Faster Transitions: Save Five Minutes

Transition is often called triathlon’s fourth discipline and getting it right will save you more time than you think



by Nicola Joyce

bike transition, t1 transion, triathlon Credit: Bongarts/ Getty Images

Do you fly through transition with practised ease or are you a fumbler, juggling your gels as you struggle to find your second sock?

One thing that's sure to help you slash seconds off your race time is a smooth and fast transition from swim to bike and bike to run. We asked some of triathlon's leading elites, coaches and mentors for their tips to ensure speedy transitions.

1. Get in the habit

Start learning how to save precious seconds in the weeks and months leading up to your race. By setting aside time to train for the intricacies of triathlon transition, you'll develop great habits and swift transitions will become second nature. Triathlon coach Joe Beer, author of Need to Know Triathlon (Harper Collins), strongly advises you to train for transitions just as you do for swim, bike and run.

"Plan one-hour sessions every week. Run through all aspects of T1 and T2 - wetsuit removal at speed, getting on your bike, and getting off the bike for the start of the run leg. By training for transition, you can easily save 30 seconds on those who are shabby because they simply haven't practised."

Time saved: 30 seconds

2. Know your kit

Don't leave anything to chance. There's plenty you can do before race day arrives to make sure you optimise your chances of a super-speedy transition time.

Pro Ironman triathlete and Kinetica ambassador (kinetica-sports.co.uk) Fraser Cartmell is the Ironman UK and Half Ironman UK champion. He says it's crucial to familiarise yourself with every inch of your race-day kit long before the big day arrives.

"Familiarity with your wetsuit and helmet can shave precious seconds in T1," he says. "Use your wetsuit for a swim session at least once a week, and practise stripping it off as quickly as you can. During the race, try to get it down to waist level while you run to your bike, leaving just the legs to kick off. Also, practise putting your helmet on and taking
it off; knowing how to close that strap in a hurry can save lots of time on race day."

Time saved: 40 seconds

3. Don't pack too light

Thom Phillips, coach at thetrilife.com, always packs a few extra items in case of changes in weather or temperature. He thinks it's better to pack and not use something than it is to leave it at home, and then wish you'd brought it with you.

"Don't be afraid to leave extra kit in transition," he says. "A pair of arm-warmers for the bike leg or a peaked hat for the run could mean the difference between a good race and a bad day. Little items can make a huge difference to your comfort - and your performance - if the weather looks likely to change during the race. The worst thing that can happen
is you just don't use them."

Time saved: 30 seconds

4. Set it up

In the hour leading up to your race start, take a few minutes to make sure you're set up for success. Attend to even the smallest details and take your time. Your patience will pay off in the race because you'll know you've done all you can to prepare.

Toby Radcliffe is a professional long-course triathlete and an ambassador for new race shoe On Running (on-running.com). In his fourth season racing as a pro, he'll be tackling Ironman Austria and Ironman UK. "The key to a slick transition is setting your gear up so you have a minimum amount to do," he says.

"Make sure you've thought through and planned every step of your transition. In T2, make sure your trainers are in a position that allows you to pretty much step into them, but make sure they can't be kicked out of the way."

Time saved: 30 seconds

5. Last-minute tip

With just a few minutes to go, there are still things you can do to make your transition times faster. It's all about the details.

Pro triathlete Aileen Morrison is a member of Team ON (optimumnutrition.com/uk). Her tip is simple but it works for her every time: "I put some Vaseline on the bottom of my wetsuit legs, which helps it slip off over my feet really quickly," she says. "Putting Vaseline on your wetsuit also means you don't have to put it on your feet."

Time saved: 30 seconds

6. Walk the walk

Coach Joe Beer advises you take the time to walk through transition. "On the morning of the race, once transition is set up, walk through the area and work out your entry from the swim, route to the bike and then where you will exit for the bike and run legs," he says.

"During the race, it's easy to go wrong and waste seconds that took months of hard training to gain."

Time saved: 40 seconds

7. Mind games

Your race might be fast and furious, but your transitions can still be calm. Gary Tompsett is the course director for the Scotland Coast to Coast Run multisport event (scotlandcoasttocoast.com).

If you find it difficult to remember the things that don't come naturally, or often forget the same items, he has a couple of tips that will help you maintain focus. "Make a list in your head of key items that you need to remember to manage when in transition. Know how many items are in this list and put them in sequence," he advises.

"And create a key trigger word or visual to use just before you reach transition. If you get distracted, use the key word or do your key action - this should snap you back into your list."

Time saved: 30 seconds

8. Mark your spot

Rich Allen, pro triathlete and coach (richardallenfitness.com), is a nine-time British elite champion - he knows a thing or two about pro transitions.

"When you come running into the transition area, you'll probably struggle to find your bike among the transition area carnage," he warns. "Here's my tip: find a large marker point behind your bike rack number that is easy to see. A large banner or lamppost would be good.

"Don't even try to look for your number or bike when you run in: just trust that when you see your marker you will be at your spot. And learn to multi-task in transition: practise removing your wetsuit legs by standing on the suit. At the same time, try to put your helmet and glasses on."

Time saved: 30 seconds

9. Expect the unexpected

Pro triathlete Emma-Kate Lidbury says that if you want to relax in a race you need to accept that anything can happen, particularly in transition. "With so many items of kit and so many things to think about, you're extremely lucky if you don't face some kind of issue in transition," she says.

"In the days leading up to your event, think about how you would deal with things going wrong. This way, you'll be able to react and be on your way. If you become stressed in transition, take a step back and keep a sense of perspective. You're taking part in one of the most popular sports around, so enjoy it."

Time saved: 40 seconds

Total time saved: 5 minutes

Whether your A-race of the season is yet to come, or you have a few fun races left to do, it's not too late to take on board these pro-level bits of advice. Be smart, plan ahead, and practise, practise, practise. Next time you race, you'll fly through transition so quickly you'll barely have time to check your watch.


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Discuss this article

I thought Vaseline destroyed the neoprene? Surely this isnt something to be advising novices to do. Use non-petroleum based lubricants instead!
Posted: 28/07/2011 at 12:28

Brilliant! I love the suggestion of trying to put your helmet and sunnies on while getting your legs out of your wetsuit. What could possibly go wrong?
Posted: 28/07/2011 at 13:51

oil based lubricants like vaseline can destroy neoprene but I would guess that the time taken to do that is likely to be longer than the active life of the wetsuit as they do tend to start falling apart in a couple of years anyway with seams splitting, velcro no longer functioning, holes appearing etc.

as long as you don't liberally smear the neoprene with vas and keep it in contact, it's not a worry.

there are alternative lubes like baby oil gel, body butter, and good ol KY which you can use on legs and arms to aid removal - and that only comes into contact with the material lining so isn't a problem. and then use bodyglide to prevent neck chafing (it stays put better than vas)
Posted: 28/07/2011 at 13:59

FB - it does sound like a good smearing is being recommended. Much easier just to chop the ends of the legs off.
Posted: 28/07/2011 at 14:31

YOUR FEET ????
Posted: 28/07/2011 at 16:50

Waff is always extreme !!!
Posted: 28/07/2011 at 18:47

save a fortune on bike shoes too.
Posted: 29/07/2011 at 06:58

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