As a kid, I was always fascinated with Superman. Sure, he was "more powerful than a locomotive," and let's not forget his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. However, what really impressed me was his quick change from businessman to superhero garb.
As triathletes, we have a similar need for quick changes, though not necessarily from the confines of a phone booth. After all, finish time does not just include an athlete's cumulative swim, bike and run splits, it also includes the time it takes to transition from one sport to another. These time segments are aptly named transition 1 and transition 2, or T1 and T2 if you're conserving energy for race day.
In a triathlon, whether you knock 60 seconds off your transition times or 60 seconds off your run split, you still finish a minute faster. However, while a run PR can demand tremendous patience and sweat equity, lightning fast transitions can be achieved much more quickly.
Ready to fly through transitions? Read on.
#1 Make Like Magellan
Before setting off on his voyage to circumnavigate the earth, Magellan spent years working with mapmakers to plan his route. Sure, the distance covered in a triathlon is much shorter, but planning your route is equally important. Navigating transition areas can be a little complicated, especially when you're in race mode.
For races that involve a bike and/or gear bag drop off the day before, use the more low key setting as an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the transition area, literally. When the flow of traffic is not obvious, ask a volunteer for a walk thru. Make note of the swim exit, bike exit and entrance, run exit and entrance, changing tents and rack locations.
#2 Minimalism Isn't Just for Footwear
A good transition area will more closely resemble a monk's chamber than your typical teenager's cluttered bedroom. Start by storing your bike pump and backpack full of pre/post race clothes far out of the way of both yourself and other competitors. Do your best to streamline what you will need for the race and leave only the essential items out on your transition mat—T2 is not the time to decide which visor best matches your race kit or if a chocolate or oatmeal raisin flavored Powerbar is actually your favorite.
#3 Practice. Refine. Repeat.
Smooth transitions are a skill that can be developed with just a little bit of effort. Most athletes put hundreds of hours into swim, bike, and run training in preparation for a race, but neglect to spend even 20 minutes on transitions.
For a perfect taper week workout, try setting up a mini race circuit with a designated transition zone. Keep the swim, bike and run distances very short—think one lap around the parking lot for the bike leg—and repeat until the transitions feel smooth.
This makes for a great group workout, even when fitness levels vary. If you want to watch transition poetry in motion, look no further than the ITU draft legal races, where events are won and lost on small margins and making a lead pack on the bike is crucial for success.