Most of the athletes that I coach come to me for one specific reason: They want to get faster. Faster finishing times are the result of more specific and more accurate training but I have a secret that will shave an average of 2 minutes off of your race time -- without getting your heart rate over 100 bpm. The secret is to organize, simplify and practice your transitions. I have heard Mark Allen refer to the transition as the "no pain, free gain zone," a tough rhyme scheme but a fairly accurate assessment. A fast transition will not only improve your time but it can also dramatically change your results: a quick change over can break the spirit of a competitor who has been hanging with you, and it can launch you up in front of others that you have been killing yourself to pass. All you need to do is to organize, simplify and practice. T1 (the swim-to-bike transition) is usually the hardest. The blood has inflated the shoulders, chest and triceps to Popeye-esque proportions. Oftentimes not only will your legs not work like they should, but your brain isn't functioning that well either. Many triathletes suffer from dizziness during the swim exit, and it can last well into the first few miles of the bike ride. Organize T1: Figure out a way to hang the bike by the seat so it is "backed in" to the space and ready to roll out, rather than hanging it by the brake levers. Place your helmet on the aero bars upside down, with straps laid smooth and open. Have the arms of sunglasses open and ready to slip on -- or better yet tuck 'em on the bike somewhere -- they can be put in place once you're up to speed. Have shoe straps wide and tongue up ready to receive your foot. Simplify T1: Attach everything else you will need to the bike (warm Powerbars bend nicely over the top tube of the frame. Tape only the tear-away-tab of Powergels to your frame so that when you pull them off you open them in the same motion. Or better yet, get a flask). Look over the gear you will be using: do you really need socks on the bike? Do you really need bike shorts? Wouldn't one of those nifty QR padded slip-on seat covers be even better? Practice T1: Take some time when no one is around and do it. Lean the bike up against a chair in the back yard and put on your wet suit. Pick a place to start your watch and run to the bike as you unzip and pull the suit off your arms and down to your waist. When you get to the bike, get it off. Then choose the best order of donning shoes and helmet for you, and run the bike over the trail finish line. Stop your watch. Do it 3 more times faster each time, until it's lightning. And if you forget to fasten the helmet DQ yourself and start over because the race officials certainly will.
T1 Helpful Hints: After you set up find the swim exit and transition entrance. Walk that route and find some tangible and fool proof way to find your bike. Cut a couple of inches off each leg of your wet suit and it will come off over your feet much faster. Add a lubricant like Sportslick to outside of the legs of the suit below the knee, and to the outside of the arms past the elbow. This will allow the suit to slide over your feet and hands faster when you peel it off. FISOB (Feet In Shoes On Bike) is the act of bringing the bike up to speed before you put on your shoes. Unless the course is bumpy, technical or uphill out of transition try the FISOB, it is the fastest way to gain extra time on your competitors.
T2 (the bike-to-run transition) is usually the fastest. This can also be the most traumatic transition. Every time I get back to my transition area it looks as if a tornado has come through. Then, when I find my rack, my shoes and things are not exactly like I left them. Organize T2: Place your run stuff on a small and simple towel, this will denote the space more clearly and it may be less trampled by other racers. It will also be easier to find without the other bikes around. Simplify T2: You may not need more than shoes, a number belt and hat but if you do need more (salt tabs, inhaler, etc.) then choose a tiny fanny pack that can double as a number belt. Ultimate makes a great mini fanny pack with a gel flask holster that works great for longer races or special needs. Practice T2: Move your practice area from the back yard to the street or driveway. Again, pick a point at which to start your watch and ride to the chair. Even if you don't like to do the FISOB definitely leave your shoes on the pedals coming into T2. As you ride in, reach down and undo one shoe strap, remove the foot from the shoe and place it atop the shoe. Do the same with the other foot, adding a few pedal strokes for more speed if needed. As you roll up to the rack or dismount line, swing one foot around the back of the saddle and between the bike frame and the leg still on the pedal. This dismount will allow you to step off the bike at running speed. Rack the bike this time by hanging it by the brake handles. Remove helmet, slip on run shoes, and go. The hat, glasses and run belt can be donned as you run out the transition area.
T2 Helpful Hints: Socks are slow, but for really long runs they may be necessary. Slathering some lubricant on the seams inside the shoe may allow for a barefoot run. Barrel locks or elastic laces are a must.
The shorter the race, the less you need. If you are racing a sprint distance triathlon it's going to be over pretty quickly, so go bare bones. If you are racing iron distance then comfort will be more of a key. Regardless of the distance, remember the golden rule for triathlon: Nothing New On Race Day. If you have not tried and tested something in training, then don't bring it into the transition area on race day. ?