On top of being crazy enough to try training for an Ironman, I also have entered into this training world while having no budget to speak of. Yep, I am one of the many educated professionals in this country who is currently unemployed.
It didn’t really come as that much of a shock to me when my boss announced at the end of June that they were slicing off my position from the company. They’d been doing some “trimming” of what I’d thought were pretty important positions for the previous six months. This round of lay-offs wasn’t anything new, so, when my boss asked if I had any questions, I quietly said, “Nope, not really,” and quickly gathered my belongings from my desk and headed out.
My world was turned topsy-turvy. I’d been training for a half marathon, and had a full marathon on the horizon. I’d been dreaming of joining Team in Training’s IronTEAM. Would I have to quash my lofty goals in order to go into “survival mode”?
Honestly, I didn’t even want to go to practice on the Sunday after my Friday layoff. I just wanted to lay in bed and let the bitterness of my tears of failure burn a hole into my pillow. By sheer force of…I don’t know what, really…I stuffed my dragging zombie feet into my Nikes, slogged out the door and drove myself to the meetup spot.
In spite of what I was convinced was a dark stormcloud of doom hanging over my head, I was greeted with smiles and bright conversation from my teammates as I approached. Before I knew it, the cloud got a little lighter and a little less ominous. By the end of the run, dare I say it, a bit of my own sunshine had returned. There was no way that I was giving up on the one thing that made me feel this powerful, this jovial, this free. As far as affording it goes, well, I just had to be a little bit more creative.
I didn’t know how to swim properly when I started this whole journey. I needed to learn. Private swim coaches are expensive, and specialized Tri coaches are even more pricey. Still, there is no substitute for proper instruction. If you don’t learn proper technique for Tri, you’ll be putting in garbage mileage and tiring yourself out.
Group lessons can be good, but you have to pay per lesson or for a lesson package. Your best bet is a Masters class, but make sure it’s one where the instructors actually have a good reputation. Ask Tri buddies or go online (Yelp.com can be a great resource). In spite of the intimidating name, a Masters class can help even beginners to improve their stroke, and you can usually attend unlimited classes throughout the week (because we all know that practice makes perfect). Most swim Masters programs cost $40-$70 per month and, again, for unlimited swim time, plus instruction, that’s pretty awesome. I lucked out with my amazing instructor, Michael Erin Flaherty at Swim With Heart Masters in Santa Monica, CA, and now am swimming like a fish, breaking my 2:00 100m time in just one month!
As far as suits, go, check the REI outlet and SwimOutlet.com, where you can grab name brand suits for uber cheap. Swim caps are cheap ($5-$10), and goggles can be cheap too, unless you’re me and have a weird-shaped face that only fits the most expensive goggles in the store (*groan*).
Most pricey, of course, is going to be the wetsuit, if you plan to be doing chilly outdoor swims. SwimOutlet.com is also a good resource for these, and, also, some companies have a suit rental program and will sell used rental suits that have little to no wear and tear, for half price or lower, in some cases. Also, ask around–some of your Tri buddies might be selling their old gear, or might have an “in” with a company that makes wetsuits and can get them at a deep discount.
Of course, this part is the most expensive part. Good road or Tri bikes don’t come cheap. What on Earth is a poor girl to do?
Craigslist, baby. One gal’s trash is another gal’s treasure. Be wary, however. Make sure that you understand the fundamentals of proper bike fit and that you understand enough about components that you can recognize when something isn’t functioning properly. Also, different brands have different fits. Try out a few bikes at a local shop just to know what feels good, then search for that kind of bike online.
I had been eye-ing women’s-specific bikes online, and the one that kept coming up with excellent engineering for the female body was the Women’s Dolce Sport from Specialized. When I saw one available for half price with a frame size that supposedly matched my inseam, I had to try it out. Luckily, the thing didn’t have a lot of mileage on it and hadn’t ever been crashed. The previous owner wasn’t really an avid cyclist and didn’t ride more than 10 miles every few weekends or so with her mother. In spite of the bike and gears being filthy (she obviously never cleaned them out), the gears and brakes were in tip-top shape.
Bike accessories and clothing are another matter. Stuff adds up, any way you slice it. Buying clipless pedals, something every Tri-athlete should eventually get into to improve efficiency of pedal stroke (and to be taken seriously by the cycling community, I guess), can be pricey. As a first-timer, I’m checking eBay for used pedals in good condition (the mountain bike kind, which are double-sided–I don’t care if the shoes aren’t fashionable on a road bike, I care about surviving in traffic). Used pedals can be around $25, but you should buy the cleats new (check eBay for those too), which are anywhere from $50-$150 new.
