Sunday, March 13, 2011

Transitions 101

The local triathlon season is starting!!  I think there is no better time to go through some pointers about transitions.  Transitions are what I like to refer to as "Free Speed".  Think about it - how long would you have to train to take 15 seconds off of your 5K race split?  But you can easily take that much time off of your T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run) times.  All it takes is some planning, mental preparation and practice.  Unless there is a really long run from swim to bike my transitions are usually right around 60 seconds.

I use the TYR Transition Bag, because it's big enough to hold everything for a race. This is actually more important to me after the race than before. The night before the race I pack my bag all nice and neat with everything in it's correct place.  After the race?  All the wet and soggy clothing and stuff kind of just gets tossed into the bag so the big bag is awesome.  It's also a backpack, which I think is a necessity.  A lot of times the parking area is far from the transition area and being able to ride my bike to and from the car to the site is important.  I keep a "Cap Light" in my bag too, for early or late season races when it's still dark outside so I can see on my way over and see into my bag while I'm setting up my transition area.

There are things that live in my bag year round:

One small Ziploc bag that includes:
A Mini Stapler
Roll of Electrical Tape
An extra C02 Cartridge
A Leatherman Micra Tool
Cap Light

2nd Small Ziploc Bag:
Small Baby Powder
Travel size pack of wet wipes
A tube of Aquaphor!
Little Packet of Advil - for post race, just in case.
A couple Band-Aids - ditto on the band-aids.

Also in one of the pockets:
A Water Bottle with a can of Hutchinson Fast Air - I keep this in a water bottle in one of the cages during the race wrapped in a piece of neoprene so it won't rattle.
Brightly Colored Swim Cap from a previous race - Goes on the end of your
bike rack to help you locate your row of bikes.   If the transition area is on concrete or asphalt a line of Baby Powder on the ground works really well too. 
Large Plastic Bag - I use this if the transition area is on grass and it's really wet.  If it looks like it may rain I take a plastic bag - like the kind you get at packet pick up and cut one side open, so it opens like a triangle.  I put my running shoes, race number belt and hat in in and hold down the corner with a water bottle.
Transition Towel - Mine is pink and a Hello Kitty towel (I love Hello Kitty)!  Easy to locate when you're looking for your spot when you're coming in off the bike. 

I pack my bag the night before the race.  I plan my list in the order of events - and mentally go through each part of the race as I pack.

Wetsuit and Skinsuit - I HATE wearing a wetsuit.  I know, I know - they're much faster in the water.  After 26 years of racing I still have "Wetsuit Panic".  Because I live in a warmer climate most of my races are non-wetsuit races anyway.  But if the water is at least 75 degrees I'll opt to wear my skinsuit.  My tri-suit isn't skin tight so the drag I feel in it while swimming is distracting.  Here is a good one - back in 2003 I was doing the swim and bike of the Cali Half in Oceanside.  The water was really cold - 58 degrees.  I started the swim and within just a few hundred feet started to panic.  I was thinking "great, I came all this way, schlepped the bike and all only to drop out in the very beginning of the swim".  So I swam over to a girl on a longboard and had her upzip my wetsuit - ripped it off, gave it to her and swam like crazy to try and catch up the other girls in my swim wave.  I was working hard enough that only my feet, face and hands were really uncomfortable.  Then in 2005, I went to Panama City Beach, FL to race the Gulf Coast Half.  Same thing happened at the start of the swim, I made it to the first buoy.  Panic set in again, this time I flipped over onto my back and stripped off my wetsuit and let it float away into the Gulf of Mexico.  Goodbye stupid wetsuit - good riddance!  I'm sure it washed up on the shore somewhere and I can only imagine what thoughts someone had when they found it.
Swim Cap
Goggles - one pair clear, one pair smoke.  It's always good to have an extra pair of goggles.  I keep one of each to use depending on the weather on race morning.  Clear if it's overcast - Smoke if it's sunny. 

Helmet - Goes on the aerobars facing the correct way to easily put it on your head.  Straps are out and straightened.
Sunglasses - Cradled in your helmet, earpieces open.
Cycling Shoes - I go sockless on the bike, my shoes are clipped onto the pedals.   If the weather or water is cold I also put toe covers on my shoes.  It makes a big difference when you start the run and you can feel your toes.

