Adventures In Shopping: A One-Piece Tri Suit

So far I’ve been racing in tri shorts and a tri top, but I’ve been wanting a one-piece suit for some time.

I’m not going to lie, it’s largely to avoid muffin top. My tri shorts are super high-waisted and act like some kind of athletic Spanx, but there’s always a bit of extra Marshal midriff to contend with – and though my racing top is black, it’s also a skin-fit, and doesn’t mask anything.

While I love bib cycling shorts for their girdling effect and comfort, they’re no good for racing – pit stops are difficult and require top removal (Wrassling off your shirt in a hurry in a hot stinky PortaPotty so you can drop your bibs? Awesome.) And the chamois is generally too big anyway.

See, in addition to being über-aero, tri suits have a smaller profile chamois in them. If you’re not familiar with a chamois, it is the padding in cycle shorts. The longer your distance the more you want a good pad. But the thicker the pad, the more your run feels like a waddle. For triathletes, that chamois is a potential source of water retention post-swim. For duathletes, it’s just too much pad to get sweaty and make you waddle through your two runs. So it tends to be thinner and smaller in tri suits and shorts. Like a modern thin maxi pad instead of an old-time incontinence pad, one might say.

The reason we du and triathletes race in tight clothing is primarily the same reason road cyclists wear all that spandex. Flapping clothes are a detriment to speed and efficiency. Why create more drag than you need? For triathletes, there’s the added challenge of the swim — you can swim in a tri-suit as is, or you can put wear a wetsuit over top of it. So skin-tight it is.

If you’re super skinny, the spandex invariable sags and bags and makes people go “whoa, that’s some skinny”. If you’re a bigger person, the spandex compresses in the wrong places, emphasizing all your worst fears. While that’s fine when you’re in motion, ie a whirling blur of speed and efficient form, it’s a bit ugly to face down in your race photos afterwards.

While I’ve coveted them for a while, I’ve been putting off buying a suit while I morphed some more physically. While my weight is only coming down a bit at this point — like a total of 7 pounds from last summer to this summer — the physical changes are more significant. That seven pounds means a 33″ waist instead of a 34, and down two belt notches. I’m no longer a large shirt in any brand – even the tailored slim fits that were great in March were too big by June, and the suits I had tailored very tightly in February are officially too big again this summer.

My own sizing changes aside, tri and cycling gear presents a bit of a challenge for online purchases. First of all, serious triathletes and cyclists tend to be skinny as all get out. And tri clothing, like cycling gear, tends to be sized smaller as a result. While my physiotherapist quite likes to point out that I have a flat ass (though she says “flat glutes like a cyclist”, which she tells me makes it sound less insulting), I’m not a skinny little thing. And second of all, I’m barrel-chested, even after all this weight loss. Buying a one piece suit means matching chest and waist size, and every brand seems to have a different ratio. One brand – one I really wanted to buy – has tiny measurements on the bottom half and room for a barrel chest up top. Others have modest chest sizes paired with generous bottoms. (I wonder if Elvis had this problem buying his jumpsuits? Oh, of course not, he had those custom made.)

I feared that investing major coin in a size large tri suit (between $125 and $225 for the quality options) that would then with any luck be too big next year. I’ve already replaced my wardrobe at least four times over. No need to start doing that in race gear too. But if I ordered a size medium, would I even be able to do it up?

So off we went, team McKnapp-Advil, so I could try on tri suits in person. My wife had nixed my idea of racing at Niagara (“It’s short! It’s flat this year! It’ll be just like a brick workout!”) saying we needed some non-race focused time. So of course she agreed to this trip, which was entirely race focused. Go figure.

We traipsed off to a shop called Du Tri & Run, a small store in the south end of Mississauga (so far south I’d call it Oakville, but it’s rather industrial so I’m sure Oakville would be all like “Nuh-uh, that’s not our turf, there’s no McMansions and the light posts are so very un-ornate!”). Du Tri & Run were actually set up at my last race with all kinds of tri-suits and a teeny tiny triathlete-sized black tent for a changeroom, but I was so sweaty and hot I figured it would be a bad thing to actually get in the little black tent and try on a skin-tight garment that I might not end up buying. Bad for me, worse for the little black tent, and worst of all for the tri suit. So instead, I waited and we went to Mississauga to their storefront on a day when I was showered and clean and mostly not sweaty. [PS: Du Tri & Run get absolute bonus points for including Du in their name. One small step forward for duathlon!]

