Finding Free Time in Triathlons

My friend Jeff considers the sport of triathlon to be one of five elements, not three.  Yes, the main elements are swimming, biking and running.  Considerable time is often spent, however, in the fourth and fifth elements…better known as transition. 

As most of us know, T1 is the transition from swim to bike.  T2 is the transition from bike to run.  For those among us who are efficient and speedy, these transitions can be relatively quick (like 60 seconds quick).  For others, valuable minutes can creep by while we are in transition.

I should know.  I am notoriously slow in transition.  The graph below shows my transition times from the races I did in 2011.

Of the four races, only Hammerhead was a non-wetsuit swim.

These times…well, they are GLACIAL.  Almost 5 minutes in T1 in Knoxville?  No excuse.

I’ve often just told myself that slow transitions are part of the way I race.  I’ve settled with being slow.  Here’s the reality…it’s free time.  Essentially, going fast in transition is a near effortless reduction in overall race time.  Take, for example, Knoxville.  I wanted to go sub-3 hours.  I didn’t.  I went 3:00:26.  Had I not spent six minutes 44 seconds in transition, I would have met my goal.

Transition time is free time.  It just doesn’t come without practice.

This season, I’m going to be working on getting faster in transition.  How, you might ask?  I’ve been listening to folks (well….previously I’ve only heard folks chatter about transition, now I’m actually listening).  I’ve been reading.  Watching YouTube videos.  Now it’s time to put what I’ve learned into action.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned and will be implementing this season:

Practicing transitions:  At least once a month (though probably more frequently than that) I will set up a transition zone and actually run through doing transitions.  This will include stripping out of a wetsuit (though only a couple of races I’m going to do this year will be wetsuit legal). As they say, “practice makes perfect.”  Time to put that motto to test.

Shoes clipped in:  I have never left my shoes clipped in my pedals at transition.  I’ve always put on my cycling shoes and ran out of transition to the mount line in my cleats.  Although I’ve never fallen doing this, I have seen people fall.  At the very least, I’ve been careful in my run.  Doing this is bad for a number of reasons – dropping this one step will save me significant time.  Instead, I’ll clip my shoes in and secure them with rubber bands so that they are horizontal and will facilitate getting them on while moving.  Likewise, as I come into T2, I’ll leave the shoes clipped in so I can run to transition with bare feet

No socks:  I have always raced in socks.  I don’t know why.  I suppose it’s because I train in socks.  This year, I’ll train (and race – at least shorter races) sockless.  Putting socks on in T1 can be very time intensive – especially because your feet are wet.  I’ve tried rolling them down pre-race so as to minimize the time investment to put them on…which certainly helps some.  For half-iron races I may still wear socks.

My goal for this year is to reduce my average transition time.  I can’t imagine why I’d spend more than 75 seconds in T2 and maybe 90 in T1.  Are those goals realistic? What are some other time-saving tips I can employ?


5 thoughts on “Finding Free Time in Triathlons

  1. This is a great idea. I think I will add transition practice to my training.

    So here’s to us getting speedier in T1 and T2!! Cheers!

  2. I struggle with the wetsuit too, but my t2 is insanely fast usually. Going sockless helps big time. I never ride with socks, but longer courses I take the extra time to put them on in T2. Sprints and olympics, I go without. Just make sure you train up to the distance sockless, and make sure you put some body glide (or something) on known hot spots first. Good luck. It’s the easiest way to drop some time!

  3. Going sockless is a huge help. Here are a couple of additional thoughts thay may be of use:

    1. Rubber bands on the shoes to hold them at horizontal. You’ll jump on the bike coming out of T1 and slide right in and pull down the straps. The rubber bands snap and you’re good to go (don’t use super strength rubber bands, though!)

    2. Lots of baby powder in the your bike shoes (and running shoes). When you come out of T1, you’re feet will be wet and likely either dirty or grassy. The baby powder does a great job of drying the feet causing the dirt/grass to fall off. BP in running shoes helps with abrasion. The alternative to BP in the running shoes is to coat the inside with body glide.

    3. Coming out of the water with a wetsuit DO NOT take your cap and goggles off first. Rather, leave the cap and goggles on until you get the wetsuit pulled down to your waist. Otherwise, you only have 1 hand to try and unzip the wetsuit, etc.

    4. Lock laces in your running shoes. No excuse to have to tie your running shoes!

    5. No towel coming out of T1. Everything you do in T1 should be about getting on the bike faster. Unless you think drying yourself off will get you out of T1 more quickly skip it!

  4. I go with the ‘less is faster’ transition theory. I see athletes bringing big bags and boxes of gear in, and other athletes spending an awfully long time setting up their gear but really, all you need is:

    1. If transition is not numbered, get there early to at least rack your bike by the seat facing the direction of your transition exit.

    2. Clip your shoes into your pedals because you’ll actually overtake all the slow people trying not to fall over. You’ll also just be able to jump on your bike without worrying about whether your foot is going to slip forward if you miss the clip in as you start riding.

    3. Lay your helmet on your tri bars with the straps open so you just have to throw it over your head.

    4. Lay your race belt in your helmet race number down so you just have to sling it around your waist (we have to wear race numbers on the bike course here in Oz but even if you don’t, it’s quicker to put your race belt on when it’s resting on your tri bars than to fumble picking it up off the ground in T2 when you’re also more tired and less coordinated)

    5. Place your running shoes facing towards the racks with each shoe on the side it belongs (yes, I’ve seen people put their shoes in some very illogical alignments including upside down). This way you just have to slip your feet into them and run away. And I assume you have elastic laces that are loose and ready to go when you come into T2.

    6. If you wear a hat on the run leg, place it upside down ready to flip onto your head. Place it just behind your shoes so that you can pick it up as you stand up.

    For wetsuits – if the water temp is above 21’C (70’F) don’t wear a wetsuit – just swim faster to stay warm. It’s a rare triathlon that is won on the swim (think it’s only 16% of Olympic Distance event) but you can lose a lot of time taking it off. I’ve found it’s not worth the delay in transition because while other guys are taking their wetsuits off I’m already out past the mount line.

    And like others have said – don’t use a towel in T1 – you’ll dry on the bike anyway.

    This assumes you’re racing sprint or Olympic distance. (or 2/80/20 on a warm day)

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