Being prepared for transition begins well before the gun goes off for your swim wave to start or before you jump into the pool on race morning. If your routine on race morning is “I think I’ll put this here and this over here” then it’s time to take a step back and look at things logically. Transition all comes down to being neat and knowing exactly where everything that you need is at. The big mistake that most beginners and even some more seasoned athletes make is that they see transition as a “rest” between the swim to bike and bike to run. You have to keep in mind that the clock is still running.
What You Need
I can’t fully answer this question for you since I don’t know what specific race or distance you’re doing but before race day you need to ask yourself what gear you really need in transition. If you’re racing a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon then transition set up is very similar with an amazingly few pieces of gear that you actually need. Racing a Half Ironman or Ironman is a completely different story and set up but the basics still apply.
Let’s go through the list of items that you might bring with you to transition and categorize them accordingly:
The swim is easy. You don’t actually need anything in transition for the swim since it’s the first leg of the race. Just don’t forget your swim cap and a spare pair of goggles in case the strap on your first pair snap.
- Must Have
- Fluids (water or sports drink)
- Sunglasses – This one all depends on the weather but regardless I recommend wearing some kind of eye wear either to block the sun or the wind. Glasses with interchangeable lenses are a life saver on an overcast day.
- Gloves – I see far too many people trying to put gloves on wet hands for a 13 mile ride. Unless you’re doing a half or full Ironman with no aero bars leave the gloves at home. If you do have aero bars then it doesn’t matter what distance you’re racing, leave the gloves at home.
- Bike pump – Every race I’ve ever been to have had bike techs on site so either pump up your tires at your car or use the bike techs on hand.
- Bike shorts – I’ve done 2 Ironman’s comfortably in triathlon shorts. With training you can survive fairly comfortably without needing to put on cycling shorts
- Socks – If your cycling shoes will give you blisters then by all means put socks on. If you’re not sure then do a short training ride sans socks and see what happens. If a short ride goes well then start increasing the distance until you’re riding your race distance without socks and without any problems. (I’ll discuss a fast way to put socks on in the next post)
- Must Have
- Running shoes
- Sunglasses – During the run, sunglasses do more than block the sun; they also help prevent you from becoming tense. If you have the sun in your face and have to squint then your face starts to tense up which will cause the rest of your body to tense up as well, starting with your neck to your shoulders to your arms, etc.
- Fuel belt – this all depends on the length of your race. For a sprint you don’t need any nutrition and for anything longer I suggest trying to train with the nutrition that will be available on course so that you don’t have to carry extra weight.
- Socks – If you’re going to get blisters then it will be during the run. Just like my suggestion with your bike shoes, go for a short run and pay attention to any hot spots forming. If you don’t feel anything then increase the distance until you get up to your race distance. If this works then try it on a race simulation day to make sure that you still don’t have problems after your feet have been basting in cycling shoes for a few hours
- Hat – I think I run with a hat at this point out of habit more than anything else.
As I mentioned in the previous post transition is a part of the race. A majority of people look at their results at the end of a race and see how they fared in their age group in the swim, bike and run but completely skip over how they compared in transition. If you find that you’re not one of the top three fastest transitions in your age group then it’s time to start adding that in as one of your “workouts” each week.
Practicing transition isn’t difficult and doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time. It just takes you making time for it. If you’re already out for a run or ride during the weekend then when your workout is done spend ten minutes practicing how you’re going to go through the motions of transition. How are you going to get your bike shoes on? How are you going to dismount your bike? Etc.
Transition practice doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to go and buy or make yourself a little transition rack. When I practice I simply lean my bike up against my car and set up everything by my front wheel.
One piece of advice that I’ll give when practice T1 is to stand about 20’ away from your bike with a water bottle. Squirt down anything that is going to have a piece of gear put on it. Everything goes on harder when you’re wet. Run up to your bike with wet feet, hands and torso and try putting on all the spare articles of clothing and start thinking about what you can do without.
Keep It Simple
I think we’ve all heard of K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid or the more politically correct Keep It Stupid Simple. Transition needs to be the least complicated part of your race. In T1, after you’ve gone from horizontal to vertical, you’re legs are a little wobbly and your heart is pounding, the last thing you want to have to do is think. If you have a bike pump, shirt, gloves, hat, helmet, shoes, sunglasses, nutrition, and a wombat all scattered around your transition area chances are that you’re going to start fumbling and dropping things but if you keep everything organized and compact then you’ll be in and out in no time.
My mantra for transition is “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Don’t run into transition and try to put your helmet and shoes on at the same time. On the surface it might sound like a quick way to get out but when it comes time to actually executing you’ll probably at least drop your shoes or worst, knock yours or someone else s bike off the rack. During your practices decide the order you’re going to do things so that on race day you have no debating in your head as to the order of operation. Do one thing, do it well and then move on to the next thing.
Don’t Get Lost
Final bit of advice before you exit transition and head to the water and start racing is to know where you are and where you’re going. Stand at your transition space and make a mental note of where you’ll be running in after the swim, where you’ll run out with your bike, where you’ll run in with your bike, and where the run out is. Practice running in from the swim to your transition area. Make sure you know what row you’re on and what the shortest route is. Notice land marks and count the number of rows to your bike. For example, as you run in know that you’re on the third row right across from the lamp post or trash can. Doing this will prevent you not only losing a lot of time in transition but also keep you from looking like a buffoon.
Next week we’ll discuss T1
USAT Level 1