By: Local Chicagoland coach, Joe LoPresto
there be such a thing as Free Speed in triathlon? Yes, and it can be
found in the transition from swim to bike and again in the transition
from bike to run. Even if your goal is taking your time and having fun
with the race, planning and practicing efficient transitions will make
your stress levels lower and the race go better. If your goal is to
improve on your past race performance or place higher in your age group,
then mastering transitions is a key component and can often take 3 to 5
minutes off your overall race time. You’d have to work pretty hard and
for many, many months to take that kind of time off your bike or run
Planning your transition strategy starts long before the day of the
event. In fact, by race day, you should have practiced your transition
flow enough times that it is burned into your memory and can be executed
without much thought.
The general rule for fast transitions is to keep it simple.
Having the right equipment will help with that. Start by purchasing a
tri top and tri short. These items are designed to be worn from start
to finish so no change of clothes is needed. Next on the list is a pair
of speed laces for your running shoes. These inexpensive elastic laces
stretch so that your shoes can be put on quickly and without having to
tie laces. Last is a race belt. This inexpensive elastic belt allows
you to quickly attach your race bib number around your waist as you go
out for the run. It eliminates the need to pin your bib to your shirt
and have it flapping around on the bike. That’s really all the special
equipment needed for smoother transitions.
Now that you have the equipment, it’s time to practice! Yes, you’ve
spent hours and hours doing swim, bike and run workouts and you must
practice the transitions too! Besides having the wrong equipment or
way too many pieces of equipment to deal with in transition, not
practicing is the next most common reason why athletes slow down and
struggle within the transition area. To practice, set up your own small
transition area at home. Lay everything you’ll need on a small hand
size towel next to your bike. Then run up to it as if you just got out
of the pool. Some athletes will even jump in the shower and be wet so
they can simulate the issues associated with wet skin (like how to pull
socks onto wet feet). Think very carefully about where everything is
placed on the towel or bike and exactly what movements you’re going to
make. Consider what will you do first, then second, etc. One trick I
like to use is to go through the entire “grab and go” sequence in very
slow motion, making mental notes and taking mental video with your eyes
on how it all flows. Then as you practice it over and over again, tell
your mind to re-run the video sequences you just burned into the brain.
Always do the steps in the same order, like grab sunglasses, then
helmet, then buckle helmet, then socks (if used), then shoes, then lift
bike off rack, then run with bike to transition exit. Keep it simple
and easy to repeat!
You’ve practiced your transitions dozens of times and it’s race day.
You’re ready for the free speed,
right? Not so fast. There are plenty
of additional attributes to smooth transitions on race day and they
can’t be practiced at home. It all starts with bringing only what you
need into transition so your small area around your bike is not
cluttered and difficult to maneuver around. Don’t bring big bags,
buckets to sit on or to wash the sand off your feet. Just bring what
you’ll race with. Next step is to get there early and get a good spot
on the transition racks. Sounds simple, but every year I’m standing
outside of transition in the morning and the line into transition gets
longer and longer the closer it gets to the race start. Sometimes I see
athletes arriving after the transition area has closed and the race is
ready to start. Not only is this a problem for finding a good spot on
the rack, it adds big stress to your race start and day.
Next it’s time to find the bike “IN” point and think about the
dismount. Again, look over the pavement for any danger spots and pick
the spot a few feet before the dismount line where you’re going to get
off your bike. Most athletes will fly up to the dismount line, slam the
brakes and almost fall off their bike. Avoid this mess by thinking
ahead and getting off a little early and to the side. Now walk into
transition and think about where your towel is located. Keep in mind
that during the race your spot will not be marked by your bike since
you’ll have it with you. Now you’re looking for a towel and there are
lots of white towels on the ground. One tip is to bring a towel that is
unique in color or design. Count the rows or find the landmarks that
will ensure you find your towel and the spot to re-rack your bike. As
you approach your spot, start thinking about the “grab and go” steps
again…. Lift bike to rack, unbuckle helmet, take helmet off, grab race
belt, grab run hat, etc. and then walk the path toward run “OUT”.
Repeat this entire walk-through of the transition flow as many times
as you have time for before you start your warm-up for the race.
Take the time now to plan and practice your transitions and get some Free Speed at your next race!
Joe LoPresto is the Founder, Head Coach and Race Director at
Experience Triathlon. Coach Joe and the Experience Triathlon coaching
team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in
training, racing and life. Naperville based Experience Triathlon is a
leader in the endurance services industry. ET provides endurance
coaching services, clubs, camps, race events, nutrition coaching,
massage therapy and performance testing to athletes in the Chicago area
and around the world. Learn more about Coach Joe and Experience
Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com.