Nobody wants to give up free time in a race. Triathletes spend $$$ on state of the art wetsuits, pro quality bikes and fancy carbon wheels. They wear alien looking pointy aero helmets and wrap their bodies in neon colored compression sleeves and suits, guaranteeing the silliest tan lines possible. They spend double digit hours per week training while their families wonder just who this strange person is who shows up in time for dinner before passing out on the sofa. All of this is done in the quest to knock a few minutes/seconds off of their race time. How many of you are guilty of any of these things, and how many of you seriously practice your race transitions? I mean SERIOUSLY, not just a quick mental run through? When you look through race results, while you compare swim, bike, and run splits with your competition, do you also compare transition times? Are you giving up 5 minutes in T1 and T2 to that guy/gal that just beat you by 3 minutes, knocking you off the age group podium? Believe me, it happens more than you may think. Transition time is free time to gain or lose. It doesn’t cost a dime to streamline your transition, and you could end up saving more time than that $3000 set of race wheels can give you. If you already have the wheels, its even better.
   Pictured is an Ironman Triathlon transition area. As you can see, there is no equipment set up near the bikes. Ironman uses a different system than most triathlons for their full distance events, requiring athletes to deposit all of their gear in various bags that are exchanged at the transition changing tents adjacent to the bike corrals. This will be dealt with in a future post as here we will deal with the traditional transition area where we arrange our gear in our small space provided next to our bikes.

Now here we have a more typical transition area, where gear is placed next to the bikes and competitors will be doing all of their preparations to move from one discipline to the next right here. Everything needed for the race is in one place and being organized is critical to a smooth event. In this installment I will outline the initial steps to take to make sense in the midst of chaos. Being prepared can make or break your race day and take seconds, even minutes, off of your final time.

Upon arriving at the race site, the first thing I suggest is taking a good look around the transition area. You want to look around to determine your traffic plan for the event. Most races have the bike racks numbered aligning with race numbers, so you will have a designated spot to rack your bike. Find your spot on the rack and survey the area for landmarks: trees, signs, banners, etc. You don’t want to be wandering around looking for your proper space when every second counts. When you are confident that you can pinpoint your spot, find where you will enter the transition area from the swim. This should be well marked and you can plan your route to get to your bike. Now you need to spot where you exit the transition area to start the bike ride and how to get there most efficiently. Virtually all races these days don’t allow riding in the corral and have a “mount line” out on the road where you can mount your bike and start the ride. You will also find a “dismount line” just before the bike finish. From here you will run, not walk, your bike back to your rack. The bike start and bike finish are usually at opposite ends of transition, so know where you’ll be coming in and, again, how to get to your rack space to rack your bike and prepare for the run. Review your landmarks for finding your rack and take a mental picture of the entire flow….swim in… bike out… mount… dismount… bike in… and now, run out.
This pre race planning will help immensely in having an organized flow from one discipline to the next. Efficiency is key to saving time in transition and taking a few minutes on race morning will not only set you up for smooth transitions, but give you that extra bit of confidence knowing exactly where you need to go in the hectic atmosphere of the race. The calm, partly empty transition area that you arrived to at 5:00AM will become total chaos when jammed with bikes and people all running about in a frenzy.

In the next installment I will go into more detail on the set up and execution of T1 and T2. These will be the things that you can rehearse in training to really make every second count.