Triathletes spend hours training for optimization of fitness and technique in the swim, bike and run. However, another aspect of the race often overlooked are the transitions: The period between the three athletic components.
An efficient transition can mean a PR, while being less prepared and disorganized can cost an athlete precious time and quite a bit of mental distress. With input from two pro triathletes, plus my own observations from years of coaching and racing, I’ve put together a simple guide that can help any athlete shape their race day performance.
The key is to focus on three components:
- Knowing your event
- Simplifying gear and set up
In this first installment, we’ll focus on the first transition in a triathlon, when the athlete transfers from swim to bike, also known as T1.
Know Your Course
Amber Ferreria, a seasoned professional triathlete with experience at different race distances put it this way, “A race could be lost with a slow transition, especially in a sprint distance.”
Her recommendation was to study the transitions in a race and be prepared for the specific elements of each. Every course is unique. Knowing the running surface, distance and elevation changes can assist in planning.
Some races, including many long-distance events like IRONMANS, have wetsuit strippers who provide assistance removing your suit. Others, such as the Escape From Alcatraz and the Wildflower Triathlons, have long runs that are better executed with your suit kept on—air temperatures can contribute to this decision.
For T1, or the transition from swim to bike, Amber suggests mimicking race conditions by practicing an exit from the pool or open water during one workout a week. For example, an athlete can try removing cap and goggles or unzipping a wetsuit while running.
Catherine Sterling, an XTERRA and Cyclocross pro who excels at bike handling and expedient transitions, gave similar advice. PRACTICE! Take your wetsuit off. Try removing your cap and goggles. Set your bike up as you will on race day and then run over, put on your helmet and sunglasses and bike shoes if you aren’t leaving them on the bike, and run a short distance pushing your bike. Learn how to get on your bike in a smooth motion. You’re going to need to do this over and over.
The swim to bike transition is unique because an athlete goes from the horizontal position in swimming to the vertical position in standing—and then has to run! This can be dizzying, especially if exertion was high. Understanding that this slight disorientation will pass, and figuring out how you can work through it will come from doing it in practice.
Getting out of your wetsuit during this short period of disorientation can take some practice as well. You want to do this enough times before race day that you won’t waste mental energy or time with zipper woes. Practice finding your zipper while jogging forward and reaching an arm behind your back.
If you want to learn how to leave your shoes on your bike for mounting and dismounting, this has to be incorporated early into each bike ride. Repeat it over and over until it feels easy. My recommendation to beginners is to put the shoes on your feet leaving transition, but learn how to leave them on the bike coming back into transition. Some races don’t allow shoes on the bike, so check with race rules before making a plan.