Transitions can be the easiest place to find free time within a race, but yet most triathletes don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it nor do they train for it. We get all court up spending a fortune on equipment that can shave off a few seconds every forty kilometers, but when it comes time to save minutes in a very short space of time, many brushes over it.
Australian triathlon coach Allan Pitman once told me the day before I raced Ironman Australia that there is no reason why my transition times can’t be the same as Australian pro triathlete Jason Shortis. It is in transition where speed work, hill repeats, strength work means very little, it is all about having everything well planned so all you need to do is grab and go.
If you have ever been in a transition area at an Ironman between one hour and one hour twenty minutes you will see one hundred plus triathletes doing a wide range of strange and wonderful things. Some have streamlined the process and have transition times that would rival the pros while others are getting the
volunteers to apply sunscreen and some are talking to other triathletes about their swim, some are getting fully dressed and some of these people will spend up to ten of more minutes in transition one. Crazy!
I would estimate around sixty five percent of triathletes can easily slash a minimum of a minute off each transition and in most cases, several minutes if they took the time to plan, practices and adjusted.
I raced Cole Bay Half some years back, a half iron distance triathlon in Tasmania where I finished mid-pack. However, my transition times rivalled the top athletes for the day.
I have seen in countless “Top ten triathlon tips” to take your time in transition. While it is important not to rush, you don’t want to take your time either. You want to be as fast as possible.
Taking your time in transitions is what everyone else can do. NOT YOU! You on the other hand have added transition training into your weekly training program. You look at transitions as an opportunity to move up in the overall rankings.
Let the other triathletes take their time, you fly through instead.
DYI Transition Area
A do it yourself transition area can be a really easy thing to do at home. I personally use an old timber pallet I found on the side of the road in an industrial area. The wooden slats are the perfect size so I am able to quickly place my bike wheel in between the slats and the pallet holds my bike upright so I can get moving.
The good thing about using a timber pallet is that after you have finished your training for the day, it is simple to stand and slide into the shed for the next brick training session. I have also been known for bringing the pallet to my open water swims even if I only run my bike as quickly as possible back to my car, but you really need someone back on shore to keep an eye on your bike.
You really don’t need anything for your transition area, you can simply place your bike against the wall in your hallway at home, transition into the run and out the front door you go. All you are mainly focusing on is finishing one discipline as quickly as possible and moving onto the next in the shortest amount of time.
Personally, when I am practicing my transitions at home, I will set my transition area at the back fence so I need to run further to get my bike or return my bike. I also use my old transition bags from past Ironman races that hold everything I use for a race.
Bike Shoes connected to the bike
Having your shoes already connected to your bike is a fantastic way to take chunks of time from transitions but it does need to be simulated a number of times in training to ensure yourself and others around you safety. A great way to practices this is to keep your shoes connected to your bike peddles at all times. Really, unless you are cleaning your bike, there aren’t too many more reasons why you would need to ever remove your shoes.
This way every time you go for a ride, you practices getting onto your bike and getting off your bike barefoot.
Unless you are subjected to blisters while riding, leave the socks in transition ready for the run, there’s no need to wear socks on the bike. This is your opportunity to position yourself in the field, the less people you need to overtake now, the safer the course will be for everyone.
When in a race, we are aiming to make every minute as efficient as possible. The elastic race shoe laces that nearly every triathlete uses is just one good example of squeezing a little extra time off your race and are able to save you thirty to sixty seconds in transition as well.
The shorter the race and the closer you get to the pointer end of the field, the more important it is to find as many one perimeters that will shave a little time here and a little time there.
While I am a big advocate for using elastic race laces during a race and in the key training session leading up to a race, using these laces all year around in all your runs can come at some risks.
A normal shoe lace when tied correctly holds the shoe to your foot with greater support than a normal elastic race lace ever would give less chance of creating bad habits and injury.
I would recommend to a lot of athletes particular the ones who are more injury prone to fit your race shoes with race laces around six weeks out of your race and use them for all brick sessions and key runs. If you have a second pair of shoe with normal laces, use these for your long runs.
It may also be worth mentioning that one of the fastest Ironman runners Jason Shortis will only ever race and train in normal stranded shoe laces.
You can purchase good race laces that will give you good support for around $15 – http://amzn.to/11MpXZ5
There are so many ways you can train for a faster transition. Without doubt brick sessions are by far the best. Swim to bike and bike to run sessions. It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to set up a small transition area.
I would recommend for the athletes who have races approaching from twelve to eight weeks out of their race is a transition training simulation session each week. Similar to what a lot of ITU athletes do, a few different sessions would be.
