Many triathletes are so focused on swim, bike and run splits that they forget the clock is still running in the transition area. Every second counts. Transition practice isn't as fun as running, but it is a good investment of your training time.
The transition is not a rest area but a place to speed in and out of, in the fastest time, with the least energy.
Practice Your Plan1 of 13
Have a plan of exactly what you are going to do and practice it over and over again until you are fast with no mistakes. Practice it physically several times in training and then rehearse it mentally several times on race morning. By the time you are in transition on race day, you should be moving on autopilot. Never try something new on race day.
Be a Minimalist2 of 13
The fewer tasks you have to do in the transition area, the faster you will go. Skip the socks and get rid of anything you don't absolutely need. Clutter will slow you down.
Make Your Area Hard to Miss3 of 13
Row after row of bikes can make it hard to find your stuff in a typical triathlon. If your transition area is at the end of a row, it's probably fine. But what if it's right smack in the middle of the lot, surrounded by rows and rows of bikes? The last thing you want to do coming out of the water is spend any amount of time figuring out where your bike is.
At the 2013 Encinitas Triathlon in California, the transition area was highlighted by a giant helium Angry Birds balloon tied to the rack, floating about 5 feet above the mass of bikes and other gear. It elicited a chuckle from several spectators walking by, but it wasn't meant to be funny. It was a way for that racer to get out of the water and head straight to the right spot. Just follow the angry bird.
If a balloon isn't your thing (or isn't allowed), drape a hot pink towel over your bike seat. Or something else that will be hard to miss. It could end up preventing a disastrous (and deflating) delay in the middle of your race.
Bike Shoes in the Pedals4 of 13
Coasting down the course at 15 mph while you put your feet in your shoes will move you far ahead of your buddy sitting on his butt in T1 doing the same task. Set your bike up in the transition area with your shoes attached to the pedals and rubber bands looped between the heels and frame, holding the shoes horizontal. On leaving T1, pedal with your feet on top of your shoes.
Once you are cruising at speed, coast and slip your feet into your shoes. Keep your eyes ahead on the road, not down on your feet. On the return, slip your feet out of your shoes before you reach T2. Learn this skill first on an indoor trainer before taking it out on the open road.
Run with Your Bike5 of 13
The distance from rack to mount line can be considerable at large triathlons. By running safely and quickly with your bike, it is easy to fly over this distance. Run upright with good form on the left side of your bike, holding your seat with your right hand. Your left arm swings by your side. Hold the bike upright to go straight and lean it to the side to turn. Practice in an empty parking lot.
Practice Running with Your Bike6 of 13
Typically, you won't be allowed to get on your bike until you're out of the transition area. To best get out of the area, you will need to run with your bike.
The fundamental way to do this is to run alongside your bike with one hand on the seat or handlebars and the other hand free. Then, when you're allowed to mount, get on while you're still moving.
The best way to get good at this is to go out and practice. Go to a school parking lot on a weekend and work on it—both running with the bike and mounting on the run. Get comfortable—not only will it boost your confidence come race day, but it will cut a few seconds off your final time.
Speed Over the Mount/Dismount Line7 of 13
Learn a cyclocross mount and dismount to cruise over this line without losing any momentum. In the race you will be doing this in bare feet but initially learn and practice this skill wearing running shoes. Follow this link for a lesson on how to smoothly execute a cyclocross mount/dismount.
Attach Your Stuff to Your Bike8 of 13
Handling small items sucks up time. Everything you need on the bike course should be attached to your bike. Tape gels to the frame, water bottles should already be on board, sunglasses looped to a cable, spare tube in a seat pack and CO2 cartridge taped to the seat post.
One Outfit for All Occasions9 of 13
Start the swim with your full bike/run outfit under your wetsuit. A one piece tri-suit is ideal. Any clothing changes will add lots of time.
Know Where to Leave10 of 13
With swimmers coming in, cyclists going out, cyclists coming in and runners going out (and sometimes, runners finishing at the nearby finish line), you'd be surprised how easy it is to get discombobulated when leaving a transition area.
While you're getting your area set up, make sure you make a mental note of where both the bike exit and run exit are located. Use mental imagery to envision yourself heading out of your transition area toward the right spot during both transitions.
Sometimes, the exits are on opposite sides of the transition area, so going to the wrong one could add up to a minute to your total time.
If all else fails, ask a volunteer; there should be one close by. Or, follow the other triathletes and hope they're right.
Speed Laces and Baby Powder11 of 13
Tying your running shoe laces in a bow takes time. Eliminate this step using lace locks or speed laces. To help your feet slide smoothly into your running shoes, prime them with a sprinkling of baby powder.
Grab and Go12 of 13
In T2, grab what you need and go. Put on your hat and fuel belt while you are running. It is always faster to complete your tasks moving down the course rather than standing in front of your rack.