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The Triathlon Transition
Hazen Kent - Tri-Newbies Online

The triathlon transition.

Triathlon’s version of a “Chinese fire drill.”

The triathlon transition can be crazy, chaotic, and perhaps even frantic.  Awareness and timing are essential. Tempers have been known to flare as tensions increase, bikes crash, and liquids are tossed about.

And the sooner you are in and out of this area, the better!

And just mention the word “transition” to someone new to the sport of triathlon and watch them become unglued.

But if you are a beginner to this sport, and you have a genuine fear of this temperamental portion of the triathlon, you are not alone. I have been there. We have all been there. And as you near your first ever triathlon or duathlon, the fear is legitimate.

Perhaps it is the fear that we are going to forget a vital piece of equipment prior to the upcoming leg of the race.  Or maybe it is the fear that our equipment will fail us. Whatever the reason, unfortunately, there is no magic formula for learning the art of the transition. Your only allies are time and experience. And with each race, your fears will subside as your transition skills become perfected. Eventually, the transition will become a means of strategy and your perception of this once chaotic situation will change. Eventually, the transition will become your friend. A place to hydrate, a place to put on dry clothing, perhaps even a place to relax…for a brief moment! As you become more competitive in this sport, the transition will become a crucial link in the outcome of your race and the speed at which you can transform yourself from swimmer to cyclist or cyclist to runner will become a factor in this outcome.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. For it is the purpose of this article to show those of you who are new to the sport of triathlon, some tips and strategies to help ease your fears as you near your first triathlon.

So lets begin…

For me, the preparation begins the night before the race as I mentally go over each transition. And this is where I suggest you begin as well.

First…T1 or the first Transition from swim to bike.

Grab yourself a pencil and paper and have a seat in front of your bike. Draw a line down the center of the sheet of paper creating two columns. One column will be a list of those things that will be attached to the bike located in the transition area and the other will be those items you will be responsible for upon hopping on your two-wheeler for the bicycle leg.

Now, let’s work backwards.

Picture yourself on the bike during the race. What you are wearing? Are you wearing bike shorts or a swim brief? Are you wearing a heart rate monitor and strap? Are you wearing a singlet? How about your water bottles…are they full and in place?

Lets go ahead and create this list:

Column 1: Those items attached to the bike while in Transition (T1).

1.   Make sure your bike is properly and securely placed on the bike rack. Some folks will rack their bike facing forward with the brakes levers hooked over the bike rack. Others will place the back of their bike seat on the rack. The choice will be yours. Just make sure the bike is secure. I have seen racers come in and knock over other bikes while attempting to grab their own.

2.   Water bottles – make sure your bottles are full with the appropriate fuel and placed in the bottle cages. ½ Ironman and Ironman distance races will have water stations about every 5 miles on the bike. But for shorter races, you are responsible…so don’t forget! I usually pack one filled with water and one filled with energy fuel.

3.   Your helmet and sunglasses – most triathletes will place their helmet upside down on their aerobars, straps laid out and sunglasses in the helmet. First of all, practice putting on your helmet now and clipping and unclipping the strap.  It is a simple task and yet, it can be a source of frustration. Preparation folks…it is an absolute necessity!

4.   Bike computer and/or heart rate monitor – do you use your bike computer when you train? Then make sure it is functioning before the race. Take your front wheel and spin it to make sure the computer is responding. If it isn’t, check the pick-up usually attached to lower end of the front fork. Is it close enough to the magnet attached to the spokes? If not than move it closer until you get a response on the computer. If you plan on wearing a heart rate monitor and it is attached to your handlebars, make sure it is secure and located in such a position so you can see while riding.

5.   Gear/chain placement – make sure your bike is in a higher gear to start out. Perhaps with your chain on the small chainring. This will make it easier for you to begin the ride without having to grind the pedals. If your bike shoes are already attached to the pedals, spinning in the higher gears will get the bike moving forward sooner providing stability while attempting to slip your foot into the shoe. Plus, the spinning will allow you a brief warm-up for your legs. As soon as you are set and comfortable on the bike, you can switch to lower gears.

6.   Make sure your components are secure. – most of your larger sanctioned races will have someone checking your handlebars and areobars before racking your bike in the transition area to make sure they are tight and safe for riding. But if you are in smaller race, you may be on your own. If everything was fine yesterday, than it should all be fine today. But if for some reason you had repairs done to your bike between your last ride and the race, make sure these components are secure and tight.

7.   Emergency items/spare tires – If you are riding on clincher tires, make sure you have a spare tube or two with the tire changing tools in your seat pack. If you are riding on tubular tires, you will need a spare folded and attached to your seat. For shorter distance races, such as a sprint race, most do not bother if they flat out simply because of the time lost. But if this your first race and by golly you want to finish. So pack some spares.

8.   Energy Bars – Again, for shorter distance races, liquids should be fine for nutritional supplementation, but if you plan on using bars or gels, make sure they are in a place where you can reach them. Some folks will use “non-chocolate” bars and stick pieces on their top tube for easy access. (some chocolate bars will melt and get rather messy) Some manufacturers have created handlebar packs for storing such items. And there are “gel belts” on the market for holstering gel packets primarily for the run. Whatever you use, make sure you practice using these items during your training.

