it's a business but I do understand that things of this nature cost money and it's very important to me. My brother thought it was INSANE but then he spent $700 on a bow that I would never ever do. So, it's just all where you want to spend your money. 

There are full distance ironman tri's (140.6 miles) that aren't the brand "Ironman" that cost less, but they are hard to find. Some are run well and some aren't. Beach to Battleship is what Ironman NC was called previously and it was run extremely well, but when that happens Ironman comes in and offers the big bucks to make it theirs, and that's what happened. So, now this year for the first time, it's Ironman NC! I'm very excited that it is the brand though so that when I finish they say "Katie Ringley, you are an ironman" - $700 worth of glory right there! hahaha! 

Most everyone will want to at least do a half ironman before the full. I know that many would recommend I do a half while training for my full right now but like quoted above, it's $300 and if I need that for training then I'll just go in my town and do the same distance! :) Racing is obviously good for tons of reasons and getting used to all of that, but it just didn't work out this time! 

Total: $1040 (yikes) 


Garmin watch-($400-500) If you don't have one then I know that this might not be a priority but when training for an ironman, I would say it's pretty close to essential. I got the Garmin 920XT (which is the tri focused watch). I don't have to focus on my laps in the pool as it counts them for me, I can get all data on my runs and bike rides, and it's just that I don't know how I'd do without. Garmin recently sent me the 735XT and I'm just warming up to it and going to do a better review soon but I love it so far. The face is much smaller and it's light weight and records wrist heart rate. 

The 920XT used to be $500 and now it's $375 on Amazon so if you wait a little bit and get the older version then you can save there too!

  • Underwater MP3- ($90) The water can be boring so this is something to consider if pool training is hard for you.
  • All the biking/swimming/running gear that makes you a cool kid that I don't have ;) 

A great way to get started on some of this is if you ask for these things for birthdays and Christmas. You might get a much nicer helmet if you put it on your Christmas list that you want an aero helmet that's around $100 if the timing is right for your race, or you could buy the $20 one and then do that. If you are serious about the race, then obviously it's going to be a majority of your life during that training period...like that's all you'll be doing in your spare time. So, if it's the only thing that you are spending money on then it's worth it to make yourself comfortable. I try to live frugally right now with how much school loan debt we have and how we are trying to pay it off, but not buying bike shorts before a half ironman is a bit silly! Go ahead and invest in those kinds of things! :) 

TOTAL FOR EVERYTHING ESSENTIAL: $1630 (if you already have a bike but if not $1000 more AT LEAST)= $2630

WOW-I'm so grateful to my team for helping me with the bike, and so many others gifting me things along the way! It could be MUCH more also if you spent hundreds on your tri kit, wet suit, helmet, bike shorts, etc. Hope this helps give a good picture! 



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