I'm all-too conscious that amateurs offering advice to beginners can be a dangerous thing, but over the years I've been asked to give some guidance to fellow triathlon wannabes on how to speed up the transition from swim to bike and from bike to run.
Initially, I was reluctant to hold myself up as a good role model, but looking at my races over the years, I do seem to be among the quickest in both T1 and T2, so maybe I have managed to stumble on a recipe for some level of success.
So, over the space of three short articles, I am going to share my top tips for transition success on race day. Have a read, take what you fancy and leave anything you don't! And if you have any ideas / rituals of your own, please do take a moment to share them!
Part 1: Setting up your transition area
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 photo to the left shows how I have typically laid out my transition area in short-course races (i.e. where you keep everything in transition next to the bike - no bike bags and run bags as you get with long and middle-distance racing). I'll run you through the key points quickly:
1. Bike - you can see my bike is 'reverse racked' by its handlebars rather than by the seat. Primarily this is because I am a short-arse! 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, as you can see, makes everything more stable (racking by handlebars is, as far as I can tell, perfectly legal under BTF rules, but some transition staff still don't like it - be warned).
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.
You can see for this particular race I have a can of 'gunk' (for punctures) taped to the seat post and a small gel bottle on the top tube.
2. Bike Shoes - already on the bike and secured using the elastic bands methodology I recently described in my advice article on 'semi-flying mounts and dismounts'. The shoes have been coated with talc to aid foot insertion and the straps are fully open.
3. Helmet - As my bike is reverse-racked, I can't easily put the helmet between the tri bars as a lot of triathletes do. Instead, one helmet strap 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.
4. Run shoes - In this instance I got lucky with a end-rack position, so took advantage of this 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.
It's worth remembering that technically you are not permitted in triathlon to 'mark' your racking spot - so it's down to you to remember exactly where your bike is. Many triathletes push the boundaries of this rule with coloured towels etc. (and I have my own secret method I'm not going to share!) but ultimately there's no substitute for doing at least one (if not more) transition 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 (no need to run) from T1 entry to your bike at least once so that when you come out of the water (and likely are a little pre-occupied with trying to remove your wetsuit while also gasping for air!) you can almost 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 the run kit is laid out logically and should fall to hand quickly!
Next, we will look at Transition 1 (T1), the move from swim to bike!