Accelerate your transitions! Part Two: Swim to Bike
In part 1 of this series, we looked at how to effectively set up your transition area so that you can make a smooth and efficient transition to and from the bike into the run. By laying out your bike, helmet, shoes etc in a neat and logical way, you can shave precious seconds off your overall transition times – and thus race times!
But for many people, the hardest transition is actually getting out of the water and shedding the wetsuit, so today we’re going to look at coming into T1 (Transition 1 – swim to bike).
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! As always, you follow my ‘advice’ at your own risk; don’t sue me for ruining your wetsuit!
Preparing the wetsuit for quick removal
Body Glide – a waxy substance that comes in a dispenser like a glide-on anti-persperant. Apply this liberally to your 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 also use this around my neckline as for some reason I can’t fully explain, I prefer it to Body Glide. Beware, however, that vaseline isn’t supposed to be terribly kind to wetsuits. I don’t think it’s a major issue, but make your own decision here.
Okay, so your body is now ready to get the wetsuit off quickly. But there is more that you can do to make things faster. The scary part is that it requires a sturdy and sharp pair of scissors…
Option 2 – do this at your own risk!
If you’re a short-arse like me, the chances are that when you bought your off-the-peg wetsuit, the legs came fully down to your ankles and the arms down to your wrists. Great for swimming; not so great for transition. Again, think about it, you’ve basically got a suit that’s lovely and tight around your legs and arms – which is not what we want for a quick removal!
Look at the ITU pros (Ironman can be a little different where a couple of seconds in transition might not make such a difference) and you will often see their wetsuit arms finish a good few inches above the wrist and the legs somewhere mid-calf. By cutting the suit at these points you effectively make the hand and feet apertures wider and this makes the suit faster to remove. Yes, you will lose a tiny bit of buoyancy, but you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference.
BUT BEWARE! You can’t just go cutting your wetsuit wherever you fancy! Doing this could lead to seams unravelling and all sorts of nastiness! It’s imperative that you only cut your suit where it is safe to do so. To check this out, turn the suit inside out and look for the seams that run up from the ankle and wrist openings. You should be able to see a thicker piece of what’s called ‘seam tape’ covering the first few inches of the seam (and then it will stop and you can see the thinner seam continue up the sleeve/leg).
Generally, this seam tape shows where you can cut the legs and arms. As you can see from the photos accompanying this post, I have made quite substantial cuts to my Xterra wetsuit so that the legs now end mid-calf (my black calf guards may cause the illusion that the suit is full length) and about two inches above my wrists.
I have do doubt this makes my suit easier to remove and causes no difference to the actual swim performance at all. It works for me, but you make your own decision.
Putting the suit on
There is lots of advice out there about how to put a suit on, so I won’t dwell on it except to say make sure there are no creases in the arms and legs! Get the suit up tight and if possible, have a helper zip it up to ensure you don’t snag your tri suit etc.
Personally, I always wear my race belt under my wetsuit, with my number folded upwards. Many choose to don their race belts in T1, but I think that’s a waste of time and have never had a problem ripping the number or anything like that.
My next 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 (seal is the wrong word, but hopefully get what I mean) and also prepares me for the colder water that is about to come!
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 my preference is to ‘stoop’ a little as I get out of the water, until the blood starts to circulate around my body (you may not suffer this). 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 (I usually have to use a hand at this point, but some people can ‘kick’ their suit off without using hands).
Throw wetsuit out of way (preferably not straight on top of someone else’s kit – as my neighbour did this weekend at Dambuster, soaking my run shoes and causing a bloody great blister!).
The rest is covered by my article on semi-flying mounts and flying dismounts!
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 or living room, 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!
As always, this is just ‘my’ way of doing things. If you have any alternative suggestions, please do share them!