International Triathlon Union elite racers--racing at the Olympic distance of a 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run--post some of the fastest transition times on the planet.
Besides trying to get into the first transition (T1) before the big pack, good swimmers in World Cup races also want to be first across a designated prime line, which pays out additional prize money as an added incentive to go fast.
Once in T1, World Cup racers need screaming fast transitions to get on the bike--preferably in a small group--so they can work together to put time between their breakaway and the main pack.
After a multiple lap bike course, a fast second transition (T2) is critical not only to the racers in any breakaway, but to the racers in the main group as well. Seconds count, as the 10k running leg at World Cup triathlons has begun to look like an open 10k road race. Once on the run, any alliances formed on the bicycle are typically set aside for individual success.
How fast are these elite athletes going? In 2006, the fastest overall Olympic distance results were produced in Hamburg, Germany, with the men's winner going just over 1:43 and the women's winner at 1:53. In this particular race, first and second place were separated by only 11 seconds for the women and 14 seconds for the men. At a race in Ishigaki, Japan, the second place male finished only a second behind the winner.
Fast transitions are critical in all World Cup triathlons. Just a few seconds lost in transition might cost an athlete a podium position.
Like a World Cup racer, age-group athletes need quick transitions to be competitive at sprint and Olympic distance racing. Here are some pro techniques you can use to make your transitions faster.
Begin practicing fast transitions now
Too often, athletes wait until the week before the race to practice transitions. That is too late. You need to practice now to execute the fastest transitions possible and have them be second nature.
One way to do this is to include transitions in your brick workouts. Also, set aside some practice time to work exclusively on faster transitions--don't worry about an aerobic workout that day.
Leave your shoes in the pedals and use rubber bands
Elite athletes leave their shoes in the pedals for the first transition (T1). After exiting the swim, they put on their helmets, grab the bike and run out of the transition area.
In order to keep the crank arms and shoes from rotating and jamming into the ground, they use thin rubber bands to hold the shoes and the crank arms parallel to the ground. They attach one end of the rubber band around the shoe or through the heel loop of the shoe, and the other end to a rear stay on the side of the bike.
Do the same with the other shoe. You will have to experiment to see which locations are best for your rubber bands depending on your shoe size and frame size.
The thin rubber bands easily break away when you mount the bike and begin pedaling with your feet on top of your shoes. Slide your feet in your shoes once you are rolling at a good pace.
Put your sunglasses on while pedaling
Instead of putting your sunglasses on in the transition area, put them on once you are rolling on the bike. If your helmet has front air vents, see if you can secure the sunglasses there.
From the front, it will look like your helmet is wearing sunglasses. If your sunglasses are not secure on your helmet, fasten them to the top of your frame with a small piece of tape.
Use a flying mount and dismount
World Cup racers are going as fast as possible at every moment during a race. They are running relatively hard when they exit T1. They mount their moving bicycle with a flying mount, which looks something like a cowboy jumping onto a galloping horse.
Before they approach the dismount line at T2, they remove both feet from their shoes and continue pedaling in a manner similar to when they began the bike leg. Near the dismount line, they swing one leg back and over the bicycle so it's behind the other leg on one side of the bicycle. At the dismount line they are off the bike and running to the transition area. This particular move is advanced and takes plenty of practice.
Use elastic laces and no socks
There are elastic laces available at most stores that stock triathlon supplies. Elastic laces allow you to easily slip your feet into your shoes, wasting no time to secure Velcro or old-style lace locks on regular laces.
Before you decide to race with no socks, do a few practice runs at home. Some athletes can run with no socks and not have a single blister. Other athletes will develop hot spots on their feet that eventually bloom into blisters.
On your test run, carry a lubricant such as Body Glide. When you feel a hot spot beginning to develop, stop and apply the lubricant to the shoe surface causing the hot spot. This is the same location you will apply the lubricant on race morning when you set up your transition area.
Use a movie camera
When you are trying to improve your transition speed, have someone record your T1 and T2 in a practice session or during a race. Use a watch and time both transitions. After reviewing for ways to improve, do the transitions repeatedly until you think you have the fastest transition time possible.
If you're a spectator at an event, tape some of the top age-group and elite racers to see how they're doing transitions. You may pick up some additional tips.
If you're looking to get the edge on your competition without additional training, take a look at your transitions. Strategizing where you can save time during transitions is fun and it may even put you on the podium.
Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.
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