June 5, 2012

Why Being a Transition Automaton Rocks: Part I


If you want to have smooth, fast transitions then know what you’re going to do so well that you don’t waste valuable time and energy on race day thinking about it. In other words make them automatic.    While you might not be able to nail down every last detail there’s a good chance you know more than you think.  Just add a little research to what you know and you’re golden.

The reason you need a plan is because practicing transitions is more than just jumping off your bike and going for a run.  In order to zip through transition conserving as much energy as possible you need to build a mental picture, a movie if you will, and run through it – visualize it – a couple times a week in the months leading up to the race.  Start by scripting it out… all movies start with a screenplay.  If you haven’t done the race before, no worries just get started and the detail will come.  Here are a few pointers to get you moving in the right direction.

Setting Up the Scene

  1. Make a list of what you’ll need for the swim to bike transition (T1) and the bike to run transition (T2).  Put everything you can think of on the list and you’ll decide what to eliminate later.
  2. Write down the race day logistics:  are you able to walk to the transition area(s) from where you’re staying or is there a drive involved?
  3. If there’s a drive, can you park near the transition area (s) or do you need to pack all your gear and walk, catch a shuttle, or ride your bike to the transition area(s)?
  4. Is your T1 & T2 area assigned or is first-come-first-serve?  If it’s the later do you plan to arrive early to get the best place or does it matter to you?
  5. Will your gear be laid out on the ground or do you put it in specific transition bags?  Most World Triathlon Corp. (WTC) Ironman races and some 70.3 races give you specific bags for you bike and run gear.  Note:  If there are bags then make sure you tie them closed in a way you can easily get them open during the race.
  6. How much time do you need to setup your transition area, e.g., pump tires, layout bike and run gear?

    Note:  Be sure to pencil in how much time you’ll need next to each step and be sure to give yourself some fudge time to account for all the other folks, particularly the ones that didn’t bother to plan out there morning. 

  7. Is there a single transition area or are T1 and T2 in different locations?
  8. Where are the entrances and exits for the swim, bike and run legs of the race.
  9. Where will body marking take place and will you do this step before or after you set up your transition area.
  10. How long will it take to get to the swim start from the transition area…at big races it can take 20-30 minutes just to funnel everyone over the timing matts.

Transition areas are usually frenetic, frantic places on race morning.  If you leave transitions to chance and follow the “I’ll just wing it approach” then expect to multiply the craziness factor fourfold as you wander around trying to figure out what to do and where to go.  You will waste valuable energy by piling on more stress to an already stressful situation.   But if you use the questions above to create a transition set up plan and then spend the time to practice (visualize) your plan in the months leading up to the race you’ll arrive on race morning with the that extra peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re prepared.  And a calm mind yields dividends when it comes to time and energy savings.

In Part II of this series, I’ll get into more of the tactical questions for thinking through the specifics of T1 and T2 transition points, and how to script everything to ensure smooth transitions that will pay off at the finish line.

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