Even if you don’t plan to compete with the front runners in your next triathlon, there’s no reason why you can’t be competitive when it comes to transition splits. Swim to bike. Bike to run. T1 and T2.
“Train Hard. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of fluids. Go like Hell.”
Often referred to as the fourth and fifth legs of a triathlon, transitions can be intimidating to newcomers and frustrating even to veteran triathletes. Time counts every bit as much in the transition area as it does out on the course. In events that are Olympic distance or shorter, transitions should be raced, with the objective of gaining as much time as possible over the competition, as opposed to viewing them as, well, nothing more than a transition between events. So, what’s the key to speed in transition? Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity…combined with a little bit of planning and practice. Let’s break this down by showing how a little planning can help.
What to Wear This is a crucial factor in improving transition speed. If you are planning to add shorts or a jersey in either T1 or T2, this will slow you significantly. For races that are Olympic distance or shorter, plan on wearing the same attire from start to finish. Typically, this means wearing tri shorts and perhaps a racing top. Be cautious about wearing a racing top with pockets – these are great for carrying items on the bike, but will burden you with unnecessary drag during the swim. And in races that are Olympic distance or shorter, pockets are usually unnecessary for the bike. If you plan to wear a watch at any point during the race, wear it right from the start so you can avoid having to put it on during T1 or T2.
Socks or sockless? If you’ve always worn socks while racing, going without them can definitely make you more efficient during transition. Of course, socks are very effective at preventing blisters, and you may need to develop a sound blister management policy prior to ditching the socks. Blister management may include anything from covering your feet in a product such as BodyGlide (before the race, not in transition) to sprinkling powder in your shoes to reduce friction. There are also shoes that have a softer (or seamless) lining to prevent irritation when going sockless and shoes that are designed to drain moisture more efficiently (always a nice option for triathletes). Ultimately, going sockless is something to experiment with in your quest for transition speed, but it should not be pursued if it results in blisters that become a painful distraction during the race.
Speed Enhancing Equipment There are a few pieces of gear that are crucial if you are pursuing serious transition speed. Here’s a quick summary:
Pre-Race Now it’s time to think about pre-race strategies to enable you to blaze through your transitions. Let’s start by considering your location within the transition area. These days, most races assign transition spots based on race number, but there are still some that offer a first come, first served policy when it comes to selecting your transition spot. Regardless of whether you have a pre-assigned transition rack, you will want to choose a position that is on the outside of the rack. This provides the easiest in/out access and also makes it easier to find your location as you???re racing through transition. How do you secure an outside position? That’s easy. Just make sure you show up before these spots are taken (this requires that you get there pretty early on race day). You’ll notice that the savvy individuals who show up early on race day always grab these spots first. Now that you’ve staked out your transition “turf,” you need to perform some advance scouting in order to understand traffic flow from the swim finish to the transition area. Practice locating your bike in the transition area from the direction you will be coming out of the water. In fact, it is best to walk through the entire course from the beach up to your location in the transition area, taking note of surface conditions and the most efficient way to get to your bike. Be sure to do this, as the scenery always looks a little different during the race than it looks prior to the start. If you have not walked through this, you may lose time trying to locate your bike. The same can be said for T2. Practice locating your transition spot from the perspective you will have after you dismount from your bike. It is ideal to find a distinguishing feature that identifies your location, but you can also pay attention to the numbers (if racks are numbered) or count rows of transition racks and make a mental note of the row in which you are located (this is where it is also beneficial to have an outside position on your transition rack). Minimally, make a note as to whether you are in the front, middle or rear portion of the transition and whether you are on the left or right side from the point of entry. Now that you have found the ideal position in transition and scouted the entry and exit routes, it’s time to get your gear set up in the most efficient manner.
Transition Space Layout Simplicity must reign supreme here. Start by placing a towel on the ground at your chosen transition spot. This will provide you with a clean, dry area on which to place your gear. Rack your bike so that your handlebars are facing outward (hook the bike to the rack using the saddle or the rear bottle cage if you use one of these devices). Make sure your water bottles with your favorite race day mix are placed in the bottle cages in advance. Only items you will need during the race should be visible in your transition spot. These include:
T1: Swim to Bike T1 begins during the final phases of the swim. Don’t approach a triathlon as three separate legs with transitions in between, think of it as one complete event. Going harder at the end of the swim leg so you get a good swim split will only leave you gasping for air as you exit the water and head towards T1. You are throwing away time by doing this. Mentally prepare for the run to transition during the final 50-100 yards of the swim. Continue your tempo from the swim all the way through the run to the transition area. As you are running to T1, take care of the basics. Remove goggles and cap and be sure to recall the route to your spot that you scouted before the race start. If you happen to be wearing a wetsuit, remove the top half as you are running to T1. As you enter transition, be thinking of everything that needs to take place next (here’s where you’ll really appreciate simplicity).
That’s it! T1 has been simplified to dropping cap and goggles, strapping on helmet and grabbing your bike. Be sure to go through these steps mentally prior to the race and maybe even practice them (especially getting into your shoes on the bike) prior to the start on race day.
T2: Bike to Run Like T1, T2 begins during the final phases of the bike leg. For starters, you will want to unfasten the straps of your bike shoes and place your feet on top of the shoes. This is easily done while you are cruising at speed down towards T2 (there is usually a bit of a descent heading back towards transition since it is normally near the water). Again, mentally go through the steps you will take while in T2 during the final half-mile of the bike ride. Keep your speed up, but don’t sprint the last mile, as this will just wear you out as you go through transition. As you approach T2, remember you must be completely off your bike by the time you cross the dismount line. As you approach this line, hold the handlebars and swing one leg over the bike so you are ready to dismount cleanly (bike shoes will remain clipped to your pedals), slowly apply the brakes and, just before you stop, hop off the bike to take advantage of your momentum as you begin running with your bike through transition. Once in T2, be thinking of everything that must happen next:
That’s all for T2. Again, it’s simple and efficient: rack bike, remove helmet, slip on shoes, grab racer belt and start running! Now it’s time to put what has been covered into practice.
Make it a goal to have the fastest transition splits in your age group, or perhaps for the entire field. It’s an easy way to cut time without adding to your training, and you may find that winning the transitions translates to that elusive top-three, or perhaps, first-place finish.
Have Fun and Good Luck!