May 14, 2016

Tips for fast triathlon transitions

There are people in triathlon who glide like porpoises through the water. Fly along the bike course, quads firing hard enough to power a small city. Blow past all mere mortals like a bionic gazelle on the run. They could probably put on a pot of chili in T1, bake some bread in T2, and still beat us to the finish line. Then there are the rest of us -- you know, people who started swimming after they had kids -- this is my clan. So, in addition to optimizing available training time to get as fast as I can, I pay close attention to opportunities for "free speed" in a race. There are all kinds of things you can tweak, such as your position on the bike, your helmet, bike tires/tubes and tire pressure, race wheels...  but perhaps the biggest place you can make easy and instant gains (without any cash outlay) is in transition. 

Get there early and choose your spot

Some races have assigned rack spaces, in which case you don't have a choice of where you set up. And all well-run races have transition areas set up so that all athletes have to travel the same total distance regardless of where they're racked. But in races where you can choose your rack location, arriving good and early isn't just good for the pre-race nerves, it can help you get an optimal transition spot. Though everyone has to run the same distance through the T-zone, you can weigh whether you'd rather run a shorter distance in your wetsuit, or a shorter distance with your bike. Perhaps there's a tree or other permanent (the "permanent" part is important) landmark that will help you find your stuff faster.

Arriving early assures a prime spot on the rack

Keep it simple and distance-appropriate

Regardless of your actual transition location, resist the urge to spread out like you're moving in. Depending on the length of your race, you probably don't need all of the stuff you think you need. For a shorter race, a cleaner setup is better to ensure speed and efficiency. For a longer race where you're maybe not so concerned with shaving seconds, you might prioritize comfort over speed. For example, in the photo below, you can see my transition setup for a half-Ironman. You definitely don't need all of that, but if it fits in your allocated area and it will make you more comfortable, some things are worth having just in case. If I could go back and change it, I'd eliminate the fuel belt -- there are plenty of hydration and nutrition options at the aid stations. However, I'd keep the Body Glide, the compression calf sleeves, the extra waffle and chews, and even the single-use "refreshing" cloth with essential oils and smelling salts. It was a long day for me, and sometimes the little things that help you feel better go a long way.

Ready for anything at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant

Now, for a sprint or Olympic race, you can be a lot leaner in your transition setup. Skip stuff that takes time to put on -- bike gloves, compression gear, separate watches/computers. Do not bring a bucket, stepstool, or foot washing tray. Do not tie a balloon to the rack to facilitate finding your bike -- many races state they will remove anything extraneous from the racks before the race begins. Plus, if it gets detached or popped by accident and it's your only landmark, you're hosed.

What I keep in my transition area, Sprint or Olympic:
  • small towel to put stuff on and stand/wipe feet on
  • running shoes and socks
  • bike shoes
  • sunglasses and/or hat
  • bike helmet (for a sprint, I'll rest it on the bike between the aerobars... for an Olympic, that space is occupied by a hydration system)
  • race belt and number
  • a bite of food, usually part of a chocolate wafer -- and a bottle of sports drink to swig from to wash it down (this is typically for a sprint, where I don't carry nutrition or hydration on the bike)

Know where you put your stuff (no, really)

Don't just glance around and go "Yep, 2nd rack from the end. Check." Is that second rack from the end at the swim entrance? Or the bike exit? What does your approach look like as you're actually running through transition? At every race, I will walk from the swim in, to my stuff, to the bike out. Then I'll turn around, find my stuff again from the bike in, and walk from there to the run out. At the same time, you can confirm the surfaces you'll be running on between legs of the race. Grass? Sand? Asphalt? That might figure in to what you decide to do re. socks, shoes (pre-clipped to the pedals vs. on your feet), etc.

Be visible

There are all kinds of ways to make your transition spot more visible. I place my shoes and sunglasses on a small, brightly-coloured towel on the ground. Stand at the end of the rack and look toward your bike -- your towel shouldn't stick into the middle of the aisle, but you should be able to spot it pretty easily. I also carry my race gear in a bright yellow bag. Sometimes bags aren't allowed in transition... but when they are, it's a nice bright beacon (I push it to the back of my transition area, or beneath my bike). Still want a little more visual kick to help guide you? You could use wild handlebar tape, or a brightly coloured helmet. Just make sure to keep things contained -- don't abuse your rack space, and be respectful of your neighbours.

Bright gear is recognizable at a distance

Once you've decided what you want/need to have in your transition area, you'll want to lay it out such that you can put it on as quickly as possible when the time comes to do so. Consider the order in which you'll do things. The first thing you'll need to do is get out of that wetsuit...

Getting out of your wetsuit

This can be a big time suck if you haven't practiced, and aren't prepared... but there are lots of little tricks that can add up to big time savings. Consider trimming a bit off the bottom of your wetsuit legs -- if you're worried about wrecking your gear, consult the manufacturer's website as they'll usually state how far up you can trim. This can help make the suit easier to get off, and won't negatively impact the buoyancy. I haven't done that myself, mainly because my suit has super-stretchy panels in the ankles specifically to enable quick removal.

Before donning your wetsuit, apply Body Glide (or Trislide, or whatever you're using) liberally around your neck (this part is to avoid swimming "hickeys" from chafing), wrists, and ankles. I'd recommend against vaseline or cooking spray as lubricants, a) because I've heard they can damage neoprene, and b) because... well... it's kind of gross.

As you're running from the swim, unzip your wetsuit and yank it down to your hips. At some races, they have wetsuit strippers who will help get you out of your suit as soon as you exit the water. I've both used and bypassed this option... you have to decide whether it's worth your time to stop. Once you reach your gear, give a last hard yank to get your suit down as far as you can. Then step on it with alternating feet to pull your legs out.

Grab and go

While you're stomping yourself out of your wetsuit, you'll have time to put on your race number and helmet. When I can (i.e. when I don't have my hydration system taking up that space), I rest my helmet upside-down on the aerobars with my race belt either over or under it depending on how windy it is. Make sure the straps are open and untangled. Some people leave the race belt clipped closed, and step into it... of course, you have to wait till you're out of your wetsuit to go that route. And you have to trust yourself not to get tangled in it and fall down (which I do not). If I'm wearing sunglasses on the bike, I'll place them in my helmet with the arms open. 

Be very careful as you're hurrying in transition that you comply with race rules regarding helmets. At most races, if you forget to do up your chinstrap before mounting the bike, or if you unclip it before dismounting, you risk disqualification.

Race belt and helmet at the ready for easy access

Now, let's deal with the feet. I like to leave a little area of towel, about as big as both my feet, empty so I can stand on it and wipe off any bits of dirt/gravel if required. Have your shoes open and ready to step into. If you're wearing socks, scrunch or roll them and place them into each shoe so you don't end up fumbling with them. I use bungee laces on my running shoes so I don't have to waste time tying them. 
Optimized for a fast change of footwear

If you wear a hat, sunglasses, sweatband, or other stuff on the run, place them together on your transition towel so you can grab them in one swipe. You can don all this stuff while you're running, no need to hang around in transition.

Make haste slowly

Remember that when you're in transition, your heart rate will be up, and your hands and legs may be a little shaky. Be deliberate and efficient, rather than scrambling.

Have any of your own transition tips? Leave a comment! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment