Tips & Tricks: Train For Transition

Now that we are well and truly into the local race season and will be getting back to racing post-Christmas it is not too late to improve that fourth leg of triathlon – the transition. You don’t need a particular talent to transition well but you do need to practice it regularly and if you are new to the sport and in your first season or two then these should be practiced weekly through the season, especially if you are a sprint and/or Olympic distance athlete.

If you have a look at many triathletes in the transition area of an event you may get the impression that many use the transition as a place to rest and regroup or to celebrate the completion of one leg of the race and prepare for the next. How many hours of swim/bike/run training would it take to shave a few minutes off your swim or run time? How many hours of transition practice would it take to get that time back in transition by concentrating on the faster, more seamless changes and focussing on getting from swim to bike, and bike to run, quicker – a fair bit less than the former.

Many triathletes are so focused on swim, bike and run splits, that they forget the clock is still running in the transition area – every second counts. Transition practice isn’t as fun as swim/bike/run, but it is a good investment of your training time. As a coach that runs regular transition sessions though the season it can be hard to get athletes to get out of the regular routine of what they may have been doing on a particular morning to commit to one of the most important aspects of the sport. As previously mentioned, if you are doing super sprint/sprint and Olympic distance, transitioning well is crucial if you’re looking to be more competitive.

Triathletes need to shift their entire mental focus and integrate the transition seamlessly into their race. The transition is not a rest area but a place to speed in and out of, in the fastest time, with the least energy.

Have a plan and practice it
Have a plan of exactly what you are going to do and practice it over and over again until you are fast with no mistakes. Practice it physically several times in training and then rehearse it mentally several times on race morning. By the time you are in transition on race day, you should be moving on autopilot. Never try something new on race day.

Keep it simple
The fewer things you have to do in the transition area, the faster you will go. Forego the socks and get rid of anything you don’t absolutely need. Clutter will slow you down.

Cycle shoes in the pedals
Coasting down the course at 25km/h while you put your feet in your shoes will move you far ahead of your mate sitting down in T1 doing the same thing. Set your bike up in the transition area with your shoes attached to the pedals and rubber bands looped between the heels and frame, holding the shoes horizontal. On leaving T1, pedal with your feet on top of your shoes. Once you are cruising at speed, coast and slip your feet into your shoes. Keep your eyes ahead on the road, not down on your feet. On the return, slip your feet out of your shoes before you reach T2. Learn this skill first on a wind trainer then the skill on a grassy area or empty car park before taking it out on the open road.

Run with your bike
The distance from rack to mount line can be considerable at large triathlons. By running safely and quickly with your bike, it is easy to fly over this distance (more so with shoes on pedals and in bare feet). Run upright with good form on the left side of your bike, holding your seat with your right hand. Your left arm swings by your side. Hold the bike upright to go straight and lean it to the side to turn. Practice in an empty parking lot or field.

Speed over the mount/dismount line
Learn a cyclo-cross mount and dismount to cruise over this line without losing any momentum. In the race you will be doing this in bare feet but initially learn and practice this skill wearing running shoes.

Attach your gear to your bike
Handling small items wastes time. Everything you need on the bike course should be attached to your bike. Tape gels to the frame, water bottles should already be on board, sunglasses looped to a cable, spare tube in a seat pack and CO2 cartridge taped to the seat post.

One outfit for all occasions
Start the swim with your full bike/run outfit under your wetsuit (if needed). A one-piece tri-suit is ideal. Any clothing changes will add lots of time.

Note where your rack spot is and how to find it from the swim exit and bike entrance. From your rack, know where the bike and run exits are and the quickest route to them. I like to practice the swim exit pathway to my bike once the bike is racked (possibly the day before the event) then do again at least once when the area is full. Count how many racks along the bike is and how far along the rack it is. If you can line up with some object outside the transition so you can run to that once racing.

Elastic laces
Use elastic laces rather than tying your running shoe laces. To help your feet slide smoothly into your running shoes, prime them with a sprinkling of baby powder.

Grab and go
In T2, grab what you need and go. Put on your visor and number belt while you are running. It is always faster to complete your tasks moving down the course rather than standing in front of your rack.

With anything, practice is everything but the skill of the faster transition can be mastered in time – you just need to ensure that you place some importance on the fourth leg of triathlon and you’ll see the results come race day as you make up quite a bit of time over those that neglect one of the key parts of this sport.

Lead Photo: Korupt Vision


Nick Croft

Nick Croft is a former professional triathlete, Australian Triathlete of the Year and two-time winner of the Noosa Triathlon.
With 19 years coaching experience under his belt, Croft provides online training programs for athletes of all ages and abilities through and runs Noosa Tri Camps in Noosa Heads, Australia.

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