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Hey Coach: How can I improve my transitions?

Ask this question in a group of triathletes, and you’ll get countless different tips and opinions: Use elastic laces, or don’t use elastic laces. Go sockless, or don’t go sockless. Clip your shoes to your bike, or don’t clip your shoes to your bike. Sit down to put your shoes on, or stay standing. Don’t get me wrong – fellow triathletes are often fantastic sources of new ideas to try. But different things work better or worse for different people. Once you’ve pretty much figured out what works for you, here are three broad ways to improve your transitions.


1.     Be consistent. Do things the same way and in the same order every time. Regardless of whether you do sock-shoe-sock-shoe, or sock-sock-shoe-shoe, do it that way every single time. The consistency will help you rely on the repetition and muscle memory to get it right and be quicker about it. It’s like brushing your teeth – you probably do it the same way every time, and you don’t need to spend time thinking about it.


2.     Minimize the amount of stuff you have in your transition. I once met a first-time triathlete who took a neti pot into transition, in case he wanted to clean out his sinuses after the salt-water swim. (True story!) While that may be an extreme example, if your transition area is cluttered with extra stuff, it’s harder to move quickly and efficiently through your tight space, and it’s harder for your brain to process everything that is there and then make a decision on whether or not you need each of those items. The less you have to think about, the better.


Of course you may have a few critical “just in case” items. For example, I keep a spare pair of contacts and a hair tie in a little baggie. I probably won’t need them, but it would be a disaster if I did. Tuck that emergency baggie underneath your transition towel -- that way it’s there if you need it, but it won’t be in the way and you won’t need to think about it.


3.     PRACTICE. And then practice some more. Not only will this help you figure out what methods work for you, but it will also help you be more efficient and develop that consistency and muscle memory we talked about. Every brick workout is a chance to lay out your gear and practice your transition from bike to run at full speed. Every open water swim session is a chance to practice taking off your wetsuit quickly. Lay your stuff out in the driveway and practice both transitions at full speed. (Extra credit if you get a family member to hose you down so you’re practicing T1 while wet.) This is a good opportunity to practice your bike mounts and dismounts as well. Just smile and wave when your neighbors give you funny looks.


When in doubt, remember less is more. The less you have to think about in transition on race day when you’re full of adrenaline, the better. And I promise you can leave your neti pot at home.


Follow @coachalisonmiller


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