9.   Check Your Tires – Before you leave your bike alone and head off to the swim start…Check the air in your tires and if need be, fill them to the proper pressure. If you don't already have one, get your self a good bike pump and take it with you to the race.

10.  Salve on the seat – What? You may ask. Well, this is something you do not have to do. If you are racing in a tri-brief (for men) or a women’s tri outfit, you may want to put a little salve (KY or Vaseline) on the nose or tip of the saddle. I will add some comfort when you are riding. This is something I do, and you certainly do not have to.

11. Bikes shoes clipped into pedals/shoes not attached to pedals – This is probably one of the most frequently discussed topics with regards to Transition philosophy for most new to the sport of triathlon. And, unfortunately, this will be a choice you will have to make on your own. If you do decide to have your shoes attached to the pedals, than practice this method well before the race, either on your stationary trainer or on a quiet street. Remember, while attempting to slip into your attached bike shoes, LOOK AHEAD. Do not get fixated on looking down. This could obviously lead to disastrous results. Every race will be different, so be ready to adjust your plan accordingly. The transition area for some races may be a grassy, sandy area.  If this is the case, you may not want to have your shoes attached to the pedals. Otherwise your feet may be covered with sand by the time your reach the “hop-on” point of the transition. The “hop-on” point I refer to is usually that point in the transition area (usually an “exit” ) where the triathletes are allowed to hop on the bike and head out. Most races with larger transition areas require the riders to walk or run their bike to this point before hopping on the bike…this is obviously for safety reasons.  In the case of a sandy transition area, you may want to put your bike shoes on before hopping on the bike.  The distance of the race will also play a role in deciding whether your bike shoes are attached to the pedals or not. For shorter sprint races, many triathletes will have the shoes attached. However, some will have pedal adapters for running shoes.  Such adapters allow the triathlete to cycle while wearing his/her running shoes, obviously saving time when hopping of the bike and prepping for the run (T2).  For the longer distance triathlons, I think the “shoes to pedals” idea is really one of personal preference.

Now your bike should be prepared for your race.

Next, you may have noticed that most folks will have mapped out a small area next to their bike for those items you cannot attach to the bike. They will often have a towel spread out in a small square with various items within easy reach. So lets take a look at what makes up this area.

Column Two: Those “loose” items you need to bring to Transition:

Lets us begin with the athlete exiting the water and approaching T1 for the bike ride.

1.   Dish bucket of water. Depending upon where your race is held, you may want a bucket of water sitting next to your bike…Why? You may ask. Well, if the swim portion of the race is in the ocean, you will be running up a sandy beach to get to the bike transition. Usually there are volunteers standing on land hosing down triathletes as they pass by heading for the bikes.  But it is always a good idea to be safe. There is nothing more irritating then slipping on bike shoes with sandy feet.  By placing a bucket next to your bike, you simply step into the bucket and your feet are instantly rinsed and clean!  Quickly towel them dry and you are ready for the ride.  Your feet will thank you.

2.   Heart Rate Chest Strap. Many triathletes ride the bike portion of the race with a heart rate monitor. If you do not wear a wetsuit, you will find swimming with the chest strap can be a nuisance. Have the strap out on the towel ready for you to grab.  This is something you can practice at home.  If you do wear a wetsuit,  you can put the strap on under the suit.

3.   Dry Socks. If you are racing in a longer race, you may want to wear socks for the bike ride leaving you prepared for the run.  This will take extra time and for shorter races, this delay will seem long relative to the overall distance. For a ½ Ironman or Ironman, where the race will last 4-16 hours, an extra minute to slip on dry socks will be nothing. If you do wish to wear socks for the ride and/or run, towel dry your feet before putting on the socks. Otherwise, they will be difficult to slip on.

4.   Spare Energy Bars or Drink - you may want a quick bite or drink before your ride or run. If so, keep some spare goodies in your gym bag. In fact, make sure you keep such items in the gym bag, because the heat will warm the food and drink up rather quickly.

5.   Running shoes. Upon getting off the bike and preparing for the run (T2 or Transition 2) You will want your running shoes right there!

6.   Running hat and accessories -  If it is hot and sunny by the start of the run portion of the race, you may want to wear a hat. You may also want to slap on some sunscreen. I like to have a spare pair of sunglasses for the run. Usually, by the end of the bike ride,  my cycling “shades” are usually covered in forehead sweat/water etc. So, I like to put on a clean pair for the run. This of coarse is optional and is up to each individual. You will eventually learn what works best for you.

And that just about covers it. Of coarse this is just a generic list of items and over time you may develop your own set of items for a successful Transition. Just remember, if you are a beginner, do not be afraid of the Transition area. Take your time on your first couple of races. Find out what works for you, what items you may or may not need for your race and then as you begin to focus on speed with each race, you can tweak the look of your Transition Area accordingly.

Good Luck and Happy Racing!

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