Wind Trainer – 10min warm up, Main set is 8-15min hard effort, transition, 5-10min run at just above race pace (repeat 3-6 times with a 5min easy spin between each set).
Set a wind trainer up at the pool or open water area – may need someone to look after your equipment during this session.
Swim 300-500 meters, fast transition, Wind trainer 8-15 min hard effort, fast transition, run 5-10min (repeat 3-6 times with an easy 3-5min swim between each set).
Run with your bike
When moving in transition, it is by far quicker to run. Even your slowest run is still faster than your fastest walk. A nice and simple way to practice this is simply by running with your bike before and after each ride.
It is a good way to master running through transition without it adding much time to your training session or training week.
Transition under pressure
I did an interview for my podcast with ITU pro triathlete Dylan Evans who said he would do transition training and have his brother with an air horn blowing it behind him to create added pressure.
Also having loud unlikable music blasting away can also add something to the mix and help force you to concentrate. I personally tell my athletes with kids to get them to yell, blow whistles and carry on like pork chops while you transition.
ITU transitions are completely different to Ironman and 70.3 transitions. By not placing all your gear back in your designated box properly; you can receive a time penalty.
The main difference between ITU racing and nearly all other triathlons are every second really counts in ITU. An elite ITU athlete will add transition training into their weekly training program several times as if you are just ten seconds slower than the front pack, it is possible you may never reach them again for the remainder of the race and if you do, you may have needed to burn more energy than what you would have liked.
If ITU is where you would like to target refining your transition in training and continuously practicing is key. There are a lot of tips and advice you will need so getting into a federation or hiring an ITU coach should be a priority.
Transition in club races are not generally a make or break scenario, but should be added to your swim/bike and bike/run sessions each week. A large number of athletes at club level bring to transition a large plastic container with everything they need to set up a good effective transition. Unfortunately, this isn’t practical for the athletes who travel interstate or international but on a local cub race a great way to keep everything together.
Personally, as I race the larger Ironman and Challenge event in Australia, so when I race club races, I like to keep everything as close as possible to how I would race the bigger events. This includes nutrition, how I set my bike up, everything I can without it affecting my race.
Location at club races
Unless all competitors have been designated spots to rack their bikes up according to race numbers or age groups, finding a good piece of real estate within the transition area can save you time and stress. The best’s locations are normally the ones where you need to run the least distance with your bike. Get to the race early and claim the best spot before everyone else does.
Creating a bigger space
If you are able to, making a bigger space by using your towel next to your bike can give you a little wiggle room and give less chances of someone bumping your bike or you bumping the bike next to you. While you don’t want to blatantly take up another spot, steeling another ten inches either side can be all you need for a clear transition.
Ironman & Half Ironman
Most Iron distance and half Iron-distance races will give you three bags. All bags will have your race number printed on the outside of it so it is easy to locate amongst everybody else’s bag.
Bag One: Transition One bag – This is to collect from a rack when exiting the water. Personally, I will not have anything in this bag unless race rules state you must keep your helmet in this bag. Most people will store a lot of different things in this bag, but the way I like to think, if I can’t attach it to my bike, I don’t need it.
Bag Two: Transition Two bags – This is the bag you collect when you first run into transition off the bike. You should keep your shoes, socks, hat, nutrition and anything you will need for the run. What I personally do is have my socks half rolled sitting in each shoe and everything else is placed in a small plastic bag and I will sort it out in the early stages of the run.
Bag Three: General Purpose bag – This is the bag you bring with you to set up your bike on race day. This is ideal if you have traveled to the race on your own and need to leave hotel room keys, wallet, phone etc in the bag. You can give this to the baggage storage area and they will be looked after it during the race.
Setting your transition area up for a duathlon is something different all again as there is no swim to think of. Racing from start to finish in socks is defiantly one thing different to a triathlon. Depending on your race tactics and running pace will depend greatly how efficient you will need to make your transition.
Just like a triathlon transition, all you are simply doing is running in, removing your shoes, placing them in a way you can easily and quickly put them back on, put your helmet on, grab your bike and get going.
On the return, everything is done in the same way as a triathlon transition. Dismount, run your bike back to your transition location, put your shoes on and get going.
It is a very strange sight looking at an aquathon transition area. All you see are rows of towels with shoes and hates placed on them.
The key to a fast aquathon transition is removing your wetsuit down to your waist before entering transition. Once you get to your spot in transition, it is a matter of stepping on your wetsuit till it is off, put shoes and maybe socks (depending on the distance and if you are prone to blisters) and off you go.
Day before/race day
A lot of big races will state that all athletes must rack their bikes and transition bags the day before the race. While you must ensure everything you will need is in the transition bags, getting your bike ready for the race can be left till race morning, for example tire pressure, drink bottles, nutrition, sunglasses and helmet.
