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Transition Tips

Are transitions important, and do these tips work?
Below are the transition times of the top 10 overall at Ironman Lake Placid in 2005:

 Overall Name
Overall Time
 T1 T2
Total Transition time 
 1 Delogne
 8:56:11  3:37
 3:04  6:41
 2 Kramer  9:22:52  6:01  2:00  8:01
 3 Lavoie  9:27:22  4:21  2:03  6:24
 4 Monks  9:30:29  4:35  3:51  8:26
 5 Clark  9:37:01  3:10  1:42  4:52
 6 Sanderson  9:37:41  4:46  2:05  6:51
 7 Cooper  9:38:17  4:18  1:45  6:03
 8 Nerrow  9:40:01  4:23  2:04  6:27
 9 Hartman  9:41:12  5:16  1:45  7:01
 10 Hunt  9:41:41  4:00  2:41  6:41

That's a gain of over 2 minutes on the average of the other top 10 finishers in a major race. The gain is almost 3 minutes over that year's average Kona qualifier. Many people missed a Kona slot by less than 3 minutes.
Also note that in Kona 2010 - I passed 57 people in T1.

Below Lance Armstrong gives a demonstration of what NOT to do..... (Warning - may cause cringing).  

How NOT to do T1

Footnote: Even after a few races in 2012, working under an Elite coach, everything he does in transition, from fastening his shoes up at 12mph coming out of T1 in Galveston, to racking by the saddle, to sitting on the ground, to lollygagging with the socks, to keeping the helmet on while running to the rack, to picking up a pile of junk that's all spread out (shoes, glasses, bag, belt, hat) is wrong wrong wrong. He then lost 6th place by 0.2 seconds.

How not to do T2

  • Practice getting on and off bike without shoes ever leaving the bike (assuming you have suitable shoes for this - Velcro straps are best)
  • Shoes should always remain on the pedals, before and after the ride. Requires practice.
  • A rubber band connecting the rear of the left shoe to the rear quick release, set to snap on the first revolution, will ensure that the shoes don't bounce out of the pedals during your run out of T1. Alternatively, put a band around each shoe and crank so each show stays perpendicular to its crank.
  • When you put your helmet on, don't mess about with things like tucking in your ears - do that when you're at 25mph. In T2 the helmet gets unclipped while running to the rack, unless it's an ITU race in which case it stays clipped till the bike is racked.
  • General rule is: Don't do anything while stationary if you can do it while moving.
  • Liberally apply cooking spray on exterior of wetsuit up to both knees (and elbows too if necessary).
  • If T1 is a long run, consider taking your wetsuit off as soon as is practical, rather than waiting until in the tent or at the bike, a very wet wetsuit comes off the legs a lot easier than a damp one. If you applied a lot of cooking spray and the run isn't so long that you'd overheat then it may be better to remove the suit at the bike.
  • Learn to run holding the bike with only one hand on the saddle (see picture), the bike is actually easier to steer, and it is possible to run faster than if holding it at the bars or stem (though it takes a bit of practice).
  • Socks: If you'll need socks, put them on in T2, not T1, as feet will be dryer. Feet don't move in bike shoes, so it's not typically a problem, especially if you train occasionally that way. Socks shouldn't be necessary for sprints or OD. When putting them on (or indeed doing anything else) you do not need to sit down.
  • Stretch the calves and hams on a descent just before coming off the bike, by standing up and leaning forward, so that you don't run like an arthritic chicken the moment you get off the bike. Don't overdo it.
  • I don't use a number belt - one more thing to pick up. But rather have the number rolled up inside my shorts, with the number connected to two safety pins via elastic bands. I unfurl the number approaching T2. Just one less thing to do in T2, and no belt in the way. This is an idea rather than a recommendation.
  • Run through transition as fast as you run in the run segment of the race (even when pushing your bike).
  • If you're going to run to the left after putting on running shoes, fit your right shoe first. That way you can be putting on the left shoe while already making your first stride from your right foot. Saves a second, and takes practice since you must be confident that the left shoe will go on, when you're off balance.
  • Lace locks - they're cheap and you need them. I find that Yankz  are faster than Lace Locks .
  • Bike shoe types - lots of the pros use the Shimano Tri-specific shoe SH-TRxx, and I definitely find it faster for entry and exit than any other I've tried.
  • Sunglasses - you can save a couple of seconds if you don't use them - I've lost races by less, and can descend at up to 50mph with contact lenses, never a problem. Don't mess about getting them on/straight etc till you're moving on the bike, there's usually a convenient place to stick them until such time..
Pre-race things to do in transition
  • Plan your route through transition before the race, even plan which side of the bike you'll be on as you run through T2 so that you can most efficiently drop the bike if you have to rack it yourself.
  • Walk T1 and T2, taking the path you'll take in the race.
  • Make a mental note of exactly where your bike is and where your rack is.
  • Observe the location of the mount/dismount line.
  • Put the bike in a suitable gear, typically a couple of cogs down from what you'd normally ride.
  • Reset the speedometer. If you have a GPS unit, power it on and ensure it's not set to power off after a certain length of time not moving.
  • Fasten the shoes to the cranks with rubber bands.
  • Check tires (pressure and objects) and that the brakes aren't rubbing..
Mounting, dismounting
  • Bike should be going at close to run pace when you jump on/off it. It should never stop.
  • Shoes are always on the bike.
  • Don't wear socks, you'll be more likely to slip off the shoes and get badly hurt.
  • The cyclocross guys are better at this than we are, just make sure your seat bolts are tight if you're going to be jumping onto your bike:
            How NOT to dismount:
A fast dismount: (Photos by Cesar Elejalde 5/18/13)


