The transition sections of a triathlon are essentially ‘free time’. Unlike the swim, bike, and run disciplines, how fast you go through T1 (swim/bike) and T2 (bike/run) is not dependant upon your physiological gifts. All it requires is a system and frequent practice for you to be (almost) as fast as those who race in the World Triathlon series.
Let’s break the system down into the two transitions.
In each race you go through the same process.
- Exit the water
- Run to the transition area and find your bike
- Remove your wetsuit, hat and goggles
- Put on your cycling helmet
- Put on your bike shoes
- Remove your bike from the racking and run to the exit of transition
- Mount your bike once you have crossed the mount line
You can make your T1 time faster by multitasking some of these processes.
- Remove top half of wetsuit while running from the water to your bike – watch the pros and see what they do. Then every time you swim in open water, practice running 50-100m while taking your swim hat and goggles off your head and then pulling the zip down and removing your arms from the sleeves of your suit.
- Knowing the shortest (and therefore fastest) legal route to your bike – This is just a matter of walking the path into T1 and to your bike 1-2 times before the race starts and remembering which row and position your bike is in. Use something immovable like a tree or advertising banner.
- Learning to remove the bottom part of your wetsuit quickly – roll the suit down your waist and over your knees until part of the suit is on the ground. Then step onto part of the suit with one foot as you kick out with the other foot. Sometimes applying some vegetable oil to the lower part of your calf before the swim can help with this. It might require two go’s but with practice you will get faster.
- Minimising the clothing you put on in T1 – of course if the weather is poor or you are racing an Ironman and going for a bit of comfort then you might take a bit more time over this. If it’s a standard or sprint you should beable to wear your tri-suit or two-piece under your wetsuit, meaning you do not need to put anything on at all.
- Learning to fasten your helmet quickly – practice doing this with your eyes closed. Learn where each end of the strap is and how to fit them together quickly. **Remember that you cannot remove your bike from the rack until your helmet is on your head and fastened.
- Have your bike shoes attached to the pedals and fixed with elastic bands – Ok, I know some people prefer to put their shoes on first and run out of the transition zone. It’s not the fastest way but might sometimes be more comfortable. You have to be more careful getting on to your bike fast as clipless cleats do not provide much grip. The fastest way is to already have your pedals attached to your shoes. An elastic band at the rear of each shoe can be used to fix them in place so they don’t drag on the ground or get dislodged. Mount your bike as quick as you feel comfortable (learning a flying cyclo cross mount is the fastest by far).
- Run with your bike – The quickest way to do this is control your bike by holding on to the saddle and running along side. If you are on the left side of the bike and push/lean it to your right the front wheel will go this way and you can steer to the right. Lean slightly to the left and it goes the opposite way.
- Knowing the shortest (legal) route out of T1 – As with the run to your bike, this requires a quick recce before the start of each race.
***Items 1 & 3 can be practiced every time you finish an open water swim, items 5, 6 & 7 can be practised every time you set off for a bike ride.
Once again, in each race you go through the same process.
- Slow down well in time for the dismount line and jump off your bike before the line
- Run with your bike to your allocated transition spot
- Rack your bike
- Remove your helmet and shoes
- Put on running socks and shoes
- Exit transition and start the run
As with T1, let’s see how you can make each of these processes as slick and speedy as possible.
- Brake for the dismount line and jump off before the line – First, in your pre race recce, familiarise yourself with where the dismount line is. Usually it is the same line which you have to cross when mounting your bike. Look at the approach to the line and workout where you are going to brake and where to step off. Time and again I have seen athletes going too fast on their approach and either have a minor crash or cross the line and get a penalty. Before dismounting your bike you have two choices. 1) remove your feet from your shoes about 200-300m before and ride with them on top of the shoes for the last 20-30s and then run into T2 in bare feet, or 2) dismount still wearing your shoes and run in shoes to T2. This second option requires more care because of the reduced grip from bike cleats.
- Run with your bike to the transition spot – Again, this is part of your pre-race recce.
- Rack your bike – Normally you need to go back to your original spot, especially if this is where your shoes and run kit are. At some Ironman races your bike is racked for you. Generally, hanging your bike by the saddle is the fastest way.
- Remove helmet – Unbuckle quickly, place your helmet on the ground and….
- Put on running shoes – Many athletes ride without socks because they are harder to put on when wet and because blisters aren’t so much of an issue on the bike. You may wish to put a pair on for the run. Low cut ankle socks are easiest and even then, roll down the tops and apply some talcum powder inside. For racing you might find it faster to have elastic laces in your shoes. Ensure your feet are in correctly and set off. Dont forget run hat and sunglasses. On longer races you may have a small bum bag with gels or fluid.
NB for Ironman races your kit is often in bags hanging on racks and in a different place to your bike. Dressing and undressing are the same, the only difference is the layout of the transition areas.
The processes I have laid out are the ones I use. For the bike I work from top to bottom, putting on helmet first and then dressing downwards with my shoes going on last. On the run I start from bottom to top with run shoes first and hat/sunglasses last.
Once you have written down your process (yes, that is the best way to get started), you have to practice this until you can do it blindfolded and in the dark. Apart from the running into and out of the transition area, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be as fast as an Olympic champion.