On race morning, don’t go silly in transition, do what you need to do and leave, but go back and check your bike and the set up before race starts just in case someone has knocked it and your helmet has fallen off or something has been moved without you knowing.
It can be easy to stay with your bike staring at it and going over and over in your head to see if you have missed something. If you have got a good check list then no good can come from staying in transition. You are only second guessing yourself. Leave the area and keep your mind clear.
A number of pro triathletes will often use a small amount of electrical tape to stick the straps to the side of their helmet to ensure when it comes time to put the helmet on, the straps will not get in the way and add extra time to your transition.
A lot of the aero helmets do not have a lot of play room and if for some reason your strap isn’t clear when placing it on, will result in you removing the helmet and having another attempt of putting it back on. (Just a side note on helmets, if the temperature is high on race day and/or your average speed is going to be less than 30kmph; you are wasting your time with an aero helmet. You will be much better sticking with a normal cycling helmet).
If it is raining on race day, you may not want to place your helmet upside down on your aero bars as it will fill with water and when you do to put the helmet on, it will look like you are chucking a bucket of water over your head.
This is going to sound strange and funny at first, but in particular for the female athletes, keep in your bag when in transition, some toilet paper. The porta-loos can hold massive lines of people wanting to use them and can very quickly run out of toilet paper.
Something as simple as putting a roll from home or your hotel in your bag can eliminate any unnecessary stress before a race starts.
You don’t want to stop during a race to put on sunscreen and you defiantly don’t want to get sun burnt. A good tip that I personally use is tapping one small sunscreen sachet (sample packs like you would see sports gels come in) to my bike that I would apply during a period of time when I have been given the blessing of a tailwind.
Again, you will need to practice applying sunscreen in training as it can test your bike handling skills.
I have this listed in the checklist but thought it was worth reminding to bring your pump to the race. The amount of triathletes I see in every race running around transition asking everybody do they have a pump is crazy.
Also, depending on the road conditions whether will depend greatly on what pressure you will set your tires.
A lot of the bigger races will give you a name label for your pump so you don’t lose it for the people who plan to leave their equipment there while they race.
There really isn’t too much of a reason that I can think of that justifies changing your outfit during a race. Tri-kits today are designed for the athlete to swim fast, cycle fast and run fast without needing to change any clothing.
Whether it is a one piece or a two piece kit, you finish in the same kit as you started in.
Bringing a small tool kit to your races is a no brainier, but how many people actually do? We have all experienced when we go months without anything happening to our bikes and out of nowhere, something breaks, needs tightening or adjusting. It seems that if something is going to go wrong with our bike, it is normally in and around a race.
I personally have needed my tool kit before a race more times than I would like to remember and the good part is that a good little cycling tool kit in a case is only around $50 ( http://amzn.to/1wghve6 ) so why not cross this off the list and never have to concern yourself in walking around asking everyone do they have a sifter or a screwdriver.
Setting up your bike
Whatever you need for the bike really should be attached to your bike already before the race starts so the only thing you need to do is put your helmet and race number on (that is sitting on the bike itself) and go. My motto to transition is “Grab and go”.
If you have gels on the bike, you can tape the gels to the frame so that when needed, just peal from the frame and swallow.
Drinks, nutrition, shoes, sunglasses, spare tubes, etc. should all be attached to your bike already. If you can’t fit on what you will need for the entire bike leg, utilize the special needs bag.
Walk the transition area
After you have everything set up and ready to go, it is time to really become familiar with the transition area and where you are located. You have to remember that a lot of things are happening all at once in transitions so it is so easy to run down the wrong lane or get lost during a transition.
You should aim to walk the transition area a minimum of once and for the bigger races like Ironman, 70.3 and a lot of the ITU races multiple times. Walk from the swim exit to your bike and from your bike to the exit where the bike leg. From the bike entry into transition, back to your bike and from your bike, to where the run starts. You don’t need to go silly with this and run it like you are racing, a simple walk will do. Even for a small club race, walking the transitions the exact way you intend to do it during a race will pay dividends.
For the first time Ironman athletes who are not too experienced when it comes to racing and transition areas, a nice easy tip so you don’t lose your bike’s location is to visit the local party shop and purchase a helium balloon and tie it to the rack where your bike is. This way when you run into transition, you just look for the balloon and run directly too it without needing to think too much.
For the longer distance races like half Iron distance and Iron distance race, placing some baby powder into your shoes and into your socks will help keep your feet dry during the run and helps prevent blisters at the time you need them the least. You won’t need much baby powder and it is highly recommended to test using this in training to get used to the feeling, how much is too much, how much is not enough.