Ironman Specific

  • Assuming nobody is in your way, there is no need to drop below 8 minute pace as you run all the way through the T1 tent without stopping, simply dropping your T1 bag on a table or in the hands of the nearest volunteer. Wetsuit, goggles and hat needn't be in the bag.
  • At the top of the T2 bag I have a little Ziploc bag containing a sun cream sachet, salt tablets, pre-folded toilet paper, Tylenol, and maybe a gel. The ziploc goes at the top of the T2 bag, which goes into a pocket before the hat goes on the head, all before entering the T2 tent. If you're going to fit a race belt in T2, that too can be put around the neck before you even get into the change tent. The sneakers are in the bottom with a sock in each one, and maybe a small jar of vaseline in one.
  • Vaseline placed inside the socks the day before the race will not dry out, so some people do this to avoid Vaselining the feet in the T2 tent.
  • It's not necessary to put all your junk back into the T2 bag just before you leave, someone will do that for you.
  • Practice bag order and unpacking while running
  • Everyone goes to the nearest volunteer, if you need to stop, at wetsuit stripping, or in either tent, go almost all the way through, that's where the space and the unoccupied volunteers are.
  • Walk the bag area from both directions on race day so you know exactly where your bag is.
A Walk-through of the Ironman Transitions:
  • T1: As soon as you get a good footing as you run through the water, lower the top half of the wetsuit to your waist. Then, if time allows, raise you goggles a couple of inches. Look for an available volunteer wetsuit stripper far away from the water's edge, they tend to be less busy. Lie on your back and they'll pull the suit off you. If a wetsuit stripper isn't available, don't wait, grab a railing and do it yourself standing on each leg in turn to pull the suit off. A wet wetsuit comes off quicker than one that you just ran in for a minute. Run to the tent at your Ironman run effort, while taking off your cap/goggles and stashing them somewhere in the suit. As you approach the bag racks, call your number in the hope that a volunteer will unhook the bag for you. Say thank you. Put the wetsuit over a shoulder to free a hand. As you run towards the change tent pull your helmet out of the bag and drop it on your head, don't clip it yet. There's nothing else in the bag, sunglasses etc can be stuck on the bike and fitted when at speed. DO NOT STOP AT ALL IN THE CHANGE TENT. Give your bag with wetsuit/cap/goggles to a volunteer or if nobody's available just leave it on a bench/table. It's not to important if the stuff isn't in the bag. Running towards the bike, clip your helmet and make sure your number/belt is o.k.   Call your number to a volunteer in the hope that they'll unrack your bike for you. Say thank you. No need to stop when you get the bike, run holding only the saddle, and jump on it the moment you cross the mount line. Get up to speed, and only then get one foot in a shoe. Since the slowing down effects are cumulative, get back up to speed before you get a foot in the other shoe. For the same reason, it's even worthwhile getting back up to speed between getting a foot in a shoe, and doing up the straps.
  • T2: Get feet out of shoes as you approach T2. If you have a run number rolled up at your waist rather than a race belt, unravel it now. Swing one leg over the bike and jump off momentarily before the dismount line, at an easy jog pace. The first few steps will be tough but can be done without stopping. A volunteer will take your bike. If you can remove your helmet before you get to the volunteer then you should give it to them. Call your number as you approach the racks in case a volunteer can grab the bag for you. While you run to the tent pull out your hat/shades/ziploc and put them on your head/face/pocket. If you don't have time, do that after you leave the tent, it can happen when running, not stopped. Then pull out your sneakers. In the tent sit on a bench and if necessary apply a bit of vaseline on likely blister areas of the feet. There is often Vaseline on the benches but I have a small jar in one shoe just in case. While you're putting your shoes on volunteers may apply suncream on your shoulders etc. Don't wait for them to finish. You needn't be sat down for more than 20 seconds. Say thank you. Spread out the suncream as you start the run.

Getting your feet into your bike shoes:

Don't start to get your feet into your bike shoes until the bike is up to race speed.
It's important to stay close to race speed the whole time, so fit one shoe, then get back up to race speed, then fit the other shoe.
If necessary, once the foot is in the shoe get back up to race speed, then coast again to pull the strap on the shoe.
The graph below shoes the approximate time lost by fitting and strapping both shoes in one move. Over 2 seconds are gained if we get back up to race speed after each quick reach down, as opposed to getting both shoes fitted and strapped in one go..
In all 3 cases the athlete is coasting for twelve seconds and expends the same effort yet the athlete who fits both shoes in one move loses over 2 seconds (25yds).

(Link to spreadsheet )

Regular things to practice:

  • As you finish an open water training swim, immediately run out of the water and up the beach / ramp / sewer outlet.
  • Always put your helmet on quickly.
  • Mount/dismount practice: DO NOT DO THIS IN SOCKS, you'll be more likely to slip of the pedals. During a lone ride on a quiet road in race shoes:
  • Take your feet out of the shoes
  • Swing a leg over to one side of the bike
  • Slow down to about 7 min/ml pace
  • Jump off
  • Run about 10-20 yds steering the bike from the saddle
  • Jump back on the bike, landing on the inside of the leg rather than, you know...
  • Get back up to speed
  • And only then get your feet back in your shoes, getting back up to speed again between shoes
  • This should cost you little more than 10 seconds on the ride
  • The transition run is part of the triathlon run. Treat it as such, don't use it as recovery time.

Paramount Adventure's  Andy George (below) doesn't dawdle coming out of the water. Transitions are not a brief rest.

Photo credits:
Vaseline - Public Domain
Bike shoes by Doug Clark
Graph by Doug Clark
Eagleman by ASI Orders.
Andy George by Hillary Clark.

Copyright - All content is owned by Doug Clark unless otherwise stated. Copying permitted only with permission.