Things you can skimp on: jerseys, jackets, water bottles. Those things aren’t really all that important. Things that are hard to skimp on: bike shorts, safety gear, gloves. Look for sales of name brand stuff, but don’t compromise quality on the latter items. Your butt, hands and brain will thank you.
Running is probably the cheapest sport out there, but, even that, comes with its own set of expenses. Ya can’t go cheapy on shoes, folks! You only have one pair of feet, one set of legs, so protect them with your life. Sure, there are ways to find sales and discounts, but do not get skeet on quality.
Another expense for the ladies, is the sports bra. However, I’ve found that supportive lady wear can be found on clearance in more un-popular colors, like baby blue, sea green, or wine, for at least half off. Check Title Nine Sports or the Moving Comfort website.
Running clothing, on the other hand, can be cheap as heck. Old Navy has launched a whole bunch of compression wear for the season for less than $20 apiece, and Target always has a bunch of dri-fit items that work just as well to sweat in as the high-priced stuff. While I do LOVE Athleta and Lululemon, they aren’t exactly budget-friendly. Sacrifices must be made somewhere.
Eating like an athlete while on a budget can be annoying too. Luckily, it’s not impossible. In recent months, I’ve certainly learned multiple ways to stay healthy and energized, on relatively little cash.
Here are some things on my grocery list:
Ovaltine: One canister yields, like, a million servings (okay, I’m exaggerating), adds a nutritional boost, and can be used in lots of things, like oatmeal, coffee, smoothies, or with your milk of choice as a nutritional dessert.
Oatmeal: Cheap, healthy and filling. What more is there to say?
Spinach: Trader Joe’s sells a big bag of spinach for under $2. It can be used alone for salads or wilted into pasta sauce, omelettes, and other veggie-licious dishes.
Pasta Sauce: Again, I hit up TJs for this one, because their basil marinara sauce is probably the best cheap sauce there is, and you can use it to dazzle up anything: eggs, veggies, proteins, etc.
Eggs: What’s the best source of protein out there? Eggies! Plus, they’re cheap. Make omelettes, scrambles, french toast, etc. I do pay a scootch more for the cage-free eggs, but that’s because I can’t stand the idea of cooped up chickens.
Pasta: Whole wheat pasta is the best. And, again, Trader Joe’s seems to have the cheapest options here. Not only does a little go a long way, especially with spaghetti (I can never seem to measure it right), but pasta can be made in many ways to add a little bulk and performance-enhancing carbs to your meal.
Tofu: I use silken tofu in smoothies to add both creaminess and protein. Firm tofu can be added to pastas and made into scrambles, for you vegans.
Peanut butter: PB can get expensive, as are nuts in general, but it’s really good for you. I usually go for the “natural” peanut butters that have no added oils or sugar. Salt is okay. We’re runners, we need it.
Bananas: Cheap, sugary, nutritious and delicious and they can be used in so many ways, bananas are a staple for any runner’s diet. They can be mashed up and made into “jam” for your PB sandwiches, thrown into a smoothie, or eaten alone as a pre-run energy snack. So much love for bananas, it’s ridiculous!
Broccoli: Another green super food, whole broc is really cheap, and can be thrown into just about anything. It takes a bit longer to cook than, say, spinach, but you can steam it up in advance and throw it into pastas or egg dishes during the week.
Whole-Grain Bread: Another pricey item, as a whole, but when you break it up into a per-serving deal, it’s not too bad. In summer months, I simply cannot bring myself to eat oatmeal, or often I’m too lazy to fire up the stove, so I grab two slices of bread, some nut butter, and I’m ready to rock my day.
Water: Duh, it’s free!
Also, if you’re really in a pinch, you can make some “Ghetto Gatorade” to hydrate before a big run or race. Put up to a tablespoon of salt per 20 oz. of water, use lemon or lime juice, OR Pure Lemon crystallized lemon powder (which I like, a lot), and sugar to taste (lots). It’s like a salty lemonade and it works in a pinch to help keep your electrolytes balanced and all of that jazz. It’s about 50-75% cheaper than the real stuff.
When it comes to race entry fees, keep a lookout online for early bird and special coupon discounts. Search the web for your race’s name and the word, “coupon” or “discount” and see what comes up. Also, you can contact the race organizers to see what kinds of deals and discounts can be offered. Sometimes you can get a discount for racing one race if you volunteer for another within the same organization.
Also, scour the internet for hotel deals and travel. Usually, the earlier, the better. Also, in some cases, you can camp the night before your race. Let’s face it, you’re not going to get a ton of sleep anyway, so you might as well save money by skipping that luxurious hotel bed, right? As long as you’re organized, you’ll still be able to have a great time on race day.
Welp, that’s all I have for now! I hope that I’ve been helpful. Back to the job search, I go!
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