It is something simple that a lot of triathletes dismiss or overlook, but in the later parts of the marathon can save you tens of minutes and a happier week after the race.
Just as a side note, for the athletes who are racing in very warm areas and sweat a lot or likes to chuck cups of water over them to lower their temperature down, drilling very small holes in your shoes so the water can drain out and not create problems on the run. A number of pro triathletes will do this for races like Kona.
If your race is wetsuit legal, the wetsuit can sometimes be a little tricky to get off in transition, especially if you are in a hurry to stay with a pack. Before you put your wetsuit on before the race starts, using a lubricant (that is friendly to the materiel the wetsuit is made from) on your wrists and lower legs to help the wetsuit slide off easier.
The wetsuit is supposed to be tight and should fit like an extra layer of skin. So you don’t spend any longer then you really need to take it off, the lubricant quickly becomes your savior.
Also on a side note, for female athletes, sticking some Vaseline under your bike seat for the times when needed during the race.
Transition Race Plans
Transition Race Plan
A really good habit to get into is creating a written plan for your race. Each race is different, so your plans should be race specific. You should also be able to simulate your plan in training so when on race day, nothing is new. You have done this in training countless times.
Below are a couple of transition race planes taken from my own race plans for Ironman Western Australia and Coles Bay Half. The things to note in both these plans are that I do very little in transition. My entire goal is to get the hell out of the transition area as quickly as possible. I do the bare minimum and “grab and go”. The rest I take care of when I am on the bike or when I am on the run course.
The less you have to do in transition, the less that can go wrong and the faster you are.
Ironman Transition Plan
The following transition plan is taken from my own race plan for Ironman Western Australia. I have used something very similar for most Ironman and 70.3 races. While this is what works for me, you will need to find what works best for you. Race your own race.
Swim (last part of my swim plan)
In the last few of hundred meters, I will increase my kick significantly. I will continue swimming till the water is around knee height and I will stand and start running out of the water and into transition. While I am running into transitions, I will undo my wetsuit to my waist, then remove my goggles and swim cap and run with them in my hand.
Once in transition, I will grab my transition bag and run into the tent. I will remove my wetsuit completely by standing on it or if a volunteer is able to help, I will get assistance (whatever will be the quickest). I will run to my bike leaving my gear and transition bag for the volunteer to pack and put away, put on my helmet and start running with my bike to the bike course entry.
Bike (First part of bike plan)
The moment I am on the mounting line, I will jump on my bike and peddle for approximately three hundred meters and then start putting my feet into the shoes, I will now put on my sunglasses that was jammed between my drink bottle and the bottle cage.
Bike (Last part of bike)
Approximately three hundred meters from transition two, I will undo my shoes and ride with my bare feet on top of the shoes. Around forty meters to go, I will get ready to dismount by having my body go to the one side of my bike so I can immediately start running at the dismount line without needing to apply the brakes.
Once at the dismount line, I will chuck my bike to a volunteer and start running into transition. I will collect my transition two bag and run into the tent. I will undo my helmet. Put on my socks, shoes and I will run out of transition, holding in a small plastic bag with everything else I need for the run (hat, salt sticks, gels, etc.) – (Just a side note to wait to the first aid station to discard the plastic bag so not to be disqualified for littering) The helmet and transition two bag is left on the ground for a volunteer to pack away (they are well managed transition areas and they do an amazing job to help. I have never lost a thing and have only had positive things to say about the volunteers).
Smaller Triathlon Race Plan
The following transition race plan is taken from my Coles Bay Half race plan.
Swim (last part of the swim)
In the last few of hundred meters, I will increase my kick significantly. I will continue swimming till the water is around knee height and I will stand and start running into transition. While I am running into transitions, I will undo my swimsuit to my waist, and then remove my goggles and swim cap.
Once in transition, I will beeline it directly to my bike, I will remove my wetsuit by standing on it, I will quickly put on my helmet, race number and grab my bike and start running to the mount-line.
Bike (First part of bike plan)
The moment I am on the mounting line, I will jump on my bike and peddle for approximately three hundred meters and start putting my feet into the shoes, I will now put on my sunglasses that was jammed between my drink bottle and the bottle cage.
Bike (Last part of bike)
Approximately three hundred meters from transition two, I will undo my shoes and ride with my bare-feet on top of the shoes. Around forty meters, I will get ready to dismount by having my body to the one side of my bike so I can immediately start running at the dismount line without needing to apply the brakes.
Once at the dismount line, I will run my bike back to my location, I will chuck my helmet next to my bike, put my socks and shoes on and start running out of transition, holding in a small plastic shopping bag everything else I need for the run (hat, salt sticks, gels, etc.).