Running Shoes - I usually wear running shoes to the race in the morning, but have my racing shoes in my bag.  I like to warm up in my regular training shoes not my racing flats.
Socks - I always wear socks for the run, even if it's just a 5K.  I've raced barefoot before but always seem to get a blister or hot spot.  For some reason I can't block out the pain if I start to get a blister and it effects my run mentally.  It may take me an extra 10 seconds to put them on, but for me it's totally worth the time.  If you are wearing socks roll/crumple them down and place one in each respective shoe. 
Race Number Belt - My favorite race number belt is by TNI, I like it because it has little elastic loops for a gel (it actually holds 3).  You have to pin your number on it, but I like it better that way so I can place it where I want it.
Hat - Some people race without a hat, for me it would never be an option.  I kind of like hiding under the brim when I've got that horrible grimace on my face.  I guess a better name for it is my "Race Face".

TNI Race Number Belt - it holds a gel
for the run - just in case!
My favorite gel - Crank E-Gel!

Sometimes all of the following gets left in the car, it just depends on how far the car is from the transition area.
Wet Washcloth in Ziploc Bag - One of my race essentials.  I put a little bit of liquid soap (usually Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bath & Body Works) on the washcloth and wipe off after the race!  I always get the "You don't look like you've even raced" comments.  Plus I smell nice too!  Have you ever had your race numbers on your arms and legs stenciled onto your skin from the sun?
Dry Clothing in Ziploc Bag - Some people are just as happy to hang around post race in their wet tri-suits, me personally, I like to dry off and get into some clean clothes. 
Flip Flops - Ditto with my feet, usually my running shoes are wet and soggy.  Unless it's really chilly I'll put on flip flops.
Dry Hat - Just makes me feel better to have a clean, dry hat.
Slim Fast High Protein - My favorite post race recovery drink - it's shelf stable and doesn't need refrigeration.

Usually I try to get my race packet the day or night before the race but sometimes I'll get it on race morning.  I take the "bike number" and trim down the sides of the number (cutting off the tape) to where just the number remains.  Now you know what the Leatherman Micra is for!  I don't like to tape the number to my frame on the top tube because my bike is really small and if I do then I can't get a water bottle out of the cage on the down tube.  So I make it smaller and put it around the seat post.  I staple it together  in about 4 places after I wrap it around the seat post, then use a little piece of the tape I cut off the edges to hold it in place, this keeps it from moving around during the race. See the picture with me by my bike above.

So here is how I set up my transition area.  I'm one of those "get to the race site early" people.  I'm already nervous enough about the race and don't need to stress myself out any more by being late.  Usually no later than an hour and a half before the first swim wave starts.  I'm happier with 2 hours.

I rack my bike by the nose of the saddle, these days most people do it this way, but in days gone by everyone tried to cram their bikes onto the racks using the brake levers.  First, you have to roll your back backwards if you do this which turns the cranks so that they aren't in the right position for when you mount your bike, and second it takes up too much room on the rack.  I like to be considerate of my neighbors!

My bike shoes are already mounted on the bike with the pedals at 9:00 and 3:00, with a little baby powder in each shoe. The absolute best way to practice having your shoes already on your bike is to leave them on there all the time.  Every ride you go on practice getting into your shoes after you start riding and getting out of them when you finish the ride.  Learning this when you're not under race stress will shorten your learning curve.  My helmet is cradled in the aerobars with the straps open and my sunglasses are resting in the helmet.  Depending on the distance of the bike I may use tape an energy Gel to the top tube by the headset.
Bogey not included.
My transition towel goes on the right hand side of my bike - the side that I get on my bike.  On the towel goes my race hat, race number belt and shoes with socks (with a little baby powder in each) rolled up in each on top.  I put my shoes on top as a reminder to put my shoes on and then grab my hat and number belt and put them on while I'm running.  Anything you can do while you're moving will save you time. 

One last thing I always do is go over my transition in my head as I approach the end of the swim and the bike.  I've done this hundreds of times but I still do a mental rehearsal in each race. 

Does this all sound like I've given it a lot of thought???