Though most of the store’s stock was out at another race, they did have some mediums in store in two of the major tri brands, Zoot and 2XU. And lo and behold, to my utter surprise, I fit into a medium. The tops are a little snug around my chest/back, but the bottoms and the waists fit perfectly. And although I feared I would look like a fat guy stuffed into a sausage casing, I must say, the suits didn’t even look too bad. Then again, I was in the change room that doubles as a store room at the back of a tiny store in an industrial area and it was 40 degrees outside with the humidex, and possibly in the store too. I might have been a little delusional.

Unfortunately, as I discovered that Saturday, tri suits tend to feature a weird anomaly that we’ll call the Impossibly Short Zipper, or ISZ. Given that my chest is a bit snug in the suit, and given that my right shoulder doesn’t have full range of motion since forever ago when I had it repaired, it turned out to be very hard to get into a tri-suit. For some reason, the ISZ is about 3″ shorter than a person would want it to be. Maybe some pro once complained about a zipper ending below their sternum and coming too close to their sensitive belly button, or maybe there’s some obscure historical “this old guru of the triathlon raced with his tops sliced open to precisely 1″ above his sternum, so forevermore tri suit zippers have been made exactly 3″ too short” kind of a story behind it.

Barring going to a back zip suit, which is really specific to triathlon and completely incompatible with the aforementioned shoulder issue, thanks to the ISZ, I was faced with the prospect of ripping my suit every time I wanted to get into it — or tried to get out of it, sweaty and hot and possibly in a hurry to use a PortaPotty.

Cue the light, the heavenly music and angel chorus, for a solution materialized.

2XU's full-zip tri suit. Love it. And this is actual size. No, really it is.

2XU’s full-zip tri suit. Love it. And this is actual size. No, really it is.

2XU has come out with a new kind of tri suit. It unzips all the way down the front. Essentially, it’s a one piece suit in which the short portion is almost shorts, the top is almost a top. No ISZ. No muffin top. Easy in, easy out. And it even has a long-distance chamois. Still low profile, but more substantial than a thin piece of fleece.

So far, I’ve found that I love 2XU products. I have two sets of 2XU calf compression sleeves, as well as a tri top and race belt. I find their pricing is in line with what you get – there’s some science behind their gear, and they’re clearly focused on performance. Black fabrics that don’t attract the sun? Check. Strategically placed compression? Check. Chafe-resistant seams? Check. Designs that don’t make a pudgy man look so squidgy? Check.

While I knew I had to order the suit online to find this very new model of suit (sorry Du Tri & Run, but please know I will spend money in your shop in the future), I was at least able to buy from a Canadian source. 2XU was sold out of the size and colour I wanted on their Canadian site, but, based in BC, had the goods. I’ve ordered from them in the past and had no complaints (well, except that I’m impatient, and they’re in BC, so sometimes things take a while to arrive. But that’s Canada Post’s fault, not TriBoutique’s!). So I placed my order Sunday afternoon, and got a shipping notice promptly on Monday morning. Sweet!

I was pretty excited to get the package in the mail just three days later (thanks, TriBoutique for the free upgrade to express shipping!). I was a little shocked to see the box was itty bitty. Like if a pro triathlete was a box, they would be this size of box itty bitty. A tri suit and a handful of energy gels (GU Jet Blackberry: my race flavour of choice!) in that tiny box? Surely not. Maybe the suit was coming later?

But sure enough, when I opened the box, there it was in all its resplendent glory. Much like women’s clothing, it looks impossibly small. Like it might fit one of the guys on the cover of Triathlon magazine, but never a guy like me. Like a squirrel would fit into it perfectly after a week of eating lean. Like a greyhound would find it snug, but not too tight. Well, you get the picture.

At this point, I was questioning my choice of a size medium and cursing myself for buying online (so hard and so expensive to return!). But I loved the colour. My wife could certainly no longer complain that I am hard to find in a race crowd, not with all this flaming scarlet red.

I went for a weight-cutting walk. I dehydrated myself to cut more weight. And when I got back, when I finally got the nerve to try it on, it fit. And maybe even looked okay, if I kept the lights off, imagined myself starving and squinted heavily while I looked in the mirror.

The long-dreamed of wonder suit is now hanging on the inside of my closet door, like some kind of doll-sized spandex superhero costume.

Can’t wait to race in it. And let’s face it, this teeny little garment is going to keep me even more honest than the bathroom scale. After all, it’s a superhero suit, not a miracle suit.



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