Of the two transitions we face in triathlon, the bike-to-run switch is the most challenging for the majority of athletes—most of whom begin the run on wobbly, tired legs. Here are a few tactics to help tweak your bike training so you can hit T2 feeling strong.
Training: Let's start with the basics. There is a foundational law of training with which all athletes should be familiar: the SAID principle. This stands for Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand—otherwise known as specificity of training.
In short, your training should reflect as closely as possible the demands and conditions you are likely to encounter on race day. Specifically, if you want to improve your bike-to-run transitions you must spend time developing this skill in training.
To that end, simply add a steady transition run immediately after a long, hard ride. Pick one of your toughest weekly bike workouts and add a 15 to 45 minute run right off the bike. Note, however, that this transition run should not be hard, so don't start trying to sandbag your ride because you're worried about the run. The point is to keep your ride quality up and just get through the run.
Once you have a few of these workouts under your belt you can add some spice. Maintaining the same basic format of a run following a hard bike, break the run up into five-minute segments. Run the first five minutes off the bike comfortably; the next five at LT (lactate threshold, quick but sustainable); the next five at LT-plus (just a bit faster than LT pace); the next five at Olympic-distance race pace; the next five faster than race pace; and finish with five to 10 minutes of easy jogging to cool down.
Use this pace build-up even if you're training for a 70.3 or Ironman-distance event. In these races your race pace will be at or just below LT; however, running faster than race pace in preparation for a long-distance event will help improve your efficiency.
Tactics: Most athletes tend to bolt out of T2 too quickly. Ideally, you want to view the run as a continuous build. Over the first mile or two you should settle in and find your pace. Then, try to build on that pace.
Race-day refueling: Staying on top of your nutrition will help your body quickly adapt to the varying muscular demands on race day. While there is no one-size-fits-all nutrition formula, the basic rule of thumb is to take in 300 calories plus one liter of fluid every hour when racing in temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees.
Bike position: Finding your proper position on the bike will allow you to go into the run relaxed and comfortable. Poor positioning will leave you cramped, sore and unmotivated.
Consider the extreme aero positions you see in the pro peloton. Would Floyd Landis' new "praying mantis" position be ideal for triathlon? Probably not, but it seems to be very fast for him as a pure cyclist. Cycling history is littered with extreme attempts at aerodynamics that proved disastrous, and we are starting to see the same pattern in triathlon.
The problem is that the perfect position does not exist. There is only the optimal position for a given athlete, because every athlete is unique. Everyone has different dimensions, different degrees of flexibility and different physiological capabilities.
Finding the position that is best for you—instead of copying the seemingly perfect position that works for someone else—will leave you with much more speed and power on the bike plus a faster transition and run and much more enjoyment in your racing overall.
The bike-to-run transition may seem like a fairly insignificant aspect of triathlon but it can actually have a huge impact on your entire performance. If you follow the above advice you will find that not only your transitions but indeed your entire triathlon performance will benefit. Good luck.
Jimmy Archer is a pro triathlete, coach, and freelance writer. During his career Jimmy has raced at all distances and formats of triathlon, competing for the U.S.A. on four national teams and finishing top 10 at five XTERRA world championships. You can visit his website at jimmyarcher.com.