How to Execute Smooth Transitions

Executing fast, smooth transitions are one of the easiest ways to save valuable time in your next triathlon.

Ten years ago I learned this lesson firsthand.

In 2002 at Ironman New Zealand (IMNZ) I missed qualifying for the IM World Championships by three minutes. The following year I returned to IMNZ determined to make up that three minutes by the time I exited the swim-to-bike (T1) transition. In the months leading up to the race I upped my swimming by 30 percent and mentally rehearsed my T1 transition for a few minutes twice a week.

At IMNZ 2003 I exited T1 exactly three minutes faster than the year before.

More: 6 Ways to Develop Fast Transitions

What's most interesting is where the time savings came from: It was equally split between a faster swim and a quicker transition. Setting fitness gains aside, that meant that the increased swim volume yielded the same time return as a few minutes a week of visualization. 

Visualizing transitions before a race is the foundation for making make them effortless and automatic. To get started, answer the following questions to set up your "transition script." Then follow the instructions at the end to pull it all together.

Developing Your T1 Script

1. How far is the swim exit to where your bike is racked? If you don't know just guess and be sure to verify exactly how far prior to the race. 

Suggestion: Check out the past top five finishers in your age group to gauge how far or how long each transition is for the fastest racers--that's the minimum starting point for your plan.

2. How will you find your bike after the swim? Spend a few minutes race morning getting your bike's location locked in your mind. Pick out landmarks, count the number of bike racks from the swim exit, whatever works for you.

3. Do you have to bag your swim gear or can you just leave it on the ground?

4. What's your sequence for putting on your cycling gear?

5. Will your cycling shoes be clipped in (not recommended for beginners) or do you plan to put them on and run with your bike to the starting area? If it's the former, is there a reasonable amount of flat, non-technical road to allow you to get into your shoes or do you do some climbing with your feet on top of the shoes? Remember you'll have lots of other racers buzzing around you while you're doing this so don't make race day the first time you do it.

6. How far do you have to run from where your bike is racked to where you mount the bike? Be sure to practice running with your bike before race morning.

Note: The two best places to hold the bike when walking or running through transition is either by the seat or the where the handle bars are mounted to the frame. If you're using an aero bottle the latter will give you more control.  

More: Dave Scott's Swim-to-Bike Transition Tips

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