Thames swim advice
If you're not sure about whether this will be your only triathlon or the start of a long career, you could hire a wetsuit for the season. You usually get the option to buy it anyway. No need to worry about that just yet though, leave that until the spring because you won't need it until then.
For the bike you have a few options. You could probably find a decent one second hand fairly cheaply at this time of year, but you need to make sure it's the right size for you. A new one might be UKP500 upwards, but you can pick the size (or get the bike shop staff to pick it for you, which is usually safer). You can hire them for the season the same as wetsuits, and the last option is to go for a complete triathlon package which various companies offer, with bike, wetsuit, running shoes and a few other bits & pieces you'll need (number belt, tri suit, that sort of thing) which are usually pretty good value. Again, ads for those don't usually appear until the spring.
Paul- this year there were OW swimming sessions at Salford Quays if that's not too far for you (easy on the seaside train if you can tolerate it). I'm not a tri person, but I'd looked into doing the Great North Swim in Windermere and was going to train there. They also do wetsuit hire so you'd be able to try things out.
I don't know any tri people in the Southport area (I grew up there), but I think there are a few who do Preston parkrun on a Saturday morning so might be worth popping over one week or posting on their facebook. Also might be worth asking around the Southport running clubs (the only one I really know of is Southport & Waterloo)
Paul there are quite a few tri types near you mate and a few of them talk tri stuff or generally clown around on the threads if you look through the tri section. If you look on the fatman to ironman thread ans training for a shorter tri thread there are a few on there. salford is a very good shout and even I pop over the pennies from yorkshire sometimes for a nice swim.
I think I'll aim to spend under 200 for a secnd hand bike. I got offered a Giant Defy roadbike for £260 but not sure about it. Is that a reasonable offer?
Knowing me, this triathlon won't be my last. I'll probably buy a wetsuit eventually. I'd be interested in finding a local place where I can hire one though, to try it for the season. I'd prefer local because I would need to try it for fit. When I say local, anywhere in the north west or yorkshire would be viable for a trip.
I am lucky to have a big enclosed marine lake in Southport right on my doorstep. If I can persuade myself I will probably train in there in the spring. Hopefully my tri swimming coach will venture away from the pool when things warm up too.
I'll check out that Preston site PG and the Fatman to Ironman one too Cake.
I hadn't even thought about Marine Lake- surely in a lot of places it's not deep enough to swim?
I think it's about 6 feet at least all over, not the cleanest environment but then I don't expect much from the Thames. They have a lot of boat traffic at one end but the north end is quiet aside from the wildlife.
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