By Coach Steve

I heard a story of a woman competing in her first tri; she got to the first transition (T1) following the swim and dried-off, combed her hair, taking her time so she'd look sharp on the bike leg. She did the same for the second transition (T2); her transitions took quite a while. After the race she saw her time and was outraged: "This is crazy, this finish time includes my transitions that's what those chips are for, to take out the transition times!" Nope.

Transitions count, and you can "give away" significant time if you don't move quickly, change clothes, or worst of all, can't find your spot on the rack quickly in a sea of bikes and gear.

Here are a few tips to get you through the transitions faster:

  • Practice transitions in training!
  • Work out a system for T1 and T2 that you'll follow for every race.
  • Choose your rack position and place your gear in a way that it's least likely to be disturbed by other athletes moving through in a rush.
  • Memorize the in-and-outs for the swim, bike, and run, and know exactly where your gear is relative to those entries and exits.

"Organized chaos," an apt description I once heard for a triathlon's transition area. You can reduce the likelihood of chaos on race day by simulating the transition flow in training; this is especially important for athletes new to multisport. I recommend you gather-up all your stuff and actually go through the motions of T1 and T2 in training; take it a step further and time yourself making the changes. For triathletes, go through the process of getting your wetsuit off quickly - where's the zipperpractice pulling it down to your waist with swim cap and goggles in hand as you run from swim exit to T1. Have a system for getting it off your legs instantly at T1 (some of the older suits with tight legs may require lube of some sort to slide it off fast). Pay attention to details like stretchy laces for running shoes (yes, you'll want to have these if you don't already have them). Practice going from bike shoes to running shoes; will the bike shoes be on the ground, or in the pedals? More on that later...

At the race site find your best possible spot in the transition area; avoid crowds if you can. The closer everyone's gear is, the more likely someone will disturb yours. Memorize your spot relative to transition area entries and exits. Memorize the location of your place on the rack, look for landmarks, count bike racks, whatever it takes to know exactly where your stuff is. Consider using something to make your spot more visible (my favorite: a brightly colored towel on the ground). Tying a helium balloon to the rack is a clever solution, but illegal at the championship races.

Consider how you place your gear. I prefer to hang my bike by hooking the brake levers over the rack; some prefer to hang the seat over the rack. If your brake levers fit over the rack it's the more stable option, perhaps not as easy for hanging and un-hanging the bike though. I hook my helmet strap over the front of my bike seat so it can't be knocked-off. Some prefer to place the helmet on the aerobars, which may be more accessible but more easily knocked-off. Place your running shoes so you can get to them instantly, and close enough to your bike to reduce the odds that another competitor will move them. Set other gear right with the run shoes so you won't forget it. Bring plastic bags if rain is a possibility. Getting into wet running shoes, and then running in them wet is speed lost. My bike shoes are always clipped into the pedals so I don't have to worry about them being moved.

I remember the first race after I learned to mount and dismount with bike shoes clipped into my pedals. I came into the transition at full run speed off the bike—only problem was—I came in so fast that I overshot my transition spot and became totally disoriented losing at least 30 seconds while searching for my run stuff.

It is a time saver, but only athletes who are very steady on the bike should attempt cycle shoe entry and exit with shoes clipped-in. Getting in the shoes involves stepping on the shoes and pedaling up to speed, then reaching down with one hand and sliding your foot in while on the roll. Clearly, one-strap bike shoes work best for this. On the way back you follow the process in reverse so that within 100 meters of the bike dismount your foot is on top of the shoe. As you get close to the dismount area, holding the bike steady with your arms, you swing your leg over the seat and inside the other leg so you're ready to step off at run speed with the free foot.

Your pace as you come into transition from swim and bike run has an affect on your transition. Taking it easy on the swim to bike run might leave you a little less shaky as you get ready for the ride. The same rule applies for the bike to run; easing up a little for the last few hundred yards of the ride can help your legs recover a little before you start to run.

Perfect transition skills so when you look at the transition times post race there are no regrets. There's nothing worse than an athlete who placed ahead of you based only on better transition times!

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