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Seven not-so-secret tips to improve your transitions

If the fourth discipline of triathlon is nutrition, then the fifth is transitions. You spend so much time training to swim, bike and run faster – don’t overlook the chance to shave some time off your transitions. With a little time and effort, there are some easy ways to improve your T1 and T2 times.

1. Simplify. Do not bring everything under the sun into transition. This is not like packing a suitcase for vacation and throwing in extra things just in case you might need them. For your triathlon transition, set up exactly what you need – nothing more, nothing less. It creates more work for your brain to look at a set of items and decide what you need. If you have only the things you need, there is nothing to spend time thinking about or deciding.

A note for the farsighted and the female: You may need a few crisis-avoidance items. An “in case of emergency, break glass” container, if you will. For example, I put a spare pair of contact lenses, a tampon, and a hair tie in a tiny plastic bag. I usually tuck it underneath a corner of my transition towel so it’s not cluttering up my transition zone, but I know those items are available in case of disaster.

2. Practice. Every brick session is an opportunity to lay out your gear and practice your quick transition from bike to run. After an open water swim, jog a short distance to practice unhooking your wetsuit while you run, and practice getting your wetsuit off quickly. Practice running with your bike. Practice your mounts and dismounts during every outdoor bike session. Repetition is your friend.

3. Be consistent. Once you’ve got your process down, do it the same way every time. Sock, shoe, sock, shoe? Or sock, sock, shoe, shoe? Especially when your brain is still fuzzy from the swim, you want that muscle memory to kick in and keep you moving. There is some personal preference in how athletes lay out their transition, of course. For example, some athletes like to put everything inside their helmet, and other athletes like to lay things in a row. Once you find what works for you, though, be consistent. And for sure don’t change up your transition layout because the guy next to you told you about the very best way to do it. (Instead, make a mental note of the tip and try it out in a future practice session. Oftentimes fellow athletes have great tips – but don’t experiment on race day!)

4. Eliminate unnecessary steps. The goal of transition is to take off the gear you no longer need and pick up the gear that you need next. That’s it. Think about your process and what you might be doing that is not really necessary. For example, sometime you’ll see athletes bring baby wipes to clean off their face after the swim. You are already wet, and you’re about to get sweaty – is that step really worth the time to you? Some athletes eat and drink in transition. There’s no reason you can’t have all your hydration and nutrition on your bike, and refuel once you’re rolling.

Similarly, think about whether there are ways to be more efficient. For example, if you are putting gels in your pockets in T2, can you instead put them into your pockets while you’re jogging to Run Out? Are there things you can do in advance when you’re setting up your transition before the race starts? For example, open up your bike shoes so they are ready for feet to slide right in. Leave your helmet on the ground unbuckled so you can just pop it on, buckle, and go. (A tip for long-haired folks: Put your helmet on your head and adjust it when you set up your transition race morning. There is nothing worse than discovering your ponytail is too high when you put your helmet on in T1.)

5. Walk the transitions. Whether it’s the day prior or race morning, when you rack your bike, leave yourself some time to walk through the entire transition. Go to the swim exit and walk the route to T1. Notice the most direct route to your spot – which way you are turning, what are the landmarks. Walk to your spot. Talk yourself through the steps of your process. Pretend to grab your bike, and walk to the Bike Out. Notice where the mount line is. Then go to the Bike In. Simulate your dismount, then walk back to your spot. Talk yourself through your T2 process, then walk to Run Out.

6. Visualize. Spend some quiet time visualizing your transitions. Even better, visualize the whole race. Go through every piece of the event in your mind. If you get distracted, start over. This is a great activity for the day or two before your race when you are hydrating and staying off your feet.

7. PRACTICE. This one is worth repeating. There is no such thing as too much practice. In addition to using your training sessions to practice, lay your gear out on your driveway and simulate your T2. Run through it a few times. Hold practice sessions early and often. Repetition strengthens the neuro pathways in your brain and helps move activities from the conscious to the subconscious. Think about how long it takes a child to tie their shoe when they are first learning. Contrast that to how quickly you can tie your shoes now, and without even consciously thinking about what you’re doing. That’s what practice and repetition can do for you.

Regardless of how fast you can tie your shoes, though, get yourself some elastic laces. That – along with some preparation, scrutiny, and plenty of practice – will have you speeding up your transitions in no time. Happy racing!


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