've been asked many times to give guidance to Triathletes on how to speed up the transition process. Initially reluctant to hold myself as a good role model, but looking at my race history, I do seem to be among the quickest in both T1 and T2, so maybe I have managed to stumble on a recipe for success which I’m sharing with you today.
Part 1: Setting up your transition area
The transition is not a rest period, you need to enter and exit as quickly as possible and in order to minimize the time in T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run) you need to have your transition area laid-out 'just so'. In this context, 'just so' is an entirely personal thing and has to be right for you. The best thing to do is to practice before race day, and do it over and over until you form some kind of muscle memory so your hands, feet etc know exactly what they are doing.
The photograph shows how I typically lay out my transition area. I'll run you through the key points:
Bike: You can see my bike is 'reverse racked' by its handlebars rather than by the seat. Primarily this is because I am short! At only 5'9" and with a 30" inside leg, hanging my bike by the seat on a high rack tends to leave the front wheel dangling mid-air and thus vulnerable to being displaced by clumsy competitors. Racking by the handlebars makes everything more stable. I've already checked-out the bike exit and know it to be straight and flat. As such, my chain is on the big ring at the front and about the second cog on the back - easy enough to pull away, but high enough that I can get some speed up before having to change gear. I have a can of 'gunk' (for punctures) taped to the seat post and a small gel bottle on the top tube.
Bike Shoes: On the bike and secured using the elastic bands methodology. The shoes have been coated with talcum powder to aid foot insertion and the straps are fully open.
Helmet: My bike is reverse-racked, I prefer the helmet is looped around the front of my saddle and the other is laid open. My cycling glasses are in the helmet, opened and 'upside down' so that I can pick them up and slide them onto my face in one movement.
Run shoes: In this instance I got lucky with a end-rack position, so took advantage to put my shoes to the left side of the bike. My run hat is in front of the shoes (if I want it) and I've laid a gel on top of my shoes as a visual cue to take it with me if I feel I'm going to need it on the run (as it happens in this race, I still had some gel in the bottle, so I took that on the run instead). The run shoes also have a small amount of talc on them to aid foot entry.
Part 2: Transition walk through
Technically, you are not permitted in triathlon to 'mark' your racking spot - it's down to you to remember exactly where your bike is. Many triathletes push the boundaries of this rule with coloured towels, ultimately there's no substitute for doing at least one walk-through before the race.
Find the swim entry point into transition, stand there and orient yourself. Plot the fastest (and easiest to remember!) course from the T1 entry point to your racking position, noting any 'landmarks' that will help you identify your spot. Walk calmly from T1 entry to your bike at least once so that when you come out of the water you can do it on autopilot. Next, plot the fastest course from your racking position to bike out, and then do the same in reverse, and finally from the rack to the Run out point - all three points (swim in, bike in/out, run out are likely to be in different positions - so you need to know where they are!
So you should now be set for the race! Your bike is racked together with helmet and shoes - and run kit is laid out logically and should fall to hand quickly!
Part 3: Transition 1 (T1), move from swim to bike
For many, the hardest transition is getting out of the water and shedding the wetsuit, The preparation for a speedy T1 begins before you even start to put your wetsuit on. In order to get the suit off quickly, you need to minimize the chances of it getting caught on limbs and joints. Typical places for the wetsuit to get caught are: wrists, ankles, knees. To help avoid this there are a couple of different options you can try – one you definitely should do and the other could save you time, but carries a little bit of risk!
Putting the suit on and preparing the wetsuit for quick removal
Putting the suit on will be covered in another article but make sure there are no creases in the arms and legs and the suit is pulled well up over the shoulders to prevent "pulling on the arms". My little trick is to have a bottle of water ready at room temperature. Before I get into the water, this goes into the suit through my neck and I use my hands to try to disperse the water around the suit. I believe this helps ‘seal’ the suit and also prepares me for the colder water that is about to come.
I always wear my race belt under my wetsuit with my number folded upwards, it saves time as well as reducing the number of things you need to think about in order to get the transition right.
Lubrication: I use a combination of BodyGlide, baby oil and Vaseline on different parts of the body. But Bodyglide alone will work fine. Apply liberally to wrists and lower forearms, your knees and ankles. If you don’t wear calf guards, you can also apply to this area.
Baby Oil: I apply this to my arms and any parts of legs not covered by the Body Glide or clothing (including tops of feet). I also apply a thin layer of oil to the lower legs of my wetsuit when I put it on (think about it, your wetsuit goes inside out as you try to remove your feet, any lubrication here has to help.
Vaseline: I use petroleum jelly around my neckline you can be more liberal than with the bodyglide.
NB: Petroleum jelly and oil based lubricants will void the warranty on wetsuits. These and other substances are known to deteriorate the material rubber over time. If in any doubt, use Bodyglide in all points above.
Removing the suit
Okay, so we’ve had a great swim and we’re coming to the exit ramp. Personally I swim as close to the ramp as I can, only standing up when I have literally run out of water to swim in. You’ll be surprised just how many places you can make up by swimming past competitors wading in waist-deep water! I tend to get dizzy if I go upright straight away, so ‘stoop’ a little as I get out of the water, until the blood starts to circulate around my body.
My method for T1 then follows this rigid process:
Goggles up over swim cap – NOT off, you want your hands free for removing the top half of your suit!
Left hand reaches back and undoes neck flap
Right hand seeks out my zip pull-chord (I leave it dangling, rather than securing by neck) and yanks zip down
Left hand grabs neckline of suit and starts to pull down, then both hands used to remove the arms from wetsuit
Wetsuit is pulled down to just below waist
Googles and swim hat into one hand
All of the above should be done while running between the water and T1 entry! Once you reach your bike, you then:
Throw down goggles and swim hat
Pull wetsuit down as far as it will go on legs with both hands
Stand on wetsuit and lift legs in turn to get feet out of wetsuit, use hands if needed
Throw wetsuit out of way (preferably not straight on top of someone else’s kit)
The rest is covered by my article "Mastering the bike mount and dismount"
The above tips should help you perfect the art of wetsuit removal, but in all honesty there is no replacement for lots and lots of practice! I’ve spent hours running around the garden, stopping at the imaginary line and stripping off my wetsuit as fast as I can! Looks bloody silly but you will start to work out a system that works for you and the muscle memory you need to be able to do it quickly in a high-pressure race situation!
Hope you enjoyed the read and do feel share any comments or ideas you may have with us....